Release Date: May 16, 2006
Licenses are the curse of the dedicated gamer; they're tolerable but sub-par romps through your favorite movies, books, breakfast cereals, and celebrities. There's the occasional Chronicles of Riddick ... and then the occasional X-Men: The Official Game for the Game Boy Advance. Also, there's the occasional generic introduction on licensed games.
Disclaimer: I haven't seen "X3: The Last Stand" or all of "X2." However, I know the plot of them enough to know that, like every other version of X-Men: The Official Game, the GBA version takes place in between "X2" and "X3," explaining many of the mysteries in between the two (such as why Nightcrawler disappeared – basically, he decides early on that he's not comfortable with the X-Men, even though he respects what they do for mutantkind). If you're really obsessed with finding out the plot, though, the DS version is better, and the console versions are much better. The cut scenes here are no more than scrolling text accompanied by poor-quality sound effects, and they sport a poor-looking version of the Disgaea method of having characters speak: A single image of a character scrolls on, text appears below him/her, he/she scrolls off, and another character scrolls on. The background never changes.
Frankly, I couldn't tolerate playing X:TOG game for more than 10 minutes. The characters are distinct in theory, but they play with the same controls and are all just as effective at killing the armies of faceless villains; the only one worth his salt is Nightcrawler, because of his mobility. Add that to the endless, faceless generic villains and level design which basically says, "Miss a jump or don't have Wolverine make it, and you get to circle around endlessly," … well, maybe it's better to go into it one bit at a time.
The graphics made me think of the old Game Gear X-Men game from 1992, which wasn't the best, but it was honestly more fun than this offering. The fact that you could take any sprite from this supposedly new game, shorten it, and it'd work perfectly on the Game Gear really represents how dated this game looks. The characters look much like they do in the movies, but you'll only recognize Wolverine if you have seen at least one of the movies, squint, or see one of the cut scene face-shots, which are passable but are nothing close to being on par with the comics. Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Iceman are more distinctive from a distance due to their skin colors (though only the red on Colossus' suit tells him apart from Iceman), but still only look like their namesakes with a bit of imagination. The stages themselves look nice, other than the inability in the first couple of levels to be able to tell what's a wall and what isn't.
Sound effects are a reasonable attempt at downgrading the game and movie music from theater-quality to the highly limited GBA platform. You can at least tell they took the time to take the music to the GBA's MIDI-like format, and the sound effects are all sampled and sound reasonably good, though not crisp by any means. Unfortunately, there's also enough of them to introduce significant load times on a GBA game, complete with a low-quality "now loading" screen. This is not normal, and it should not be happening in any well-designed, well-coded game. It's not as if you can just take the code from the other versions for porting to the GBA, which really makes it a mystery why they couldn't code everything to stream off the cartridge, since that's what most every other GBA game does.
The control scheme is simple enough to explain but has just enough responsiveness issues to become incomprehensible. A jumps, B attacks, R uses a "super gauge" (what this has to do with mutant powers is unknown, since it only doubles your attack power with no explanation), and L and a directional button switches characters. A+B performs a power attack if you can hit the buttons exactly right. If you can't do that right, good luck clearing the second level. Also, consider the other little tricks of the controls, and how often they're unresponsive at critical times. For example, when you need to make precision jumps and the jump button doesn't work, you either end up falling to your doom or doing an annoying circle-back requiring many power attacks. Needless to say, the controls do not help X:TOG play any better.
This game has two partial saving graces, both of which are far better attained with other versions. First, there is a minimal feel of authentic X-Men style action … at least, until a guard is knocked over and can't be hit while down, or until you think about the X-Men's team dynamics (which are, to a significant extent, ignored in all versions). Second, the game's plot is comprehensible and well-done, with a bang-up job on highlighting how conflicted Nightcrawler is ... at least, until you compare it to the jobs done in the console, or even DS, versions.
Honestly, X-Men: The Official Game for the GBA does one thing and does it poorly. It's the same platformer/brawler that seems to be the generic genre for licensed games and resembles most every X-Men game from the 16-bit era. Switching characters as a mostly cosmetic choice? Check. Make sure you need Wolverine because he's the "coolest" character? Check. Somewhat shoehorned plot told in between the levels? Check. Annoying "puzzle" level? Check. The game's a checklist of a complete generic license platformer, but unfortunately, it missed most of the checkmarks related to making a good game.
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