If you’ve read my GameCube review of the recent X-Men game, you could probably tell that I wasn’t too impressed. But while the console release of this game was only mediocre, the DS version is a step or two even lower. The game has the same basic concept, but the execution is so flawed and awkward that it’s almost a chore to play it.
The premise is still the same: you play as Wolverine, Iceman and Nightcrawler, with the DS exclusive Magneto along for the ride. Then you engage in around 40 levels of vanilla beat-em-up action, that end up being near-unplayable due to several severe problems.
First of all, the perspective is pseudo-overhead, but the camera angle is so wide and far from the characters that you feel like you’re in a helicopter peering down on them, not right in the middle of the action. This viewpoint also robs any distinguishing characteristics from the X-Men too, as they all look like ugly little clumps of pixels. About the only way to tell them apart is by a few stray colored pixels that denote their individual costumes, and even then you’ll be straining to make out the differences.
This difficulty makes the core gameplay even more of a thrash than it already is. Certain characters can only accomplish certain things: Wolverine can tear apart ground enemies but is helpless against air-based baddies; Iceman is good at freezing airborne guys but bat at ground combat; Magneto can only defend himself when there are metal implements around, and Nightcrawler has his own levels, completely separate from the other characters.
The only way to complete a level is by swapping the X-Men in and out with the shoulder buttons, which conflicts with the stylus control, which is also crucial to playing the game. This balance makes sense from a gameplay standpoint but makes each character feel weak and underpowered, especially after seeing the great teamwork element in the X-Men Legends series.
However my biggest gripe is with the stylus control. The only way to attack an enemy is by tapping them with the stylus, which is all fine and good, but the interaction stops there. You simply direct your character’s blows upon an enemy and wait for him to finish the baddy off, or you can choose to target another one before he finishes with the first one. I can tell they were going for an RTS feel here, but it sure as hell doesn’t belong in a beat-em-up, and makes the gameplay practically broken as a result. I was hoping for some truly innovative touch-screen use—slashing Wolverine’s claws like the knife game in Resident Evil DS, or painting an enemy in ice with Iceman’s freeze blast. About the closest the game gets to real interaction is with Magneto’s drag-n’-drop powers, and even that feels empty. On top of that, switching back and forth with shoulder triggers while frantically stabbing at the screen makes for quick hand cramps.
Presentation was the biggest thing the console X-Men had going for it, bud sadly the DS version is lacking here as well. As I stated earlier the graphics are simplistic and downright ugly, making it hard to tell who you’re controlling at any given time. Honestly, I think a GBA game could have looked better with more time and care. Music is generic action fare, with little resemblance to the movie score, and don’t even think about voice acting. It’s a real shame they gave this one the bare minimum, as we’ve seen such ingenious use of sound in quality DS titles like Ultimate Spider Man.
It makes me a little sad, but I’d have to recommend that you avoid this one altogether. I liked the movie and the console ports weren’t terrible, but the DS X-Men is such a perfect example of movie licensed shovel-ware that it doesn’t deserve a rental feel, much less the 30 buck or so you’d pay up front to purchase it.
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