Ben 10: Protector of Earth
For those not in the know, or having already moved past puberty, Ben 10: Protector of Earth for the PlayStation Portable is based on the popular Cartoon Network animated television show Ben 10. The general gist of Ben 10 - in its existing TV show guise - is as follows:
When young Ben Tennyson happens upon an alien device called the Omnitrix, which clamps onto his arm like a space-age wristwatch, he suddenly finds himself able to transform into (an initial) 10 different alien creatures. Duly 'armed' with an impressive array of accompanying otherworldly heroes, all offering unique powers, skills, abilities, and attitudes, Ben, his cousin Gwen and grandfather Max then team up to purge the planet of evil - as you would under the circumstances.
While following in the vein of its TV inspiration, Ben 10: Protector of Earth differs in that Ben is not able to fully access the Omnitrix from the outset after its vital DNA power is drained by a mysterious robotic drone, which leaves only two of Ben's usual alien allies available for transformation. These two default creatures are multi-limbed powerhouse 'Fourarms,' who is useful for pummelling enemies and is able to shift heavy objects, and fire-friendly 'Heatblast,' who can safely extinguish blazing barriers and glide across distances on a stream of flames.
The other aliens progressively unlocked during Ben's adventure are Cannonbolt, XLR8, and Wildvine - which combine to form a significant character shortfall that should perhaps see the game renamed as "Ben 5." But then, the lack of playable characters (Ben is able to call upon considerably more in the TV show) is perhaps symptomatic of the overall gameplay brevity on show during Protector of Earth. And that's a point of detraction that will likely see all but the most green of players ploughing through the platform-based brawling action in little more than 5 or 6 hours. This, in the main, is due to some lacklustre and uninspired level design, strictly linear side-scrolling environments, button-mashing fight mechanics, and a lack of genuine challenge during boss encounters.
That's not to say that Ben's journey across the United States to restore the Omnitrix by battling the likes of show villains Vilgax, Dr. Animo, Sixsix, The Forever Knights, Enoch, and Kevin 11 isn't well delivered, because it is. Aesthetically, Protector of Earth certainly suits the PSP, with its sexy widescreen providing the perfect platform for vibrant cel-shaded interpretations of the cartoon world the game is drawing from.
Yet, although the Ben 10 TV show is energetically animated in traditional 2D, the character models are animated in 3D throughout Protector of Earth, which, while fine during long shot in-game action, doesn't really work during explanatory story sequences. Indeed, when viewed close up, the 3D character models and their odd 'stuck on' lip synch and facial movements are flat and fail to convey the true visual feel and flair so readily apparent in the show.
Sadly, however, the cartoon appeal, slick presentation, and kid-safe storyline can't hide the overwhelming simplicity of the core gameplay, which can be best described as an unrewarding take on the in-game action provided by PlayStation 2 behemoth God of War - even to the point where boss battles are punctuated with button-prompted attack moves. Also, the occasional glitch or two pops up to further taint Ben 10's waters, with character vocals intermittently cutting out (which is a pain if the subtitle option has not been pre-selected), and even environmental elements suddenly disappearing and sending Ben into an abrupt green screen of doom. Depth of field problems also occasionally spoil frantic cannon fodder battles, making it difficult for the player to safely control their alien of choice when near the ledge of a high plateau or while traversing thin walkways through deadly ravines.
While Ben 10: Protector of Earth does have its fair share of content annoyances and gameplay deficiencies, it is perhaps worth taking a step back and remembering that it is most definitely aimed toward the younger demographic. Bearing that in mind, its relatively shallow fight system (which consists of brief button combos and a selection of special moves) will be no end of fun for its target audience. The opportunity to collect experience orbs to unlock further combination moves will also drive players onward through the adventure.
Ultimately, any truly dedicated Ben 10 fan is going to love grappling with Vilgax's evil forces and taking on infamous bosses from the TV show - conveniently ignoring the game's obvious shortcomings in favour of 'becoming' Ben and his portable armoury of alien heroes. For anyone not familiar with the show and not instantly aroused by the game's somewhat tame God of War gameplay delivery, it might be worth waiting for God of War: Chains of Olympus, which is due to hit the PSP in March of 2008.
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