Genre: Action Developer: Probe Software Publisher: U.S. Gold Players: 1 Released: 1994
With a new movie coming, Marvel’s emerald giant is poised to either make a grand return to films or fall flat on his face… again. Not that I’m saying that the 2003 movie stunk, but I’d rather play U.S. Gold’s Genesis game than have to watch that snorefest again. Wait, let me think long and hard about that before committing myself to an answer…
See the corner I’ve just painted myself into? Obviously, I should have said The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction instead of The Incredible Hulk for Genesis, as that would have been a sane and logical choice. The Genesis game is the exact opposite of what you’d want to play if you want to feel what it’s like to be the Hulk. It’s unfortunate that the green powerhouse had to have himself represented by such a dull and repetitive game back in the 16-bit era, but I’m sure that no one at Probe at the time considered their latest game to be anything short of spectacular. Given the super hero slop that gamers were accustomed to back then, I’d be half inclined to agree, but if you search further, you’ll actually find some very good games that did their characters justice. Batman on the NES comes to mind, as does Sega’s own Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin (read our Double Take article on that little gem for my full thoughts). One was a fast-paced action game with an incredible soundtrack that just happened to feature Batman, and the other was an honest-to-goodness super hero title built from the ground up around its star. Where along that spectrum does The Incredible Hulk lie? I’d say that it’s closer to the former, but minus the fast-paced action and the incredible soundtrack.
Aren’t developers supposed to learn (read: copy) from one another? Shouldn’t another’s success serve as some form of inspiration to the still-undiscovered talent looking for his big break? Shouldn’t a game about a super hero actually make him, you know, super? It would seem that Probe never got that memo while working on Incredible Hulk, because this is a game totally devoid of inspiration, a by-the-numbers affair that suggests more of a desire to complete a contractual obligation than to produce a great piece of software.
And that total lack of creativity is the very first thing you notice, especially in the main character himself. To say that the Hulk is underpowered is an understatement, and the entire premise of the gameplay goes against everything the character represents. Why would the Hulk ever be affected by regular bullets? Granted, if we were talking about the weak Lou Ferrigno TV Hulk, I’d let it slide, but this is the massive comic monster we’re dealing with. Bullets should bounce right off. Banner’s alter ego can’t swim either, which is probably the fault of all that muscle mass. It makes a fellow heavy, you know! I’m not going to go much more into specifics about how watered down the Hulk is here, but let’s just say that he’s only missing the leotards to be mistaken for his female cousin.
How Probe Software expects the player to defeat the Leader’s evil plot with a character that can only jump (barely) and punch is questionable, and it’s obvious that the license was simply tacked on to a standard action title. Long and repetitive levels filled with the same tired armored soldiers try to make things interesting by having the player search for switches to open doors (?), and collect power ups to “Hulk up.” The problem with this is that you spend far too much time navigating the same backgrounds over and over trying to find that occasionally hidden switch, and there is absolutely no reason why you should have to power up the Hulk to begin with.
Something that did have potential that was quickly ruined was the inclusion of the defenseless Bruce Banner as a playable character, since the ways you get him are so very, very wrong. Get this: you turn back into the good doctor by taking a pill. That sort of goes against the grain of the whole alter ego dynamic, doesn’t it? The rationale behind this is that Banner can access smaller openings for goodies that the Hulk can’t, which is just as stupid. Why would the Hulk need to crawl into an air duct? Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just rip the damn wall down? You also revert to Banner if you take too much damage, and this is equally worthy of a palm to one’s own forehead. Doesn’t the Hulk get stronger as he gets madder? Shouldn’t the damage piss him off enough to make him almost unstoppable? He must be taking some serious anger management classes to calm down with all those soldiers shooting at him.
Some high moments include some excellent character models and the addition of genuine comic bosses, like the Abomination (who appears way too often), the Absorbing Man, and Tyrannus. The battles themselves aren’t too exciting, and they basically boil down to punching the enemy before he can punch back, no technique or style required. You can sometimes find things to pick up and throw, like boulders or cars, but they’re never around when you need them, and even standard foes can survive their impact. I was also a bit impressed with the slight audio touches, like the Hulk growling when he’s hit and the “THOOM!” whenever he lands from one of his anemic jumps.
Ah yes, the jumps! For a hero that can supposedly leap miles, the poor Hulk can barely clear a pit of spikes here. The is compounded by the horrible control, which lags slightly whenever you press the button. It’s not enough to completely ruin the game, but it does make jumping even the smallest pit something to worry over. The fact that landing in a pit or pool of water means instant death just cheapens an already rock-bottom experience even more.
As a fan of Marvel’s green icon, I wanted to have high expectations going into The Incredible Hulk. Fortunately, common sense got the better of me, so I was emotionally prepared for what I got. I can’t say I hate the game, because it’s competent in what it does. The problem is that it doesn’t do all that much, and I wanted so much more for a character that’s so amazingly powerful. I think I’ll stick to Ultimate Destruction for my Hulk fix, and so should you.
SCORE: 4 out of 10