The X-Men hit the GBA in a game that’s reminiscent of the old arcade game. How well does it recreate Marvel’s mutants? More importantly, how much fun is it? Don’t ask Professor X, read J0nny’s review!
I don’t really have a strong history with arcades, but one game that does still stick out in my mind is the X-Men arcade game released back in the early 90s. It let four people play simultaneously, and the roster of playable characters included my favorite X-Man ever: Nightcrawler. Moreover, the game was just plain well designed, with lots of variety to break up the intrinsically repetitive punch-punch-kick gameplay.
Activision’s X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse immediately draws comparisons to that awesome arcade game of olde, but I don’t think it’s very fair to constantly stack them against each other, so I won’t. Reign of Apocalypse (RoA) is a side-scrolling “beat ‘em up” in the style of Final Fight and Double Dragon, one of the first of its kind on Game Boy Advance. Whether or not you enjoy the game depends largely on your tolerance for shallow button-smashing and your ability to ignore some pretty glaring design issues.
The story involves something about the X-Men getting lost in another dimension...not an unusual situation by Marvel Comics standards, but RoA never does much to justify or rationalize its story. The small band of mutants haphazardly tours this alternate reality, where friends have become foes and, unsurprisingly, foes are still foes. That’s how you manage to fight as many fellow X-Men as you do villains over the course of the game; it’s obviously a ploy to cram as much of the license in the cartridge as possible, and although cheap, it does work.
RoA gives you the choice to play with Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and Rogue. They’re all very similar, and it doesn’t really matter too much who you choose. Just make sure you pick a character you like though, because you’ll have to use that same character all the way through the entire game...you can’t even change after continuing. That’s pretty damn silly when the roster of playable characters is one of the few real sources of gameplay variety. The major difference between characters is the mutant power “Rage” attack, but you only get to use it two or maybe three times per stage... too bad.
For maybe ten minutes at a time, RoA manages to be pretty fun. There’s very little thought required to plow through a level; most enemies can be taken out by tapping the A button repeatedly—provided you aren’t surrounded by other goons. Hitting B will execute a very slow but somewhat powerful attack, and each character also has a jumping attack and a “projectile” attack that are occasionally useful. Nevertheless, the game still feels like it could have used a few more attacks... For instance, there is no special dash attack (you simply stop cold and do the regular jab), and pressing B during a jump does absolutely nothing. On top of all that, the controls are sometimes non-responsive; the L-trigger in particular only activates your Rage power about 50% of the time.
If you plan on sitting down with the single-player mode for more than fifteen minutes or so, prepare for monotony. The gameplay just isn’t deep enough for sustained play sessions, and eventually you’ll realize that even the bosses are just tougher versions of the normal enemies. I beat the final boss, Apocalypse, with the same jab combo that killed off hundreds of his drones. Sorry, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask for a little strategy mixed in with the frantic button pounding.
RoA thankfully has a two-player mode, and while I didn’t get the opportunity to play with a friend, it’s not hard to see how much more fun the game would be with a buddy. It’s too bad that the original 4-player feature was scrapped, but the multiplayer is still a very much-appreciated feature. There’s also a “versus” mode that opens up for two players, and it lets you choose not just from the four regular X-Men but also from the many, many bosses and sub-bosses you’ve seen in the single-player quest. It’s too bad you can’t access this mode by yourself and face off against the computer; just the opportunity to play as Beast, Colossus, Magneto, Phoenix, Sabretooth, and the Blob would have added a ton of value to the game for those of us without GBA-fanatic friends.