Review: X-Men Legends (Nintendo Gamecube)

X-Men Legends
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Gamecube
Rating: T for Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software

My 10th review for Inside Pulse is upon me. Ok, so maybe that isn’t a big deal to you, but it’s a minor marker for me, and today I actually have a half decent game on deck for my gaming pleasure. X-men Legends has gotten a lot of fanfare since its release, and while some of it is the usual overblown hype we have all come to expect from the usual suspects, some of it actually is well deserved. The X-Men franchise is certainly one of the most successful of all time, whether it is movies, comics, action figures, or games. This latest installment puts things in a new context for us game play wise, while having all the familiar faces around for your gaming enjoyment. Usually we have come to expect the X-Men characters to be used in the fighting genre, and that is where X-Men Legends deviates from the usual X-Men formula. X-Men Legends, much like the recent Tales of Symphonia finds itself in the emerging sub-genre of the action RPG. It’s a welcome change, and with the X-Men franchise at an all time high in terms of popularity in the general public this game finds itself being released during a very conducive marketing period. X-Men Legends was released on all three major console systems, but my job is being regulated to the Cube’s incarnation. So let’s not put this off any longer, as I put X-Men Legends for the Nintendo Gamecube to the Inside Pulse Games test.

1. Story

I was pleasantly surprised here. First off they try to stay as faithful as possible to the comic and mythology of the X-Men universe, and I’m sure for all the diehard fans out there that is very comforting. I can relate, because I know when I’m playing a DBZ game or another game based off of something else where the story is completely reworked I tend to lose interest very quickly. Here we have a story that centers around an X-Men character named Magma, which after a wee bit of research (X-Men fan I am not people, although I enjoyed the movies and games as much as anyone else) apparently appeared in New Mutants, issue 8. Now I have no idea what the story arc of that series is, so I called in a good friend of mine I go to college with who played the game and got his opinion as an X-Men diehard. He informed me that while they had apparently reworked some of Magma’s story, like background information. However, other than that there was nothing in the game that shocked him in terms of a departure from accepted X-Men lore. So armed with that information I am very confident in my earlier statement that X-Men Legends won’t send any X-Men fanatics into cold sweats with storylines that don’t add up to what they have come to know and love.

So, anyways, we play the game initially as the marquee player in the X-Men world: Wolverine. The antagonist of all the fun is, of course, Magneto, who looks very, very bad ass. He leads a group called the Brotherhood of Mutants. They have Magma, and it’s your mission to do what is most logical in a game like this: rescue her from their grasp. Things will escalate from here. What appears simple at first, of course has to get bigger. But isn’t that how it always is in the X-Men universe? A simple rescue mission somehow turns into a world in peril kind of thing, and that’s exactly what we have here. Yet, it all works smoothly, and I never found myself not enjoying the story as it unfolded in front of me. And that is a good thing for the simple reason that I am not a huge X-Men fan. So, when a franchise game that I, admittedly, know little about can hold my interest and tell a story that I enjoy it means that casual fans will not be lost as then story picks up. Any gamer who is a casual fan of X-Men, or just a fan of RPG’s in general will be able to pick up X-Men Legends and enjoy the story with little drawback. So as you eventually try to save the world, you won’t be scratching your head asking what the hell is going on. Instead you’ll just be absorbed by a decent storyline that is definitely up to the standards I expect in any good RPG.

Overall Story Rating: 6/10

2. Graphics

I was pretty impressed with the final results here. With a combination of character cel-shading and environments that are not cel-shaded at all, X-Men Legends has a very unique look to it. Of the two, I find myself preferring the characters over the environments. The characters are all very well done, and even when you are viewing the game from a distance, as you must at times during fights and what not, everything still stands out the way it should. Personal favorites of mine include Magneto (he really does look awesome), Wolverine, and Cyclops. Although, to be fair, no character truly looks bad or poorly done. I am confident that whoever your favorite X-man is, you will be pleased with the final result here. I am a bit biased: It’s no secret I am a fan of cel-shading. I really dig it as a style of animation, and am all for it’s continued use in video games. It’s used very nicely here, and when contrasted with the non-cel backgrounds it sticks out even more. The only drawback here would be for those of us who do not like cel-shaded graphics. It could take a bit of getting used to for those in that camp; however, they should take solace in the environments which, while not as good as the characters themselves, still deliver.

Every environment or background has its own unique feel to it. The attention to detail is set at a decent level, as the developers went the extra step to make sure they didn’t overlook much of anything in the making of X-Men Legends. Perhaps what is coolest about these environments is that you can literally destroy them as you play through the game. The in-game fighting graphics are really amazing, and as your reek carnage on your enemies and on the fighting area you’ll find yourself appreciating the work put into X-Men Legends in terms of graphics. Despite all of this praise, there were still a few areas that could have been improved in the environment. It’s small stuff mostly, but awkward graphics for environments that have been trashed sometimes caught my attention, as well as some places that could have used even more detail in terms of little things that would have made that particular environment even more alive. For the most part; however, X-Men Legends delivers the goods in the graphics department on the Cube with its blend of styles that comes off just right.

Overall Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Everything about the sound of X-Men Legends just screams ‘average’ to me. By no means is it bad, or offensive…it’s just plain. What it suffers from mostly is just plain old mediocrity all the way around. We’ll start with the voice acting. Voice acting has become a mainstay in the gaming world, and X-Men Legends tries to take advantage of that fact. However, the actors just seem to come off as robotic to me at times, with not enough emotion put behind their lines. This game presents dire situations, where the world (literally) is hanging in the balance, and yet I just never got that sense through the voice acting which is obviously meant to convey that kind of feeling to the gamer. In addition to this, I can’t help but feel the developers were torn on the issue of voice acting in the game to begin with. There just isn’t enough of it where it could be utilized to warrant its existence in X-Men Legends. With VA’s it’s either all of nothing, meaning that if your going to use it, use it in the situations it’s needed for, not just in some areas and not others.

The background music isn’t all that bad. It’s pretty much rock orientated, that kicks it up in all the right places when you get into a fight. It’s just not music that will set your world aflame any time soon. It’s tough for me to hold it against a game like X-Men Legends, because let’s face it: Not every decent game is going to have a stellar soundtrack. What it comes down to for me is that X-Men Legends is just a few steps away from a great game, and its things like the sound, which is decent but could have been MUCH better, that really hold it back from becoming one of the finer games of 2004. The sound effects, as you would expect, don’t deviate from the standard for an action RPG that is focused on mutants fighting other mutants. Everything on that front sounds right, and fits in perfectly with the destruction you cause as the game progresses. At the end of the day though, it’s mediocre voice acting and background music that we end up with, and that is what stuck in my head when it came time to write this portion on sound.

Overall Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control

What I really liked about X-Men Legends was the ease of the control scheme. It’s one of my stalwart likes, and any game that presents me with a great control scheme with a learning curve that isn’t too steep automatically earns points with me, because I despise taking uncountable hours to learn overcomplicated set-ups that are usually unnecessary and unwarranted. The basic game play experience comes down to your normal going about and destroying everything you can. The RPG element of X-Men Legends comes through in mostly statistical ways, in terms of numbers, vital stats, and all that jazz. You are able to form a four mutant party and from there you get into the battling. The battle aspect of X-Men Legends is very simplistic. With a combination of melee attacks and combos you can get the idea of how things work. It’s a lot of fun in reality and it gets enhanced by the RPG aspect of the game. You earn experience that is always shared by the X-men you have, and as you level up you (think Shining Soul here) put points into various attributes of that particular X-man. As you level up you also gain access to the X-men’s special abilities, which depending on who you’re controlling can range from very bad ass to pretty lame. Since you have a wide variety of X-men to choose from, the customization level of X-Men Legends in terms of your party make-up is pretty decent, and everyone will find themselves inclined to different characters. You can also switch between characters during battle at any time, as the game will control any character you are not being at the time.

The multi-player mode is a definite plus when it comes to game play. In addition to being able to select the characters you can play as in the RPG mode, you’ll be able to unlock mutants like Magneto, Sabretooth, andÃƑԚ¢?ÃÆ’‚Ԛ¦JUGGERNAUT! Sorry, but even as a casual X-Men fan, Juggernaut has still always been my absolute favorite. The multi-player mode isn’t as polished as the RPG mode, but it does provide a nice side addition to supplement the main mode of X-Men Legends. Overall, the control and game play of X-Men Legends is simplistic, yet very fun. No one will find themselves befuddled by anything here, and the casual gamer will find that to be very appealing.

Overall Control Rating: 8/10

5. Balance

Sadly, X-Men Legends suffers in this category. Everyone likes a challenge, and X-Men Legends just can’t deliver one that a gamer of any caliber will find rewarding. The game is fun, don’t misunderstand me on that, it’s simply that you will not ever find yourself being pushed to new limits or heights by the enemies or any situations you find yourself in while playing. Certain characters are also very preferable over others. Wolverine’s inherent self-healing makes him a great choice for anyone, while other characters excel in terms of raw power as the game progresses. But there are always a vast amount of healing items at your disposal, which severely weakens the challenge factor of X-Men Legends.

So while there is fun to be had here, it’s the kind of fun that you’ll experience for about 20 hours and then put it away. The challenge is just not there. X-Men Legends is meant to sell, and that’s pretty much what I attribute the lack of challenge too. Unfortunately, in their attempt to make sure this game would be playable for everyone, they went a bit overboard and removed anything resembling difficultly in the process.

Overall Balance Rating: 4/10

6. Replayability

With 20 hours of play give or take depending on side missions, and a multi-player mode to boot X-Men Legends does give you a decent amount of replayability. The lack of challenge does hurt this category though, since I just find it hard to believe that most gamers will pick this up again after the first run though and some decent time spent with the multi-player mode. The game enhances it’s replayability with the fact that you can get 4 players together and go through the RPG mode together by simply having enough controllers.

This RPG just isn’t the norm that gamers expect these days though in terms of 60-80 hour long monsters. Instead you’ll get a nice time, packed into 20 or so hours, and you’ll be no worse for wear at the end. I would recommend renting first before you committed yourself to this, because every gamer obviously has different tastes, and if you’re the kind of gamer who likes their RPG’s to be a bit more lengthy then a trial run is definitely in order.

Overall Replayability Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

Using the X-Men franchise in an action RPG capacity certainly is a new spin on the series. Fans of the series will relish the chance to experience a new game play experience with their favorite characters. With that being said the action RPG is becoming a much more common sub-genre these days, and fans of it will not find anything innovative here. What X-Men Legends does is provide another good game to add to the action RPG list, while making use of all the time tested game play methods and modes of play that have been used before. So the good part is that you’ll only find a pretty enjoyable game play experience here; however, if you’re looking for an action RPG that adds new elements other than those you have come to expect then you’re looking in the wrong place.

Overall Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

Addicting is, honestly, too strong of a word. X-Men Legends is a game you’ll play gradually, and eventually complete. You won’t; however, find yourself thinking about how soon you can get back to it at random times during the day. When you’re playing everything is fine, and I found that you get into the game well enough. But once you’re done you’ll just not feel the pull that a great game has to come back and play some more. Take Pokemon for example. I honestly think about it at times when I’m bored or just off in space for a moment, wondering what else I need to do. With X-Men Legends I just don’t get like that, which is a big reason I can’t give it a stellar addictiveness rating.

Overall Addictiveness Rating: 5/10

9. Appeal

I honestly did like X-Men Legends. I stand by my statement that casual gamers and hardcore X-men fans will be able to get into it, and derive some enjoyment from the game play experience. With that said, this game is certainly far from perfect. Mediocre sound, and a lack of challenge, are two areas that are very hard for me to ignore at the end of the day. However, every game is flawed, and X-Men Legends is no exception. Does that mean you should not even try it? Absolutely not. I would certainly recommend everyone at least giving it a rent to see if it’s to your taste or not. X-Men Legends has the capacity to surprise you, and given the chance I think that it will.

Overall Appeal Rating: 7/10

10. Miscellaneous

The best feature of X-Men Legends is the RPG mode, and the ability to have 4 friends play at one time. That’s a pretty neat addition, no matter if it’s been done with other games. The Gamecube version of this game is certainly a much needed addition to its RPG library as well, which is a big plus for gamers who only have a Cube at their disposal and search in vein for RPG’s. It’s the little things that end up hurting X-Men Legends and prevent it from being one of the top-notch games of ’04.

Still it’s a decent pick-up got anyone’s library for the Cube. Whether or not it is worth the price tag is a matter up to you. Personally I think it depends on the gamer in this situation. X-Men Legends is still a franchise game, and as such that will drive its sales in the end.

Overall Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

Story Rating: 6/10
Graphics Rating: 7/10
Sound Rating: 5/10
Control Rating: 8/10
Balance Rating: 4/10
Replayability Rating: 5/10
Originality Rating: 6/10
Addictiveness Rating: 5/10
Appeal Rating: 7/10
Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

Overall Score: 6.0