Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
Licensing popular franchises for video games has always been hit or miss. Marvel’s X-Men (the mutants, not T-girls) have been featured in numerous video game iterations of varying quality. Thankfully, the benchmark for the worst game was set with the very first one, The Uncanny X-Men, for the NES. This game can be universally considered one of the worst things ever made by any council, and none of the dozens of X-Men or X-Men related games (such as Wolverines or Marvel vs Capcom) were nearly as bad as that horrid abomination. In the early 2000s the Game Boy Advance was one of the few platforms to heavily cater to gamers who don’t need a third dimension, and they delivered a game that was essentially a modern take on the 1992 X-Men arcade game.
X-Men for the arcade followed the same beat ’em up format Konami had employed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons. The premise was pretty simple, select your character and beat up everything in the level until you get to Magneto and he greets you with “welcome to die.” High quality translations for American localization were not exactly a thing back in the early ’90s but that didn’t matter. X-Men was about feeding an obscene amount of quarters into a machine that had near comic book quality graphics with up to five other players, making this six player arcade cabinet pretty ridiculous looking if all characters were in use.
X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse was developed by Digital Eclipse Software and published by Activision, but played like the Konami arcade game from almost a decade prior. There was no six player action with this title but two players could tackle the campaign cooperatively or go head to head in battle. GBA multiplayer was something I was never overly fond of, but I will give credit to the makers of this game for including it since beat ’em ups can get monotonous over an extended period of time, especially if played alone.
In 2001 when X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse was released 2D beat ’em ups weren’t exactly popping up in retails shelves in high number, and the GBA seemed to be where most of the worthwhile ones were going to. X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse was a good option for someone looking for one of those games. It didn’t exactly redefine the genre, in fact it played exactly how anyone familiar with this type of game would have expected. But for beat ’em up fans, especially ones who liked the X-Men, this was a good title for when there was an hour or so to kill. An hour may sound extremely short for a game, but this is a carryover from when games could be completed in one sitting. The hour is about the perfect length of time for this game to take since while it is fun its repetitive nature does not lend itself well for an extended play session.
The plot is fairly convoluted, but when you’re dealing with a comic book about mutants with super powers that really shouldn’t be too surprising. The X-Men had just returned from a relaxing extravagant vacation in the Mojoverse only to find every vacationer’s worst nightmare: the X-Mansion had been completely destroyed. Apparently Apocalypse took advantage of the X-Men being gone and threw a wild house party that got just a little bit out of control, leaving it completely destroyed. Actually they really just took a wrong turn returning home from the Mojoverse and ended up in an alternate dimension, which I guess could happen to anyone. In order to get back to their proper dimension, they need to take on the army of Apocalypse and fight their way through several levels filled with sentinels.
There are only four playable characters, which are Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Rogue. More playable characters would have been nice since we were able to choose from six in the 1992 arcade game and the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games from the early ’90s all had between four and six. That being said, Rogue was always a personal favorite and under represented in games up until this point so including her was nice. Also, the gender ratio for the characters was even, which was unusual for X-Men games and video games in general. We would typically get one or two X-Women compared to many more X-Men, and in 1993’s X-Men for the Sega Genesis, the X-Women were strictly support classes.
All in all X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse is a decent game and if you have an itch for an old school beat ’em up this one will suffice. The colorful graphics still look nice on the tiny handheld screen, though they show their age. The short length is actually one of the positive attributes, as while brawling down memory lane in Apocalypse’s alternate universe can be a fun trip, the repetitive nature of this game would get incredibly monotonous after an hour.
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