Fantastic 4 – GBA – Review

July 8th is
the day when gamers and moviegoers alike will find out if Fantastic 4 can go
the distance on the big screen. It’s faced with competition, fan scrutiny, and
an endless stream of TV ads that are sure to stop airing as soon as the
movie’s released. (Movie studios hate the idea of post-release advertising.)
I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but not so tightly that I blindly assume that
this will be the ultimate comic book flick.

I wish I had
given the Game Boy Advance adaptation that same approach. We have an exciting,
character-driven game that was made for PS2, Xbox, GameCube and the PC. Surely
the GBA version will have the same components, the same zing. (Wishful

Fantastic 4
isn’t a bad game per se. It’s a throwback to games like Streets of Fury, which
was one of the reasons to buy a Sega Genesis in the early 90s. Final Fight was
icing on the Super NES’s multi-layered cake. Their appeal (and their major
flaw) came from the same source: button-mashing beat-’em-up gameplay. The
classic, long-forgotten X-Men arcade game was very similar, paving the way for
the Sega-developed X-Men game released exclusively for the Genesis.

Which brings
us to Fantastic 4, a beat-’em-up that melds ingredients from each of those
games to form a title that’s suitable for the GBA and (possibly) the movie’s
mainstream audience. Each of the fantastic superheroes are playable, and like
the GBA version of Madagascar, players can switch between them whenever they
please. The condition is that they must be highlighted to be controlled.

The game
separates the characters throughout most of the levels to re-create specific
scenes from the movie. By now everyone has seen the scene where The Thing
stops a moving truck with his body. We don’t have the luxury of interacting
with that sequence, but we do get to explore the bridge and protect The Thing
as he attempts to stop a truck from falling.

Due to the
character separation, players don’t have many opportunities to control more
than two characters at a time. Later on you’ll realize that having the whole
gang on board for each level wouldn’t have been necessary. At times only one
of the four superheroes was necessary.

There are
certain character-specific barriers – like body stretching, computer hacking
(a timed puzzle-matching game. Very easy to complete), and enemy and
environment destruction – that only one superhero can overcome. These were
added to give the characters a little more importance. Otherwise you could get
through the game by playing with whoever is given to you at the start of each

The Thing is
the strongest, but each of them have similar combo lists (tap the A and B
buttons to execute). Boss battles are challenging until reality sets in:
they’re just slightly stronger versions of the standard enemies, which can be
defeated with repeated hits (punches, kicks, etc.). This means more taps of
the B button which, by the time you reach the first boss, will have already
been tapped several hundred times.

4’s unique powers have been carried over to this game, but not with the best
results. Invisible Woman has her psychic moves (she can make a force field and
lift objects with her mind, etc.). The Thing is a powerhouse, breaking through
walls that have unusually large cracks in them. The Human Torch is constantly
hovering and is constantly engulfed in flames, but he can’t hover over large
gaps and becomes a bit of a party pooper every time it rains. He’s good at
burning foes to a fiery crisp, and has the same punching skills as everyone

there’s Mr. Fantastic, who is the fastest, most elastic hero of the bunch.
He’s got his trademark moves, but none of them amount to anything that’s
hugely different from the rest of the cast.

super attacks can be unleashed by pressing the A or B button while holding the
R button. This consumes some of your character’s energy – replenish it quickly
by collecting blue and green-colored gems.

Wide levels,
a linear layout and an isometric view are not the best combination for a
beat-’em-up. It helps to differentiate this game between Final Fight, Streets
of Fury and the classic X-Men games, though I’m not sure that was really
necessary. The idea is good, but the levels should be about half as wide as
they are. The camera can’t be altered in any way (not surprising considering
it’s a GBA game), leading to poor vision in some of the game’s bigger areas. 

It’s not
difficult to walk through the entire level and explore every nook and cranny
for an exit. It does, however, add to the boredom that began to mount the
minute you realized that there isn’t anything to do except beat up bad guys.
Bad guys that look like robots, dinosaurs, and other odd enemies that have the
same intelligence, same attack patterns, and the same weaknesses. Punch them
repeatedly and they’ll eventually die. This worked in arcades where prices
were low and where games were short. It doesn’t work so well here.


The puzzles
are meaningless; the dialog is stale; and the superheroes aren’t very super.
Fantastic 4’s story is told through short text messages, none of which are
overly entertaining. I had high hopes for this game. By expecting the best, we
set ourselves up for disappointment. I could’ve lowered my expectations, but
that wouldn’t have changed the outcome. At the end of the day Fantastic 4
would still be mediocre.

Scoring Details

for Fantastic 4

Gameplay: 6.9
Isometric beat-’em-up
action that never heats up. Fantastic 4 is a game where four superheroes must
save the world from several super-villains. The majority of your time will be
spent pressing the A and B buttons to punch robotic-type enemies. Long halls,
rehashed puzzles, and a linear path fill out the rest of the experience.

Graphics: 5.0
Reminiscent of
the Game Gear version of X-Men, complete with characters that are hard to
decipher. If it weren’t for a difference in shape, size or hair color, you
wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

Sound: 3.0
A garbled mess of
tiresome music and scratchy sound effects.

Difficulty: Easy
Geared toward the
mainstream audience, Fantastic 4 was made to be playable for all. Consequently
it’s playable for newbies, which means it’s too easy for anyone else. (Why
don’t game publishers get that newbies like a challenge too? We all started as
newbies. Challenging games are what held our interest.)

Concept: 7.9
Isometric is a
common view for Game Boy Advance games, but not the beat-’em-up genre. That
addition, plus four superheroes with unique superhuman traits, could’ve made
for an unforgettable gaming experience.

Overall: 6.9
More like
Fantastic 2 1/2. Fantastic 4’s ideas were good – it’s the execution of it all
that made the game fall apart. The poor visuals and horrendous sound effects
are forgivable when great gameplay reigns supreme. When great gameplay cannot
be found, those lackluster features do more than damage the game’s image; they
crush the game into tiny pieces and blast it into space.