Ben 10 has been around for yonks, and not just on the small screen. The first Ben 10 game – Protector of Earth – was on the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS, thirteen years ago. Congratulations, Ben Tennyson – for a kid you are OLD. There’s clearly still an audience for the little shapeshifter, though, as the latest volume of the TV series was out this year, taking it up to its fifteenth.
The latest Ben 10 game is that old TV trope – the European road trip (and thus the ‘Trip’ in the game’s title). You, Gwen and Grandpa Max are out in the camper van, taking in the sights of – what seems to be – the Alps regions of Germany. This is very much a Cartoon Network, Americanised take on the area, as the first park ranger you encounter has an Australian accent. Everyone else varies wildly from Lederhosen-wearing lumberjacks to people with full-blown American accents. A documentary this is not.
In a bold move, the holidaying is interrupted by your arch-nemesis Hex, who wastes no time in stripping you of your powers. For a series whose USP is a boy that can turn into flamethrowing giants and whatnot, it’s quite the call to take them away from him. It works, though, as you unlock your Omnitrix transformations one at a time, giving you room to get to grips with each one before moving on to the next. Ben himself is no slouch, either, as he has a cool scooter that makes travelling through the open world a cinch.
Wait – did we just say open world? Let’s jump to the important detail that plays into so much that is good and bad about Power Trip: this is an open-world game. That doesn’t simply mean the levels are broad, or that you’re given missions to do in any order – this is an open world in the purest sense, as you might have encountered in many a Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed. It’s a massive call for a game that’s clearly got a fraction of the budget of your Ubisoft open worlds.
If you’ve played your share of games aimed at kids, it’ll be a welcome difference. There’s freedom to take the game at your own pace, completing side quests, collectathons or just climbing onto rooftops like a pocket Crackdown. Even the main quests are split between four regions, and three of those are pretty much available from the get go. Do them in any order, and unlock their two associated alien transformations before moving on to the others. For scattered attention spans, it can be a lifesaver.
Like your LEGO open worlds, it allows for some emergent play with your kids, and the co-op mode is welcome. You can both play the entirety of the game, from side-questing to main, but with a caveat: you can’t stray far from each other or you will risk getting yanked back via teleport. In this household, it was a dealbreaker and completely undermined the open world. Why create a huge map if you can’t split up and explore it away from each other? Your take might differ, and you might be able to make it work, but we felt the absence of a more friendly co-op mode.
Parts of the game really flourish in the open world. The farthest region, a mountainous resort, lets the reasonably flat level design sprawl a bit, and you’ll be navigating winding, precarious areas that invite exploration. It’s the game at its peak, in more ways than one, and the simple traversal controls can make it feel like the Prince of Persia reboots, if you squint a bit.
Here comes the ‘BUT’. Ben 10: Power Trip is the answer to the question of ‘what happens to an open world if you spread the content a little too thin?’. While the size of the map is significant, the areas are empty and repetitive. The worst culprit is Strudelbek, one of the three regions available from the off, and the main city of the game. With the exception of a few landmark buildings, the city is a tiled photocopy of a ghost town. Buildings are duplicated and bland; there’s nobody wandering round the streets; virtually no cars travel the roads, and railways sit empty. It feels like 28 Days Later – you almost expect some zombies to shamble around the corner.
There’s not enough gameplay to fill the world either. The regions are big enough to host their own Ben 10 games, but they instead house three ‘save my cat’-style side quests and eight-or-so main quests that’ll take you no more than ten minutes each. These include missions to reclaim your Omnitrix powers that don’t bother to use the environment anyway. You could hunt for collectibles, but then you’d be butting against the dreariness of the world and it’s repetition. Some kids might feel that urge, but there was none here.
That’s not to say that the main missions are poor. Some are surprisingly epic, charging through the streets of the city after Hex and blasting holes in the environment (not persistently, unfortunately). As if exhausted from making these impressive missions, the devs intermingle them with missions that require the delivery of letters or a chat to another NPC. The missions are a mixed bag then, but they collectively don’t last particularly long.
At least it feels pretty good to play these missions. The six transformations you acquire are satisfyingly different: some are bulky and slow but powerful, while others are nimble and can cross a city in minutes. They feel different in combat too, with Shockrock able to lasso flying critters (they are a pain without this ability), while Diamondhead can reflect missiles back at their owner. Working through the open world will need their unique skillsets too. Switching between them can be something of a faff, as you’ll only be able to have quick access to three of them, but generally the unlocking and use of your transformations is a joy.
The platforming is decent, but prone to the curse of most 3D platformers – the camera. It has a habit of disappearing into your character’s body, or getting stuck under the lip of the platform you want to reach. Most of the time, the levels are open enough that this doesn’t amount to a problem, but it can crop up when you least want it to, when the action is most crowded (and when the bosses are at their largest).
That’s not to say that Ben 10: Power Trip is difficult: it seems well-pitched for 6-12 year-olds, and is generous with its fail-states. There’s probably seven or eight hours of gameplay here, if you don’t go collectible-hunting, and it’s smooth sailing almost all of the way.
Recommending Ben 10: Power Trip on the Xbox One is difficult, because everything comes with an asterisk. It’s a refreshing difference from your traditional licenced kids’ game, as it attempts an open world BUT that open world is lacking in content and interest. It can be explored cooperatively BUT only if you stay joined at the hip. The platforming and combat are fun BUT you’ll have to fight the camera while you do it. If you’re desperate for a Ben 10 experience on Xbox One then it might be enough to scrub out those asterisks and give it a go. For anyone else, several platformers have come out this year alone, and they all do what Power Trip does, with slightly more aplomb.