Man, what a disappointment.
“But Blair,” you ask, “how could you be POSSIBLY be disappointed in the Game Boy Advance version of a movie tie-in game that launched next to a film that nearly killed the X-Men film franchise as we know it?”
That is indeed a fair question, so I’ll elaborate: Upon researching the various versions of X-Men: The Official Game I saw that Activision charged WayForward Technologies with bringing the game to the GBA yet it was sitting at around the 50% mark on Metacritic. WayForward prior to making X-Men made a splash on the Game Boy Color with the cult hit Shantae, and would go on after X-Men to make a numbered game in the Contra series, Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS, as well as great licensed titles including Thor: God of Thunder and Alien: Infestation with publisher Sega (both also on the DS), Batman: The Brave and the Bold (on both Wii and DS) and last year’s retro revival DuckTales Remastered. So to answer the question as to why this game was a let down, it’s because I know this company is capable of so much better than this awful game.
The Official Game on GBA is a 2-D side-scrolling action game that like its sibling on the DS borrows elements from the story of the console game but also goes off on its own tangent. It still deals with the rise of the Sentinel mutant hunting robots but it takes place entirely within Stryker’s Alkali Lake facility from X2. The cast of playable characters is lifted from the console game (Wolverine, Nightcralwer, Iceman), but like the DS version gets a guest character in Colossus.
Although the other games were a bit uneven in how they handled having multiple mutants, at least the changing of characters brought a little variety to their respective games. Here each character plays more or less exactly the same: jump with “A,” attack with “B,” and switch between mutants either quickly by tapping “L” or holding down the trigger to bring up a brief pause to cycle between them. It’s a nice touch that you can swap between the entire cast throughout the adventure, but outside of Wolverine having the ability to heal his own health and Nightcrawler’s teleport being a fun power to play around with (and quite helpful in a later section,) each of the heroes feel identical and interchangeable. The DS game gave the player a reason to have the team together and balance out their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s just as well here to stick with Wolverine due to his health regeneration and switch to Nightcrawler to teleport away when the screen gets crowded.
I praised the interesting combat system that was developed for the DS X-Men title and mentioned how it took away button mashing; That’s probably because it’s in abundance here. Regular enemies take so many hits to kill that you’ll either try to get around them, or if you have Nightcrawler in your party, teleport around them. Loose collision detection with weak feeling hits don’t help either, and further make you feel anything but super in a super hero themed game.
The bland fighting also bleeds into the environments that consist of your checklist lab, sewer and factory stages. Seeing the game takes place in one facility, it would’ve been nice if the cast was broken up with different tasks to complete and the game took a page from Metroid where for example, you’d need Colossus to access an area that Iceman is in or vice versa, but the design was not that ambitious here. Instead you blindly fumble through a series of similar looking corridors and platforms peppered by stock enemies and robots until you reach the end, partake in some exposition, and proceed to the next level.
As much as I am being harsh on the game, I will go on record as stating the character sprites on the X-Men, enemies and bosses all look and animate exceptionally well, proving that at the very least when WayForward is off their game, at least things will look pretty. Nightcrawler in particular stands out once more here with the residual smoke effects, tail animation and acrobatics in his various attacks.
WayForward added some exclusive boss characters here including X-23, a new addition to the X-Men world at the time having being introduced in the X-Men: Evolution animated series in 2004, and the Juggernaut as he appears in all his Vinnie Jones glory. They do add some much needed variety to the otherwise boring levels, but besting them requires more luck than skill and are an exercise in frustration. The worst offender, something that almost made me take out the cartridge out of my GBA SP and break it in half, is a “fight” later on with Multiple Man.
The first section is a chase where if you veer to far to the left you die instantly are are put at the beginning to start over, all the while Multiple man is throwing clones of himself trying to run away. The goal is to survive the chase long enough to reach an arena area to actually fight him, but this mission is communicated to the you nowhere. The player is left to question whether they have to fight the clones, catch up to Multiple Man to hit him, or to simply just keep running to the end of the tunnel. Something as simple as a meter telling you how far you had left to run would’ve sufficed to explain what’s happening in game, but much like everything before this portion, no thought, consideration or care was given to player enjoyment.
At the time this game made it to shelves, the GBA was on it’s way out as the Nintendo DS skyrocketed in sales thanks to the DS Lite redesign as well as software like New Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart DS. As it was back then, and as it now, this game is pointless and should be passed over even by the hardest of hardcore X-Men fans. If you want to experience X-Men: The Official Game on the go, pass this over for the superior DS game. But, do yourself a favor and don’t let this experience turn you away from WayForward. Both Thor: God of Thunder and each version of Batman: The Brave and the Bold should not be missed by comic game fans.