Reviewed: June 3, 2006
Released: May 17, 2006
Always knows for high tech effects and over-the-top action, the new X-Men movie, The Last Stand, is poised to be the summer of 2006’s first true popcorn blockbuster. So naturally, one would expect a game to follow suit – and hence we have X-Men: The Official Game, released for the major consoles and handhelds, including the subject of this review; the GBA.
Due to the technical limits of the aging handheld, X-Men: The Official Game reverts to the tried-and-true 2D sidescrolling platforming formula from the early days of gaming – yet still maintains a few of the niceties that make the current-gen games so exciting.
For instance, where most 2D sidescrolling titles are content with giving the gamer a single character to play, X-Men: The Official Game allows the player to take on up to four characters – Wolverine, Iceman, Nightcrawler and GBA exclusive Colossus – swapping between each on the fly to fully utilize their particular strengths for each situation. Wolverine’s quick slashes and physical strength might be particularly helpful in a hairy hand-to-hand battle, but Iceman’s frosty blast might help for ranged work.
Swapping is instantaneous, and easily carried out with a press of the left shoulder button and the corresponding direction on the D-pad. Each character has a small move set that can be accessed by combining the B-button and the four primary directions on the D-Pad. Clicking the right shoulder button with initiated a time-based super-power charge attack – doling out 4x damage, this comes in particularly handy in boss situations.
The levels are your standard 2D platforming fare, with lots of ledges and platforms to scale. The overall design is fairly generic, although there are a few lengthy jumps and tricky spots scattered throughout to help add a sense of skill to the proceedings.
Once the battles begin, however the game begins to show its faults. The enemy AI isn’t particularly bright, and most times will wait patiently for you to attack first before commencing their own onslaught. Once they do, you quickly realize that the only real difficulty comes simply from the shear number of enemies, rather than from their actual fighting prowess.
Another factor that unduly adds to the difficulty level is the sluggish response time of the controls, which seem to only register input commands a fraction of the time. If the character animations were long and drawn out I might understand the sluggish nature of the controls – but the game literally plays like a turn-based RPG at times, which often results in fatal consequences in this action platformer. Thankfully, liberal use of the charged attacks helps clear the way when things get a bit hairy.
Visually, X-Men: The Official Game is a bit lackluster and grainy, but not much worse than any other GBA game these days. The levels generally exhibit the same repeated textures and objects throughout, but throw in special objects here and there to break up the monotony.
The 2D sprite animations are extremely stilted and choppy, and bring back memories of late 80’s NES games. The controlled characters snap from still frame pose to still frame pose, with little or no connecting animations. The enemy characters look even worse – with only one or two animations in total. Considering the poor response of the controls (mentioned earlier), the overall feel lacks fluidity.
On a positive note, the background layers are quite colorful and impressive, and the mode by which they move slightly out-of-sync with the forefront visuals, is actually quite cool looking.
The standard swooshes, slashes and explosions of the GBA are present and accounted for and overlaying a fairly satisfying – if a bit monotonous – background music track. The music seems to make attempts to rise and fall here and there – but it comes across as more parts of the score itself than being in reaction to the onscreen action.
Aside from the unique on-the-fly character swapping, X-Men: The Official Game is overall a fairly weak GBA platformer. While the developers did throw in an exclusive character – Colossus – for this release, he hardly justifies a purchase.
X-Men: The Official Game is fairly pleasing for a short period of time, but the fun diminishes rather quickly. In fact, the whole time I plodded through the game I could not help thinking about how much more I enjoyed playing the Metroid games – driving me to a quick fix of Metroid Fusion on more than one instance.
If the GBA is the only gaming device you own, and you are craving for an X-Men game, then by all means give X-Men: The Official Game a shot. But for the rest of us, I would suggest passing on the GBA version and instead pick up one of the more impressive console versions.