It goes without saying that the sandbox adventure has seen a revival these past few years. From The Legend of Zelda to Ghost of Tsushima, it seems that every single high profile production is trying to push the boundaries of what can be done with large, open-ended environments peppered with interesting activities to enjoy and stories to experience.
Ben 10: Power Trip is another game in this vein. An officially licensed title where the newest challenge the iconic alien-changing hero faces will be a sprawling non-linear map and obstacles to tackle in any order he wishes.
Thanks to some remote office wizardry, I was able to play an early build of this game by the talented folks at PHL Collective. Within a few minutes I was mildly impressed with how the studio is handling many challenges that come with an open-world design while making the experience as approachable as possible to children and players of all ages.
The set-up is simple. Ben Tennyson is on vacation in Europe with his family when some evil mastermind, the wizard known as Hex, re-powers Ben's shapeshifting Omnitrix and unleashes untold power within four magical crystals.. If Ben is going to save the world, he'll have to find a way to restore his powers, shut down the crystals, and defeat Hex.
The entire time throughout the demo, the same thought kept creeping into my mind: how is this going to be different? The demo in question started with Ben in the middle of a forest near his grandfather's RV and talking to the local authority figure, Ranger Ryan. Walking and jumping happened. Collectible coins were grabbed, and it felt relatively slow. I was starting to dread how boring this could get, to say nothing of the attention spans of young kids that made up the game's core demographic. PHL's solution to this: use Ben's scooter. A scooter that goes faster in long stretches and can make long jumps. I smiled at the simple ingenuity.
As the tutorial continued, I was guided to a Void rift, placing Ben into an ethereal dimension full of floating platforms. After navigating through this space I got a hold of Ben's first alien form, the fire slinging Heatblast, and a taste of the combat. It's an old, but familiar system with weak attacks and strong attacks that can be strung together into combos, and there's a dodge button to help keep things quick and energetic.
Thankfully, Heatblast turned out to be more versatile than just a guy that can burn down enemies and roadblocks. The hero brought a double jump ability with him as well, which helped me reach a few taunting coins as I made my way around the nearby forest and nature park. That noted mark of versatility made me appreciate just how much thought PHL had put into this game, and made me interested in how they would translate Ben 10's more fantastic transformations. Ben riding a scooter would be one thing, zipping across the map as the superspeed hero XLR8 would be something else.
Sadly, my time with the demo concluded shortly thereafter, but I still managed to get several scintillating details about Ben 10: Power Trip. In addition to maintaining the “do whatever you like whenever you like” design ethos, the map would include additional challenges. More collectible coins, something anyone who has played a Lego game will gladly obsess over, hidden puzzles and boss fights were brought up, challenges that will become more manageable as more of Ben's alien forms are unlocked.
To my surprise, PHL mentioned there would also be a couch co-op mode. At any point, a second player can jump into the game as Kevin Levin, who has his own collection of alien forms to change into. Functionally speaking, they are identical to Ben's forms, naturally, both players need the same tools if they are going to tackle the same challenges, but they will maintain their own unique appearances.
An open-world game based on the world of Ben 10 is one thing, but adding local co-op to the mix was a novel addition I'm surprised more developers didn't try. While it is limited to just local co-op, implementing online in a game map this big would open so many cans of worms, the idea of just jumping in and enjoying the game with a friend, sibling, or parent, is the kind of inclusive and wholesome entertainment that these projects always strive for.
I can't exactly say that Ben 10: Power Trip is going to be some unsung masterpiece. When it comes to a lot of the features I saw during this vertical slice, it was all a healthy mix of tried and true ideas and mechanics refined with admirable workmanlike quality. If you're a fan of Ben 10 or know a kid who's just getting into gaming age who loves the hero of many forms, this looks like a great start for them. But I can't help but admire the little ways PHL took something that was popular, either by creative decision or executive demand, and are managing to put their own spin on it.
TechRaptor previewed Ben 10: Power Trip on PC at an online event hosted by the publisher. The game will also be available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch on October 9th.