Mike Schramm: I'm sure at some point in this writeup, we'll probably talk about how Avengers: Battle for Earth is a Kinect game, and that means, like most Kinect games, it works much better in theory ("A fighting game where you control Marvel characters by making moves on Kinect") than it does in actual practice.
But I don't want to get to that point yet, because here's the thing: I had a lot of fun playing it. There's something awesome about sticking your hand up in the air and then pushing it forward to make Thor fling electricity from his hammer, or crouching down and then bringing your arms up high to make the Hulk chuck some ground at his opponent. These are iconic characters from my childhood all the way up to the popular movie, and this game portrays them in a really colorful and fun way.
Jess Conditt: Let it be known that Mike Schramm makes an impressive (nay, an incredible) Hulk. I wasn't so bad either, I think. Especially for rippling-muscle-challenged people like myself it's wonderful to embody the larger-than-life heroes in Marvel's repetoire, as Mike suggested. I played our multiplayer battle as Venom and Iron Man, two of my personal favorite characters, and they didn't disappoint.
Most motions are shared by each character – punch, knee up, arms out and clapped together, etc. – but the resulting moves are different. With the same punching move, Iron Man shoots a beam of light from his palm and Hulk rushes the player, fists-first. It's a powerful feeling to throw a punch "at" your friend and watch his hero respond on-screen.
Mike Schramm: There's also a bit of fighting game depth in there. The game is based on a rock-paper-scissors system, where you need to counter or attack your opponent based on what they're doing or where they are. Hitting the right moves in a row adds up to a combo (we're almost at that Kinect discussion, I can feel it...), and both combos and health meters are shared across characters.
That means you might need to pull Thor into the fight by raising your left hand to continue your combo, for example, but if Thor's health is low, you run the risk of losing, since either character dying means the fight is over. We're not talking about a super deep fighting game here, but there is a little bit of back-and-forth strategy to the proceedings.
Jess Conditt: Tap, tap, tap. Hang on, let me see who that is – oh, it's that Kinect discussion. All of the pretty, cel-shaded art direction and nostalgia aside, the motion controls fall just short of complete functionality. We never quite figured out how to get those combos to work, although we did see them in action when the official Battle for Earth dude played. Perhaps with more practice and feeling out the sensitivities of the Kinect sensor with this particular game, we may have been able to do that as well.
That aspect of "you need to practice playing this game before you're good at it" isn't so different from traditionally controlled titles, but it's more pronounced on Kinect because you are very clearly performing all the correct moves, rather than fumbling for controls before you truly know what the best combos are. The moves in Battle for Earth are fairly simple, generally consisting of two steps, making it all the more pronounced when Kinect doesn't pick them up.
Mike Schramm:I knew this discussion was coming! And I knew that because, yes, I had the same problems. While there are some good ideas here, we couldn't get the Kinect recognition to work well enough to actually build up any of this strategy that we're talking about. Even when the gestures worked, the game doesn't do much to let you know when to do which moves. What we ended up doing was whatever moves we wanted, and the outcome in each match was more or less random for us.
I do feel like spending some time with the game could be more fruitful than the few minutes we played: If you were willing to memorize some counters and figure out how to move exactly to get the Kinect to recognize you, there's probably a reasonably deep game here. But the most fun we had was during the few parts where the game just asked us to punch as much as possible, and made all of those punches land on whatever hero we happened to be beating up at the moment.
Jess Conditt: That was fantastic. The punching spree was great fun, and I wish there were more features in that free-form vein, where it would be possible to kick, punch, slam in whatever order you wanted to pull off unique combos. As it stands, Battle for Earth is more like Just Dance with Marvel characters, and less like a competitive fighting game. The sensor issues also made dodging blows difficult, as there seemed to be a delay between my own ducking action and Venom or Iron Man's evasion. For a blocking system speed and precision are necessary, and the Kinect controls just didn't cut it.
Battle for Earth has the potential to be a fun party game, if it gets a few kinks worked out. Literally, The Hulk's shoulders looked like they could use a massage. That guy is tense.