With its string of relatively high-class movie adaptations—Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, et al.—the Marvel tradition of ruthlessly strip-mining its catalog (with pennies to the artists, of course) would seem to have come to an end. Not so. Worlds collide in the tag-team action game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, a giddy clearinghouse of over 140 characters in the Marvel family, from favorites like Captain America and Wolverine to slightly more obscure heroes like Ms. Marvel and Deadpool. Each one has his/her/its own special move (though over half of those moves are just about the same) and you assemble a team of four, ideally combining the force of, say, Thor and Colossus, with the finesse of Spider-Man and Storm. Not that any specific combination will really have an impact on team chemistry: Any four will do, since the power balance is roughly the same and there are so many possibilities that the individual characters are crudely defined.
Much like the X-Men Legends games and the Fantastic Four movie-to-game adaptation, the single-player mode of Ultimate Alliance allows you to switch easily between characters using the directional arrows, but here the team play is limited. There are a few solid reasons to float from one to another or bring them all together for a mass attack or defense maneuver, but the game forfeits nuance for exceptional depth and broad, increasingly whimsical setpieces. As a member of an alliance of good guys, your job is to stop the evil-doings of Dr. Doom and other bad guys as they carry out a mutant amplification scheme so diabolical that it defies explanation. The first few missions are a bore—how many malfunctioning control panels can a space station have, anyway?—but once the action shifts to spots like the inside of a pinball machine, the funs picks up.
Beyond the gameplay: There are so many heroes to unlock that the designers come up with endearingly bizarre ways to retrieve them. A favorite: Blade, from a coin-operated arcade "claw."
Worth playing for: At one point, Activision does its own catalog-pillaging by forcing you to complete a level by playing its Atari 2600 classic Pitfall.
Frustration sets in when: The big bosses are easy to defeat, but only after figuring out an irrational, gimmicky way to strike their weak spots.
Final judgment: Ultimate Alliance may be schlocky and unrefined, but the endless Dream Team combinations of Marvel super and not-so-super heroes prove irresistible.