Author: John Legendoffzelda
There’s no fun behind The Incredible Hulk, none of the zing of demolition that you might expect from a work featuring Marvel Comics’ signature green brute. When not examining the character’s notable human-monster duality, a detail this game ignores anyway, his status as a thrilling force of destruction is all that remains of his entertainment value. He’s nothing without it. In a confounding decision, Probe Entertainment and U.S. Gold, famous for their Olympics games, licensed the character and built around him a concrete and adamantium cage of a video game designed to make his abilities all but worthless. Now the big guy is limited to showing a few mild moves in an environment of shoddy beat-em-up action filled with uninspired enemy choices. And what’s more, the generic pitfall-filled platforming doesn’t play to any of his strengths.
The world is being threatened by a gallery of fearsome bad guys – Leader, Tyrannus, Abomination, Sinister Six member, Rhino, and Absorbing Man; and only the Incredible Hulk can stop them. It’s a thin premise to be sure, one that at the very least is a disposable frame for all the comic book excitement you would expect from a Marvel product. It would work if only there was any excitement to be had. Except for Abomination, who keeps showing up in the middle of things, these foes are fought at the end of five of the game’s six levels. And the Hulk can only reach them by repeating the same pattern of moving through corridors and socking enemies. Excluding the incongruous Doom-inspired level at the end, these enemies are all either Stormtrooper types with heads like those teardrop-shaped bicycle helmets, or stone statues of Roman soldiers that spring to life when the Hulk gets near. Defying all logic where the Hulk’s powers are concerned, they’re obnoxiously hard to defeat. Half of them shoot rockets or laser beams that are surprisingly harmful to the green guy and effective in impeding his efforts to even get near them. Landing a hit for the player usually means punching an enemy over and over until they explode, provided that they don’t somehow scurry past the Hulk. It makes the process of fighting them similar to gripping a wet bar of soap.
The moves at the player’s arsenal are limited to jabs and uppercuts, as well as a sonic clap that requires special circumstances, and they’re all so underwhelming – there’s no kinetic grandiosity to any of his moves. This game creates the frustrating spectacle of seeing an iconic superhuman muscle-man being only capable of knocking a henchman back a few feet. The only aesthetic that comes closest to that is the rumbling sound he makes when he falls from high up enough, because when he hits the ground there’s finally some sense of weight and presence.
With the way these levels are designed, though, something like falling from a great height turns into a luxury. When the levels aren’t open areas with a lot of space above where the Hulk can’t reach, they’re tightly-wound arrangements of ledges and narrow hallways, teeming with enemies and rigidly linear in general. It’s a mind-numbing chore to get through these levels, not just because of the aforementioned combat but also how the Hulk even interacts with his surroundings. He’s like a mouse in a cardboard maze, forced to work around impenetrable barriers, activate switch after switch just to progress, and wait for finicky elevators to take him where he has to go next. Aside from some breakable walls and a boulder or two to impotently throw, no integral part of these stages lets players do anything remotely Hulk-like. The one chance for them to really get what they came here for comes from sparsely provided power-ups, small green-and-purple pills that bring the Hulk’s life meter to its maximum. They can be easy to miss but finding them is a relief, because with them the green guy finally feels like himself – he’s still bound by the game’s arbitrary physics, but he can punch faster and he can run, removing the need for his default walking pace.
Those pills aren’t to be confused with similar ones that have a slant dividing the two colors. They don’t max out health, but instead they let the Hulk revert back to his less dangerous human form of Bruce Banner. As Bruce, the player can crawl through tight spaces, and he can even crawl past enemies who won’t even aim downwards to hit him. Crawling is really the only use that Bruce has, and it raises the question of why anyone would want to play as him when the game is meant to be experienced with the Incredible Hulk. The non-answer given is that the Hulk can also turn back into Bruce when his health gets too low, which given all the incessant enemy fire and surprise spike pits is a guarantee. After firing all two of the rifle bullets that are his only means of defense, the player is out of luck. That mocking option to wield the rifle is most common in the boss battles, especially against Rhino and Abomination, who could wipe out the Hulk with one hand tied behind their backs. These fights, and pretty much the other boss battles, are anonymous and lackluster as the Hulk, but as Bruce, they’re hopeless. The special timer that activates for the bosses remains useless in either situation. But they do serve as appropriate endings for all of the levels, as the Hulk’s subdued performance against the Leader and company punctuates how far removed he is from himself.
This game doesn’t look all that good, not helped by the levels’ stylistic choices – the sewers and Roman-pastiche architectures and fortress corridors have no imagination to them. The light funk tunes comprising the music, with their wobbling synths and tepid bass, seem at times like a high-budget do-over of the Bebe’s Kids soundtrack. But while the colors are blotchy they’re also bright, and one of the Hulk’s fail-safes is that he has a look that’s hard to do badly. This game makes him look like an action figure as much as Ang Lee’s film made him look broad and puffy, but he’s still a walking green mass of bulging muscles, and that recognizable look is part of what’s made him a pop icon. The makers of The Incredible Hulk were able to work with that image, but at the expense of everything else about him. Their overall result is an odd and exasperating installment of this comic book franchise that’ll make fans wish someone else would do something with it soon.
Two out of five stars.
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