The PSP hasn't had the same deluge of beat'em ups that the PS2 has had, but given the poor quality of the games, this has been a good thing. Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects pits old favorites from the Marvel universe against new characters in old-school, button-mashing gameplay. Rise of the Imperfects was a letdown on the PS2, but it feels more at home on the PSP. It's still got a number of flaws, but it's a pleasant diversion while on the go.
During the course of the game you'll play the role of a number of Marvel heroes – Wolverine, The Thing, Elektra, Magneto, Spiderman, Storm, and Venom – eighteen in all. The PSP version of the games doesn't have DareDevil, nor does it have the Human Torch; instead Captain America and Dr. Doom are playable. It's a pretty good trade off if you ask me. The story isn't bad – New York City is being attacked and an evil scientist, Dr. Van Roekel, has unleashed the Imperfects to finish off all the superheroes, but the plot is secondary – heck it might not even be that high on the list.
Whereas the PS2's single campaign was a chore to play, Nemesis on the PSP is a more action oriented experience. You start as either The Thing or Johnny Ohm. After ten fights, you unlock another character, fight with them for ten fights, unlock another character and so on. The fighting mechanics in Marvel Nemesis are quite simple and easy to learn, which is good, since the instruction manual is pathetic. Pound the attack button until your fingers get sore, rest, and then get back to work – it's that easy. Normal attacks are augmented by pressing the right shoulder button in conjunction with the attack button. You can also perform special attacks by using the left shoulder button, and each character has their own unique attack of varying effectiveness. Balance between the characters is lacking, as there are some characters that are clearly stronger and more useful than others. Sure, every fighting game has some balance issues, but they're a little more pronounced here.
Thankfully, the PSP gets a lock-on button, so you can focus on one particular enemy without the camera forcing you to lose sight of them. This makes the game much less frustrating to play, and is something that should have been in the console incarnations. Since the PSP lacks a second analog stick, there are still issues with the camera, and the developer's decision to have the block button double as a way to center the camera doesn't alleviate them all that much.
Marvel Nemesis' biggest problem is that it's just not all that interesting of a game. The combat is simple and repetitive, and while the shorter play sessions of handheld gaming lessen that problem somewhat, it's still an issue. The developers added a collectible card aspect this time around, but it's not very fleshed out, and doesn't add much variety to the experience. Basically, there are 170 cards, and you earn cards after every fight. These cards will unlock arenas and characters, as well as help you out during a fight. You can play a card (they are mapped to the d-pad) during a level to get some health back, give your rage meter a boost, among other things. That's really all there is to it; the computer doesn't get cards, and their inclusion don't add much strategy to the game, which is disappointing, because they're not a bad idea.
Online multiplayer is not supported, though you can play a friend via ad-hoc. Unfortunately, you can only use characters you've unlocked, so unless you've invested quite a lot of time in the game, your fights will get repetitive rather quickly.
Rise of the Imperfects' presentation is nothing to write home about. The level design is incredibly bland and the textures are blurry. The framerate isn't consistent, choking when the action gets even remotely hectic. It wasn't very fast to begin with, so it hampers gameplay when it slows to a crawl. The environments are semi-destructible, but not in any interesting sort of way. You can smash storefronts, light poles, cars, mailboxes, and many other things, but most objects have only two states, normal and smashed, so there's not a whole lot to look at once you've punched or thrown an object.
The character animations are all very good – each hero moves like you'd think they should, and their special powers are for the most part, impressive. Jae Lee was the artist for the PS2 game, while the PSP has a totally different artist behind its visuals, in Terry Dodson. The color palette he used makes the game look like a comic book in motion, with bright colors for the main characters, and muted tones for the backgrounds.
The game's characters are its biggest strength. Of course the Marvel heroes' design is top-notch, but the EA-created characters are able to hold their own against them from a creativity standpoint. Unfortunately the game's story has been cut down so much that there's really no way for you to get to know the characters. If you played the PS2 version you'll appreciate them, but if this is your first taste, it's a little underwhelming.
Rise of the Imperfects' audio is on-par with just about every other beat'em up out there. The sounds of metal slamming into brick, glass shattering, and barrels exploding in a fiery blaze fill the levels. Other than the cut-scenes, there's not much voice-acting, save for the smack talk at the beginning and end of big fights. With EA's propensity towards adding a punk soundtrack to almost all of their games, it's a pleasant surprise to hear Imperfects' low-key orchestral soundtrack. It's not anything special, but it doesn't have to be – it just stays in the background, subtly adding tension to the fight.
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects is a more enjoyable game on the PSP than it was on the PS2. Some of its flaws have been worked out, but it has also been stripped down enough that it doesn't feel like its own game, but rather a companion to the PS2 version. If you're just looking to kill a few minutes here and there pounding bad guys and mashing buttons, Nemesis is worth a look, but if depth is what you desire you'll want to look elsewhere.