"So we waited patiently for a decent X-Men game to come along. Marvel and their programming partners knew the franchise was strong enough to sell complete junk to the eager youth comprising their target audience. As our eagerness and optimism was continually exploited, we wound up with dud after dud, the highest crimes committed by the wretched LJN X-Men related games. Hell, the ''best'' game to see use of the label for years was the deadbeat Genesis X-Men, a horrible game to claim as the best of..."
So we waited patiently for a decent X-Men game to come along. Marvel and their programming partners knew the franchise was strong enough to sell complete junk to the eager youth comprising their target audience. As our eagerness and optimism was continually exploited, we wound up with dud after dud, the highest crimes committed by the wretched LJN X-Men related games. Hell, the ''best'' game to see use of the label for years was the deadbeat Genesis X-Men, a horrible game to claim as the best of any sort.
But that trend started to end with games such as this. Capcom had perhaps a larger role with their countless VS titles, but this X-Men 2 for the Genesis was one of the first good games to employ the license. It the first to shed the clumsy practices of yore and allow you to play the mutants like they were supposed to be played.
Remember the awful ways programmers would attempt to balance mutant abilities so they ''wouldn't be abused?'' There was the classic ''ability bar'' which would cruelly disappear as you attempted to use Wolverine's claws or Cyclops' optic beams. There was the brilliant ''reduction of health'' for the truly masochistic developers, and there was the relatively kinder ''input commands'' with the mutant powers in Mutant Apocalypse. X-Men 2 tosses this nonsense to the wayside.
The heroes are now free to use their gifts without penalty. Gambit can throw cards from a limitless deck and Psylocke can use her psychic blade without having to sacrifice a limb. The relief (and resultant fun) stemming from this freedom is awesome, but perhaps can't be appreciated without a painful upbringing weaned on the excruciating junk peddled before. Pushing the envelope even more, X-Men 2 sees the mutant soldiers with other, understated abilities, such as Wolverine's ability to climb walls with his claws or Nightcrawler's ability to crawl along walls and ceilings.
The mutant selection is also unparalleled; six of Marvel's finest are available at first, and later on Magneto becomes playable. Choice is excellent, but in a bizarre twist, it's not even there for your use at first...
X-Men 2 thrusts you into the thick of the action immediately. Fire up the machine, look at the brief licensing disclaimer, then hit the down button to duck under the missile aimed at your head. No title screen, no ''press start,'' you just take control of a randomly-assigned character and start fighting for your life right away. Trudge across this arctic compound level safely, and then you see the title screen and story, and finally you can select your X-Man.
X-Men 2 maintains this focus on action for the rest of the game. With the mutant powers unbound, you're free to frantically hack and stab and fire away at the always-present drones, goons and subterranean denizens. The action feels uninhibited, as if it can be played fast and loose the way you'd want it to. Matching this uninhibited action proficiency is a simple, on-spot control scheme. 3 buttons, perfect in layout and attachment to the character.
Aside from some smallish (almost puny) character designs, the game sure looks up to snuff. Level layouts are comprised of high-detail artwork and vibrant color. The Sentinel factory is a dark, yet vividly mechanical ascending labyrinth, a gorgeous contrast to the vibrant Egyptian aesthetic of the entrance to Apocalypse's base. The color band sees rare exploitation in this game, and the backgrounds and foregrounds are smooth, without any sort of pixelation or scrutinizable mirings. Unlike the pleasant affront of the visuals, the sound is subdued, barely present, save for between-level story segments and the occasional boss encounter.
As promising as this all is, it falls short and flat in its ability to express itself. As open and free as the X-Men are to punish villains and conquer ground, the levels sometimes don't match up. A large portion of them are mundane, lacking in depth or ingenuity. The snowy first level is a simplistic, routine platform experience, the kind of NES-quality crate and girder composition games had longs since evolved past before this game's release. Things pick up in the Sentinel level, but it's back to a simplistic climb up to the entrance of Apocalypse's lair, and then down through a slightly less one-dimensional trip to its heart. This failure on the part of the level design is a big letdown, both to the promise of the game and the promise of the license.
All is not destroyed, though. Even though the levels can be duds, they can still be fun, if not exciting or revolutionary. Control of the powerful X-Men is as good as it gets, and such liberation is enjoyable for its own merits. Had the challenges and levels stacked up, with the sort of brilliance later 16 Bit platformers saw, X-Men 2 could have been truly special. Without this quality, it must sulk into its simply ''good'' status, short of the immeasurable potential of its foundation and license.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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