DS

North America

X-Men: The Official Game

by Jonathan Metts - June 4, 2006, 10:16 pm PDT
Total comments: 7

4.5

How will Wolverine, Iceman, and Magneto ever get across the gap in the bridge? Spend two levels walking around it, of course!

With Game Boy Advance releases slowing to a crawl, the Nintendo DS is in the process of becoming the new de facto home for licensed drivel. And you might expect that X-Men: The Official Game for DS fits into that category, but it really doesn't. It's certainly not a great game, but it does try some interesting things that, sadly, just don't work out. I don't want to call it ambitious, because it is a simple game with not much to offer, but at least it doesn't directly copy any other game, to my knowledge. It is a unique failure.

This is a top-down action game that resembles X-Men Legends, though it plays very differently. The levels are quite short and involve very little exploration, though they couldn't exactly be called linear. You are usually in control of Wolverine, Iceman, or Magneto and can switch among them with either shoulder button. Each one has a distinct method of attack, which sets up a paper-rock-scissors theme that ties into the enemy designs. The D-pad controls character movement, while the touch screen is used for all attacks – that's the interesting bit. Wolverine's melee attacks are activated and targeted by touching a nearby enemy, while Iceman's projectiles are done the same way, but they work at long range and are a bit weaker. Magneto is completely different, as he depends on metallic objects for his attacks. You touch an object and drag or flick it into an enemy. The idea of basing all these attacks on touch screen input, and forcing the player to quickly switch from one character to another to deal with certain enemy types, is compelling stuff for a while. The game also requires some tricky manipulation of the D-pad and touch screen simultaneously, so that you are often moving the character in one direction but attacking in another. It's like a modern take on Robotron controls.

Initially, this formula works. The game feels fresh and challenging. But before long, the repetition sets in. There are only a few enemy types in the game, and many levels are little more than arenas where you must put down dozens of troops with nothing to break it up. Some beat-'em-up games get away with this sort of design by offering combos, special moves, and upgrades, but this X-Men game features none of those things. Each character has exactly one attack, plus a limited X-Factor move (the only useful one is Wolverine's healing ability) that is activated by tapping your character, which tends to happen by accident more than on purpose.

For fans of the comics and movies, the more crushing fact is that these powerful characters are castrated by the design of the game. Wolverine slashes, and that's it – he can't sniff out prey or slice through walls or anything. Iceman is only capable of shooting little pellets. Where are his ice slides and frost-covered body? Magneto is even more crippled. This is one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men universe, but all he can do in this game is lift barrels and toss them around. No flying, no force fields, no dismantling guns, no nothing. Compare this situation to the X-Men Legends games, in which the characters' powers are used in the context of the levels and in combat in ways that make sense and are true to the source material. The "Official" Game on DS plays like its designers watched the trailer for X-Men: The Last Stand and crafted the gameplay after what little they could remember from those scenes. Not that this game has anything at all to do with the movies…no, the plot is almost completely separate, and other than the dull squabbling between Wolverine and Magneto, the characters don't behave like they should, either.

The most extreme example of this game's ignorance is in the sporadic Nightcrawler levels. In this game, Nightcrawler swings his fists for a melee attack, meaning he plays exactly like Wolverine but moves a bit faster. That's supposed to be important, because all of his stages involve punching a certain number of bombs or terrorists before time runs out. You'd think that his teleportation ability and maybe his stealth would be helpful in such tasks, but the stealth is nonexistent in this game, and his teleportation has been replaced with a simple time freeze. Yep, just tap on Nightcrawler to activate his X-Factor special move, which stops time for everything but himself. That'll give you ample opportunity to run around and punch more barrels and bombs. Nevermind that this ability has nothing to do with the Nightcrawler character, whatsoever, and that these levels not only don't fit into the movie storyline (Nightcrawler isn't even in the third movie), but they don't even pertain to the parallel activities of the other X-Men in the game. It absolutely boggles my mind that someone thought these levels were a good idea or made sense in any context.

There really are some cool gameplay concepts in this game, and they are eventually put to good use in some of the later boss battles. The soundtrack also deserves some praise in the midst of all this criticism. All of the music is original, and some of the tracks really stand out and give some identity to the otherwise bland levels. Even the controls should be credited with being simple and responsive, though you may get wrist strain as in Metroid Prime: Hunters.

But these few bright points cannot save such a repetitive, bland game that also happens to be the worst use of a license I've ever seen. Anyone who has read a single issue of the comics or seen one of the movies could put the X-Men characters to better use than this game does. Activision would have done much better to bring one of the X-Men Legends games or some adaptation thereof to the DS, because this false movie tie-in is not worth playing.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
5 7 7.5 4 5 4.5
Graphics
5

The environments are detailed if static, what you'd expect from pre-rendered backgrounds. The character looks just plain bad, with grainy 3D models for no good reason, since the camera never rotates and almost never zooms (and when it does, it does so randomly). The animation is terrible too. Magneto lurches around like a caveman and doesn't even have his trademark cape.

Sound
7

No voice, forgettable sound effects, but the music is above average and manages to give some sense of place to the generic settings.

Control
7.5

The ability to move and attack in different directions is handled well through the D-Pad and touch screen interface. Being able to instantly switch characters and yet stick to nearly the same attack controls is impressive, too. There is a somewhat serious problem with touching your character to activate his special power, because the detection box for this action is larger than the character model. It is very, very easy to accidentally turn on the special power during melee combat or as an enemy flies over Iceman's head.

Gameplay
4

A few boss battles illustrate what this game could have been, but most of it is just tapping on one enemy after another, for no reason and little reward. The characters are poorly balanced and are weak as hell compared to what they can do in the comics and movies. The game is a long chain of short levels that all play pretty much the same. It's not compelling or particularly fun.

Lastability
5

There are forty levels in all, so despite the brevity of each one, the game does take a few hours to complete, especially with retries on the bosses. Additional modes like Score Attack, Survival, and Boss Rush are nothing more than lazy remixes of the main Story Mode, and there are no secret characters, bonus movie content, multiplayer, etc. So it's not a long game, but it's longer than many similar licensed handheld titles.

Final
4.5

At some point in development, I think this game probably looked very promising. That point was probably before the developers were handed a license they clearly did not understand and asked to make a beat-'em-up in time for the third X-Men movie's release. The result is a complete mess that doesn't even have anything to do with the movie it is supposedly supporting.

Summary

Pros
  • Challenging boss designs late in the game
  • Good music
  • Some neat control ideas
Cons
  • Annoying, repetitive level designs
  • Awful character graphics
  • Criminal misuse of X-Men characters
  • Too much combat, not enough moves
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

BlackNMild2k1June 05, 2006

So can you drop a spoiler and tell me why NightCrawler wasn't in the movie? It was supposed to be explained in the game, and with your review of the game, I don't think I will be picking it up to find out.

WanderingJune 05, 2006

Because they couldn't afford Alan Cumming, I imagine.

mantidorJune 05, 2006

Since they gave everyone two lines in the movie, Cumming didnt thought it was worth having to wake up at 2 in the morning to get the make up done and have such little screen time.

EasyCureJune 05, 2006

Quote

Originally posted by: BlackNMild2k1
So can you drop a spoiler and tell me why NightCrawler wasn't in the movie? It was supposed to be explained in the game, and with your review of the game, I don't think I will be picking it up to find out.

exactly. i started a whole thread about this in the general chat section of the forums. still got no answer face-icon-small-frown.gif

Nightcrawler is not even mentioned in the third movie. He's just...not there. So I would guess that it does indeed have to do with some kind of contract dispute with Alan Cumming.

mantidorJune 05, 2006

I wasnt making that up, that is the true reason for no nightcrawler in the movie, Alan Cumming said so in an interview.

ArbokJune 05, 2006

Quote

Originally posted by: wandering
Because they couldn't afford Alan Cumming, I imagine.


Nope, he was contracted on for another one (couldn't afford? He was in Son of the Mask for god's sake :P)

Quote

Originally posted by: mantidor
...Cumming didnt thought it was worth having to wake up at 2 in the morning to get the make up done and have such little screen time.


Bingo, they realized that the movie was going to have tons of characters anyway, and that Cummings wasn't up for the idea of having to do the make up work again, so Fox presented him with the chance to get out of his contract, and he took it.

Anyway, from what I understand the story behind Nightcrawler not appearing in the third movie is found in the console games, not the handheld.

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Genre Action
Developer Amaze Entertainment
Players1

Worldwide Releases

na: X-Men: The Official Game
Release May 16, 2006
PublisherActivision
RatingEveryone 10+
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