There has been an evolution in established property licensed games over the console generations.
In the beginning, the best we could hope for from the genre was a “random adventure” that did its best to get the character out the door and into your gaming console. Wolverine fought Magneto for some reason, Fester had his quest, and Batman generically battled Firefly. I’m not sure if it was the belief that videogames were a fad (so get your licensed property to generate some quick cash while you can), or simply that nobody had any idea what they were doing (Superman likes the Statue of Liberty, right?), but, ultimately, most licensed games of the NES era were fairly lacking in anything but “now you get to control a real life superhero (or Fester)”.
By the 16-bit era, we were at least getting plots that seemed more “built” for videogames. Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge is a terrible game, but its “Arcade built a brand new Murderworld” story adapts instantly to the eclectic stages you usually see in a SNES game. Similarly, X-Men for the Sega Genesis and its “malfunctioning Danger Room” allows for all sorts of interesting vistas from X-Men history, and also leaves room for a “real” plot (and some really confused X-Men). This was also the era that started to adapt current stories, so we saw a Justice League fighting game featuring exclusively Grant Morrison’s JLA, and The Death and Return of Superman: The Game. You too can finally play as an alien that is completely doomed!
The Playstation hosted a fair few “random” licensed games (Spider-Man springs immediately to mind, and that Star Wars fighting game? Yeesh), but things were already starting to go in the direction of licensed games endorsing “something” in addition to just the featured licensed character. For instance, it’s often overlooked that the atrocious Superman 64 is based on Superman: The Animated Series. I suppose monolithic companies finally acknowledged that videogames were here to stay, and, if you’ve got a property to advertise, why not use videogames to do it? Why simply promote Spider-Man when you can promote Spider-Man: The Movie, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, or Spider-Man: Whatever Stupid Thing We’re Doing in the Comics This Week? Who knew Maximum Carnage was such a trendsetter?
This brings us to today’s featured game, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. XML2RoA is yet another X-Men videogame, and, at first blush, it appears to be another “random” X-Men adventure. This time, mutant maniac Apocalypse is trying to take over the world (well, he’s always trying to take over the world, just it’s not somebody else trying this week), and the X-Men and The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants must team up to put a stop to Apocalypse’s plan to steal the mutant powers of Jubilee or whatever the hell is going on. The main appeal of the game is that you may now play as a great many villains as well as the heroes, so Cyclops, Wolverine, and Jean Grey can fight alongside Magneto, Juggernaut, and Gambit (okay, he’s not a bad guy, but he is a bad guy). This is all pretty basic “X-Men stuff”, and, come to think of it, it wasn’t even the first time most of this roster had come together in one game (and where’s the petition to get Bishop in Marvel vs. Capcom?).
But the Nightcrawler’s in the details, so let’s look at the blatant “signs of the times” in this X-Men licensed game.
This is probably the most anachronistic item for any modern X-Fan to see in this PS2/Xbox/Gamecube title. While it’s not as “in your face” as some of their appearances, it’s pretty clear that Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men are the featured heroes (and villains) of the game. Okay, I suppose there’s a lot of “original” (Uncanny?) X-Men DNA in the story, too, but that mainly seems to serve as an excuse to get some old school villains to plump up the boss roster. Everything else: the costumes, characterizations, and character’s general ages all seem to point to “this is the Marvel Ultimate Universe”.
This makes a lot of sense, as, at the time, Marvel was trying very hard to promote its new “Ultimate” line of comics, a shared universe where all the superheroes were “new”, and nobody was bogged down with a collective forty years of continuity. It was a good idea! Nobody wants to read another story where they have to be reminded Black Tom ever existed, so let’s reduce the Juggernaut that palled around with Dazzler for some reason back to his basic, “nothing stops the Juggernaut” form. The Ultimate Universe was a good idea, and we should be happy to see it immortalized here.
Because it ain’t around no more.
Marvel should have seen this coming: The Ultimate Universe was great at its outset because it wasn’t drowning in the continuity that had existed before most of the audience was born. But that didn’t last, because modern comics gather continuity snarls like Final Fantasy heroes horde megalixers. In no time at all, the Ultimate X-Men became an endless knot of nonsense where Cable was somehow Wolverine (but from the future), Beast had died and come back and died again, and Colossus was on drugs because his skin was too heavy. Also, an X-Man had cybersex with The Blob. You don’t come back from that.
So the Ultimate Marvel Universe had… I want to say there were three apocalypses. The first one was pretty floody and bloody, then Super Galactus ate New Jersey, and then the Ultimate Universe smashed into the Regular Universe. The Regular (616, nerds) Universe had better sales, so Ultimate ejected its Spider-Man and called it a day. No more Ultimate X-Men.
So it’s funny to be reminded they existed at all in this lil’ Marvel time capsule. Speaking of which…
Age of Apocalypse
“Age of Apocalypse” was a 1995 X-Men Crossover “Summer Event”. The basic concept was that Professor X had been accidently murdered by a time traveler, and, whoops, that time traveler was his kid, so paradox time, son. The Marvel Timeline convulsed and reconfigured itself until a new universe was born where Apocalypse ruled the world, the X-Men were led by Magneto, and Cyclops was actually pretty cool (and appropriately named). This crossover only lasted a few months, but it left an indelible mark on the X-Men for years, as readers just plain liked a story where half the heroes were villains and pretty much everybody died. Jamie Madrox died like a hundred times!
So Marvel, never one to let a success rest, went back to that well again and again, usually reviving the Apocalypse universe (kinda literally) every two or three years or so. There was the time that AoA turned out to be bright and sunny outside of Apocalypse’s rule, there was the time it was so crappy that someone ate a baby, and there was an entire miniseries where all the mutants were humans and I think top hats could eat people or something. None of these revivals ever seemed to stick around for longer than a few issues, but why not try to milk a little more cash out of that one successful crossover from twenty years ago?
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse isn’t a straight retelling of Age of Apocalypse by any means, but it is the annual excuse to use all your favorite AoA characters (like Sugarman! Everybody loves Sugarman!), and even pigeonhole a few good guys into their AoA bad guy roles (Hey, Beast, you’re evil now, don’t ask why). It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty clear that Marvel used this game as a way to remind everyone of that one thing they liked that one time. Kills time before releasing the movie a decade later.
And speaking of movies…
Special Guests: Deadpool and Iron Man (before they were famous)
XML2:RoA was released three years before Iron Man, the movie that officially launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s possible that Iron Man was included in this game with that event in mind… but it was probably just an excuse to promote Marvel Ultimate Alliance (coming soon!). Iron Man winds up as a “hidden character” that must be unlocked through random scavenger hunt nonsense. I guess that’s appropriate, it’s not like he’s a mutant (most of the time). Similarly, Deadpool is unlocked after completing the game, and… yeah. Can you imagine saving Deadpool for a “hidden character” slot in today’s environment? He’s had more games than Cyclops at this point! And there was the best superhero movie of 2016 somewhere in there, too. You can’t stop the ‘pool!
But here are Iron Man and Deadpool, slumming it in the reserve section so you can play as such amazing X-stars as Sunfire, X-Man (PSP only, to be fair), and friggen Toad. Yes, I know Toad was in the X-Men movie of 2000, but he was also involved in the single worst line-read in cinema history, so I don’t think he should be involved in anything. Get Deadpool back in there! He has teleporting powers for some reason! Bodyslide by fun!
Let’s punch dinosaurs in the Savage Land
Oh, that’s perennial. Licensed games or no, some things are always going to be entertaining.
FGC #219 X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
- System: Playstation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, PC, PSP, and… N-Gage? Seriously? Okay. For the purpose of this review (“review”), I played the Gamecube version, which I bought initially because…
- Number of players: Four! This game is basically Gauntlet with X-Men, and that’s a thing I never knew I needed so badly before X-Men Legends (1).
- So, got played a lot? So much. Everything is unlocked, and I think most of the characters are at some “max level” stats. This is mainly because my friends and I played this almost as much as Smash Bros (this is a lie, but the hyperbole rings true), and good times were had by all. Just watch it when someone chooses Nightcrawler while cackling loudly (full disclosure: I am that someone).
- Favorite Character: I liked Deadpool before he was cool, dammit. Also, quick-run Professor Xavier is hilarious. Of the characters that are more easily available, I guess Juggernaut saw a lot of play, but that’s mainly thanks to a residual love for Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
- Port-o-Call: The PSP version contained extra characters, like Cable, but made multiplayer more of a bear, so screw that noise. The PC version also included Pyro and Sabertooth… so I couldn’t care less. There was also a phone-based version of the game that was a beat ‘em up. That actually sounds like it might be interesting.
- Did you know? The Age of Apocalypse version of Sunfire’s “costume” is still the best thing that ever happened to that character.
- Would I play again? I have a lot of affection for this game, but, man is it rough to come back to after a decade of gaming innovations. I can barely read the HUD! Love ya, XML2:RoA, but I’ve got some modern X-ventures to play.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mega Man X2! Or maybe he didn’t choose it, and I’m on a run of X-Mas games. Who can say? Anyway, please look forward to it!