Genre: Action Developer: Headgames Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1995
The first time you play X-Men 2, the first thing you’re likely to notice about the game is that you just got hit. “Was that a missile?” you’ll think to yourself. Quite uniquely, X-Men 2 immediately thrusts you into gameplay upon switching on the console. That’s just about the only aspect of X-Men 2 that is “quite unique” on its own, but it manages to be a distinguished game in spite of that.
Developed by HeadGames (Taz-Mania, Pink Goes to Hollywood) and published by Sega in 1995, X-Men 2 is not really a sequel to the first X-Men game for Genesis and bears little resemblance to its predecessor. Clone Wars is a fairly straightforward side-scrolling action game, except with the X-Men in it, and that turns out to be a bigger “except” than one might think.
Clone Wars, the game’s subtitle, is the name of an actual plotline that occurred in the comics, which the game follows. Unfortunately, instead of comic scenes (like in Maximum Carnage and other games), the plot is bridged between levels through dull text representing a conversation with Professor X in Cerebro. After said text, you have a chance to choose your character before each level. Each of the X-Men has their own mutant power, and X-Men 2 handles this better than any other X-Men game. There is no meter or other limit on usage of your mutant power; it’s just an extension of your overall abilities. This means that they feel more like natural abilities than magic spells or super bombs, as in previous games using the license.
Your regular abilities/attributes also vary accordingly by the character you play as. This allows for great differentiation between the characters. They move at different speeds, wield different weapons (or use different blows), vary by their ability to stick to walls (some can climb walls, some can stick to walls but not climb them, some can’t do either), vary in the manner of their aerial attacks, and so on and so forth.
You might think that with each of the seven playable characters significantly different in play from the others, this would allow for a vast variety in how you go through the course of the game, leading to tremendous replay value as you replay the stages with different combinations of characters ad infinitum. Unfortunately this is not the case. For most levels, there will be one or two characters that stand out as ideally suited, based on a particular attribute. There are a couple of levels designed to take advantage of each character’s strengths and weaknesses, but for most, particular strengths play right into the design of the level. It’s not completely rigid and obvious though, as there is actually quite some disagreement on what characters are best for what levels (based on comparing my own experience with two different FAQs). However, once you feel that Wolverine is best for level six, you’re not going to feel inclined to pick Gambit for variety’s sake, because you’ll feel like you’re just handicapping yourself. You might be inclined to do that after you’ve beat the game several times over and really mastered it, but that’s a point a long way’s down the road, should you ever approach it.
One factor compounding that is its difficulty. Even picking the best mutant for every level, you certainly won’t be breezing through the game. This difficulty is what discourages deviation in character selection, unless of course you’ve played the game to death already. X-Men 2 never feels impossible, but it is very challenging. Although you have a health bar with a capacity of nine (starting with seven bars filled), health replenishing pickups in the levels, and eight extra lives, you won’t be coming close to the end part of the game in your first playthrough. Or your second. Or your third. It will take quite some perseverance if you wish to beat this game. Though, like I said, it never feels impossible.
Some games use a high difficulty to mask what’s really a rather brief game. X-Men 2 is not one such game, as it has roughly twenty-two stages to challenge you. There is no password save or other level select feature, so you have to start again every time. Between the challenge and length, X-Men 2 is sure to garner much playtime, assuming you stick with it.
Graphically, X-Men 2 doesn’t quite match the visual splendor of other genesis games released at the time (i.e. Vectorman), but doesn’t look dated, either. The character sprites are nicely detailed, have pretty fluid animation, and have lots of different animations. In this respect, they’ve captured the style of the comics quite well. Wolverine running actually looks like how Wolverine would run, etc. The backgrounds are very nicely detailed, and sometimes have multiple layers and/or some parallax; however, they seem pretty rigid. Running forward with a faster character like Nightcrawler lends to some pretty fast scrolling, which is handled smoothly and without blurring. Enemy sprites have some interesting designs but aren’t too terribly special. There is some occasional slowdown if you get several enemies on screen, but it’s not a common occurrence and never poses a problem.
Sound effects aren’t amazingly abundant, but what we have is more than adequate. There’s the explosions, hits, some swishing through the air, bullet shots, lasers, a voice sample of “uhhhhhh!” when your character takes a hit, and different sound effects for each of the mutant powers (a poof for Nightcrawler’s teleport or a zap for Cyclops’ eye beam). All of these sound effects are crisp and do their job just fine, but don’t impress or anything.
The soundtrack doesn’t feature any top-notch compositions or tunes that will get stuck in your head, and all the tunes are fairly repetitive. However, the sound quality is good, and the tunes perfectly match the mood and atmosphere for their perspective levels. Because of how good a job it does in providing ambiance, the music is definitely an asset to the game despite not being OST material.
There’s definitely no complaints to be had about the controls. C jumps, B attacks, and A uses your mutant power. Depending on your character, different moves can be performed with B in conjunction with jumping and/or a direction on the d-pad. Some characters have a charge meter for their mutant power, which you charge up by holding down A. Simple works well here, and everything’s really responsive.
The level design is actually not bad, and each stage takes place in appropriate, distinct locations, with straightforward layouts. X-Men 2‘s levels are particularly heavy on vertical movement as well. I encountered only occasional instances of bad enemy or platform placement, and the game features no bottomless pits to speak of. Some people may not like that there isn’t a method to the timing of bosses; bosses don’t come regularly after a certain number of levels, and some have their own level whereas some are at the end of a level and one is at the beginning of a level. Personally that’s something I liked.
There are several nice touches here and there. If you get your health to eight or nine bars, your mutant power is enhanced by doing more damage, charging faster, etc. Straying off the direct path in levels often leads you to health pickups. More importantly, almost everything is identifiable from the comics, even things not central to the game. The little things make it seem that the developers put a little soul into what they were making.
Overall there’s really not too much to moan about with X-Men 2. People turned off by challenging games need not apply. Everyone else can enjoy a licensed action game that doesn’t suck, isn’t a pushover, and even uses its source material constructively, a rare breed indeed.