Review by Crythania
"A rough start for the X-Men"
This is the first of three X-Men games that found their way to the Game Gear during the mid 90s. It showcases seven playable characters and six levels of classic platforming action.
These games come from an era when the storyline wasn't all that important. Just a couple paragraphs or a page in a game manual. The actual game doesn't offer anything by way of storytelling. Instead, it gets us right into the action. The stories for all three of the Game Gear X-Men adventures are remarkably similar. Several members of the X-Men team have been captured by an arch villain, and the two remaining team members must rescue their friends and confront the arch villain while combating hordes of the villain's henchmen. That's pretty much all there is to it.
We have two characters available at the beginning of the game. In this case, it's Cyclops and Wolverine. Each of the first five levels houses an imprisoned member of the team, who is guarded by a boss character. After the boss is beaten, the imprisoned character is rescued and becomes playable. We can play the first five levels in any order. After that, we proceed to the final level.
Playable characters include Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Iceman, Psylocke, and Nightcrawler. Each character has his own style of attack and his own mutant power, which can be used when it's activated. Some of the characters are way underpowered here. But if the games were true to the comic books (or the movies, for that matter), some of these characters would be nigh invulnerable. To add a level of challenge to the game, the designers gave the characters a mutant power gauge. When his power runs out, he can't use his super powers anymore. A couple of the characters are shooters (they fire a projectile of some sort at their enemies). Most of them are melee combatants, attacking at close range. There's a nice variety of mutant powers to play around with here, including optic blasts, healing, super strength, flying ability, and a unique ability to grab onto walls and ceilings.
Power-ups replenish your health and power, and there are many of them scattered about the various levels. Each level has different bad guys to fight, most of which fire bullets or lasers. Level designs range from linear side-scrolling to quite labyrinthine, and all are pretty large. This game offers us a good deal of exploration through a variety of locales, including a mansion, a village with pagodas, a jungle, underground caverns, a sewer system, and a high-tech stronghold. Even the straight-forward linear levels encourage us to explore, as there are power-ups atop buildings and in caves underground. The labyrinthine levels are full of alternate paths, dead ends with power-ups, and numerous extraneous areas to explore. The level designers did a great job on them, giving us a lot of terrain to cover.
Something that makes this game great is that there are no abysses you can fall into for an instant death. There is always a floor, although some levels have hazardous terrain that damages your character. If you happen to fall in, you can quickly jump out to safety. The challenge is in navigating through mazes and dealing with numerous henchmen.
Boss characters here tend to be way too tough for their own good. All are very challenging, and they require strategy to beat. Their attacks are very damaging, and they tend to have a lot of health. Some of the player characters are dramatically outmatched here while others have an easy time of it. On the whole, this is a hard game, one that requires practice to beat. Each player character has one life. If he's defeated in battle, he's out of the game and no longer playable (but you can still try again as another character).
Visually, the game is just average. Backgrounds all look good, sporting some nice, detailed scenery. The characters are rather small. They're identifiable, but there's not much detail. I prefer the larger character designs in Gamesmaster's Legacy and Mojo World.
Our sound department is a mixed bag. For the most part, unobtrusive techno music plays while we're exploring and beating up bad guys. There's one level where the music is annoying. I love most of the music in these X-Men games. The guy who put it together has a talent for techno, and he does it with style on the Game Gear's limited sound engine. In any given song he has multiple instruments going, and he's constantly trying out new things, with instruments fading in and out to create new dynamics in the song. These instrumentals tend to have long running times as opposed to most video game music themes that just have a brief verse/chorus or verse/bridge/chorus. These are long, interesting pieces of music. The game has a music playback feature on the options menu, so you can plug in the earphones and listen to it without having to play the game.
Speaking of earphones, did you know that Game Gear music is in stereo? I've been using my headphones while playing these games and was delighted to hear stereo effects in them. I never knew that before. Very cool.
Sound effects are rather poor. Punches, laser blasts, optic blasts... all are pretty lackluster. This game doesn't have anything by way of snazzy effects. It's a fault I overlook because it's a fun game.
All three of the X-Men games on the Game Gear were brought to us by the same design team. This was their first attempt, and it suffers from some notable flaws that set it apart from the other two. Very difficult bosses, small character graphics, and a mutant power gauge that continually drains while it's activated. The designers had to confront a few game-play issues and work on larger character designs before arriving at the awesome Gamesmaster's Legacy, my favorite of the three. Still, this is a charming game in its own right. Magneto's stronghold at the end is a nicely designed level.
I love the X-Men games on the Game Gear. Exploring labyrinthine locales, beating up bad guys, and collecting power-ups with my favorite character never fails to please. And there's plenty of replay value in the variety of playable characters here. After you've beaten it with your favorite character, you can try playing as someone else. This is a great trilogy of games (X-Men, The Gamesmaster's Legacy, and Mojo World). While they come up short in some areas (most notably the sound effects department), they've got it where it counts. Good-looking environments, expansive levels to explore, and fun game-play.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/24/05, Updated 07/26/11
Game Release: X-Men (US, 12/31/94)
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