Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.
The early ’90s were a boom period for the X-Men. With a reboot of the comics and a hit animated series on Fox Kids, everyone wanted a piece of Marvel’s most-renowned superhero team. Sega capitalized on the success with a 1993 X-Men game that perfectly captured the visual style of the comic and show, but left fans craving a well-playing game a bit upset. Sure, it wasn’t dreadful by any stretch, and was the game that sold yours truly on the system when you could not only get Sonic 1 for free in the box, but mail away for a free copy of the second game as well. It was, however, slow and clunky with iffy platforming and a lot of cheap hits alongside a confusing finale that left many fans confused.
Sega needed a second take and gave fans a far better-crafted second entry in 1995 — right as the Saturn was entering the fray in North America. The game was destined to be doomed to some degree of obscurity as a result. It was overshadowed by a console launch and even one that proved to be a disaster made any major Genesis games seem secondary for many. The Clone Wars did receive a fair amount of critical acclaim, though, allowing people who waited on buying the Saturn to not only save money on that purchase, but get more out of their existing Genesis hardware as well.
While X-Men 1 ended on a sour note, X-Men 2 starts off intensely – with you being dropped off in Antarctica. Depending on what direction you press on the d-pad, you’ll get a somewhat random choice of character and be thrown right in the thick of things. Instead of pressing start, you’re jumping around and figuring out each character as you go. If you didn’t like one, you could just reset the game and get another character cued up. For the opening area, a hack and slash character like Wolverine comes in handy. Beyond his healing factor allowing you to recover from damage without needing healing items, being able to slice through enemies quickly is a godsend here.
The playable roster is fairly impressive, and includes Beast, Cyclops, Wolverine, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Gambit and eventually Magneto himself. Each character pros and cons to them. Wolverine is ideal for areas with a lot of enemies in close quarters, while Beast is great for boss battle stages since he’s so powerful. Cyclops is a solid go-to character for any stage and the preferred character for any area where you need to attack enemies diagonally to avoid damage since his optic blasts can be charged and can take out a couple of enemies with a single blast if you happen to land the shot while they’re both on-screen.
Nightcrawler is a speedster, but he isn’t going to be a long-range player’s favorite. Anyone who loves melee combat with a bit of trickery thanks to his teleportation will have fun though. Gambit strikes a nice balance between melee and long-range, as his bow gives you more range than any other character’s regular punches – but unlike Cyclops, he can’t angle his throwing card attacks. He’s a fine choice for people who want to a little bit of melee and long-range and reminds me a bit of using Zero from the Mega Man Zero games, where you have both a blaster and sword to deal out damage.
Psylocke is the ultimate close-range character, and one that only highly-skilled players will excel with since that makes her the most vulnerable to damage. Magneto is a long-range character and his blasts are powerful, while being able to levitate in the air can be a huge help for some boss battles. He isn’t a great go-to for battles where close-range is key, like Tusk, but his skills are perfect for the Apocalypse boss battle since you can avoid the explosive chargers on the floor with great ease and just blast away at Apocalypse when he shows up.
X-Men 2 dramatically improves the core gameplay compared to the first game, and is a fine example of a sequel being more fun to play than the first entry. No matter which character you play as, everything is a lot smoother. Movement feels more natural and jumping is nice and snappy. Even Beast, who you may think would be slow and lumbering, moves with a fair amount of speed. The overall feel is far better and a nice improvement over the first game’s clunky platforming and action. There, the final product felt like a rough draft – even if it was a more visually-appealing game in some regards.
X-Men 2 features a lot more detail in the world itself – which is good, but it’s at the expense of the game’s color. The first game had a far more diverse color palette and replicated the look of the comics at the time better. The sequel shows more detail on the character models, but the colors all seem a few shades darker than they should. Fortunately, the animations are far better now than they were before and everyone moves more realistically. The graphics are a definite mixed-bag, with this one looking better in motion than the first, but the first looks a bit better in still form due to its broader color spectrum.
X-Men 2’s sound design is better than the first, with a far more intense soundtrack. It’s rock-heavy and sounds good. The sound design is much stronger now than before, with things like the countdown in the Sentinel stage having some tension due to the explosions going on all around you. You’ll also hear faint bits of electrical current, adding a bit of panic to things too. The sound effect work for attacks is a bit weak, though, with Wolverine’s special claw attack sounding like any other punch. A faint metallic sound for his basic attack just doesn’t do justice to the idea that he is tearing folks apart with his claws.
X-Men 2: The Clone Wars is rock-solid and one of the finer superhero platformers of the 16-bit era. It may have some rough spots visually, but it’s a far better total product than its predecessor. It isn’t too expensive to find now, and goes for around $20 cart-only or $25 complete. With this being a cardboard box-only game, be careful and make sure whoever you buy it from properly packs it. The original came in a hard plastic case and those were far better at protecting the game against anything. Anyone who digs action-platformers will enjoy it and it would be cool to see another licensed X-Men 2D sidescroller out there — especially with ’90s nostalgia being at a high point.