Your Kinect Avatar Gets Super Powers
A fighting game that can provide decent fun and exercise, but which ultimately seems to fall short of the Kinect’s potential to provide immersive, virtual reality gameplay.
I’ve been meaning to do a review of PowerUP Heroes by Ubisoft since it was released in October 2011. It has four out of five stars on Amazon, all of which seem legitimate, with comments such as “this is the future of exercise” and “it gives you quite the workout without being a fitness game”. Likewise, on GameFly it has an impressive 7.1 out of 10.
The premise of PowerUp Heroes is a simple one. Your Kinect Avatar (which with the exception of Kinect Sports doesn’t really seem to get much attention) is donned with a brand new super-suit. You can play in mission mode, where your character collects more power (and more suits) as it fights and defeats increasingly challenging opponents. Or you can face off against another player in split-screen two-player battles, or even fight other players online. In each case, as with other fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, you go through up to three rounds of fighting, trying to get your opponent’s power bar to zero as he attempts to do the same to you.
So far, the concept seems like a strong one. The cartoony graphics and sound are pretty good and the super powers are imaginative and fun. Who wouldn’t love to be able to wield a whip of lightning, or shoot fireballs?
Also, the controls are relatively simple. You punch and kick naturally when you’re in close range to your opponent. When you’re far away from your opponent, you follow various hand gestures to activate superpowers. Some of these are intuitive (such as rearing back and pushing forward a fireball a la Dragonball Z) while others are less intuitive but still fairly simple (like spreading your arms apart or making a twisting motion with them). There is definitely something gratifying about defeating opponents and getting their superpowers. And it’s true that all that moving around can provide a decent, if not a great workout.
My main gripe with the game is that even though you see your live silhouette in the usual postage stamp-portion of the screen, there are virtually no parts of the game where your character moves one-to-one with you. While some of the moves to activate your “superpowers” feel immersive, others just feel like you’re “striking a pose”, which isn’t very exciting. Similarly, when it comes time to do close, hand-to-hand combat you’re not actually punching in real-time, you’re following on-screen cuts to “punch right”, “punch left”, “kick left”, “upper cut” at molasses-like speeds, all of which sort of takes away the fun (and the exercise) that your built-up adrenalin demands. In that sense it feels an awful lot like the rather woeful Kung Fu Panda 2 for Kinect.
Another gripe I have is that the game feels very, very sluggish. There are times I’d do moves to activate my superpowers, but it would take a few seconds to register. In a game where high-speed combos are rewarded, this can cause a lot of frustration. Granted, this makes me flail my arms around more wildly, which provides more exercise, but I’d rather get my exercise my making the game work, as opposed to trying to compensate for where it doesn’t work.
PowerUp Heroes feels to me like another in a long, long line of Kinect games where the focus seems to be more on “hey, isn’t it cool what the Kinect can do” rather than feeling truly immersed in the game and forgetting completely that you’re using a Kinect. I’m still waiting for that game, although as I’ve said quite often I think Kung Fu High Impact comes closest so far.
I think this game will appeal mostly to households with kids who might get frustrated at more advanced motion-controlled games like Dance Central or Kung Fu High Impact, and appreciate the simpler “simon says” aspects to this game. Also, I have to say it is still an awful lot of fun when playing with another player, simply because both players are on an equal playing field. I just hope that if and when the time comes for a PowerUp Heroes 2, that Ubisoft can tap the true power of the Kinect and evolve the game past the “button mashing boss battle” type gameplay and towards more realistic, virtual reality fighting.