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FGC #346 Taito Legends

GrrrThere are plenty of reasons to deride the current “AAA gaming” philosophy. Micro transactions, incomplete games requiring patches, incomplete games requiring DLC, face melting, too many games where you can play with random puppers… it all gets a bit overwhelming after a while. And gone are the days when you could just “buy a videogame”, as this AAA environment has created a scary world wherein a “launch copy” might not even work without downloading a 40 GB patch, or the latest version of a beloved franchise now includes enough clothes ripping to legally consider it a porno. In short, the AAA environment has created a whole host of new and exciting problems.

But my main problem with the domination of AAA game development? It’s weeded out the weird!

Videogames used to be weird! They used to be weird as hell! Nowadays, even once you make it past the brown shooters, you’ve only ever got market tested, board of directors approved nonsense. I don’t blame companies for wanting to make money, but, come on, this is an industry founded on a chubby dude eating enough mushrooms to beat a lava turtle! Nowadays, the best we can hope for is a Yoko Taro release, and, even then, it’s pretty clear the marketing department got initial approval. I mean, come on, it must not have been that hard to sell Square-Enix on “sexy lady commits wanton violence” and “sexy lady commits wanton violence, but now with a cuter butt”. “Weird” is relegated to sidequests, and, even when you’ve got a talking cat, you still spend more time planning your daily schedule than fighting freaky monsters from the depths of the human soul.

But, according to Taito Legends, there was once a time not so long ago when weird ruled the roost.

Let’s take a look at the arcades according to Taito. Want to do this in chronologically released order? We can do that.

Jungle Hunt

Pitfall?On its own, Jungle Hunt isn’t all that weird. It’s the story of some random explorer dude saving his woman (Wife? Girlfriend? …. Mom?) from cannibals, as one does. However, what’s worth noting here is that Jungle Hunt itself was originally intended to be a Tarzan game, but someone noticed that that dude in a loincloth swinging along vines miiiiiiight just infringe on a couple of copyrights. So the noble Tarzan became Sir Dudley, and maybe a vine was transformed into a rope. And that’s it! Tooootally different, tooootally lawful.

But it didn’t end there! Because it was assumed that the children of 1982 were complete morons, Jungle Hunt became Pirate Pete in short order. It was the exact same game, just now with a pirate theme. Swinging from rope to rope became…. Swinging from rope to rope. Huh. Basically, with as little effort as possible, this title somehow became three “different” games. It’s an auspicious start.

Zoo Keeper

Bah?Again, we start with a pretty basic premise: Zeke is a zookeeper, and it’s your job to help Zeke keep all the animals penned up. However, someone decided to get some proto-Super Mario Galaxy action going, and Zeke…. orbits his zoo. And, somehow, as long as Zeke has his feet planted on the ground, the mere act of running will generate bricks (fences?) to trap rampaging lions. One would suppose this is some manner of “compensation” for the good old days of 80’s graphics, and the whole thing would be in 3-D if it were released today, but… It’s peculiar. Zeke’s zookeeper gravity is just plain weird, and gives the impression that Zeke’s Zoo is the literal center of his world. I… kind of feel bad for the poor guy. He’s not very good at his job, and it’s all he has.

Oh, and his girlfriend gets kidnapped by a monkey every three levels. But, hey, that kind of thing happened back then.

Elevator Action

Nothing is more exciting than elevators!

Bubble Bobble

We’ve spoken of this title at length before, but, since bubble dinosaurs have become normalized in society, I just want to note that, again, we’re talking about a pair of boys that were cursed to become dinosaurs that blow bubbles and hunt monsters in a 100-floor dungeon. Also, their girlfriends have been kidnapped by a giant wizard monster, and he must be defeated with lightning bubbles. There is not a single bit of this plot that has ever appeared elsewhere in human fiction.

Rainbow Islands

It’s the sequel to Bubble Bobble, but this time, instead of a dinosaur that shoots bubbles, you’re a human that farts rainbows. And your ultimate opponent is Dinosaur Death, the death that comes for all dinosaurs. It’s disappointing that the third Bubble Bobble title did not feature mutant giraffes that belch tiny suns at cosmic horrors.

Rastan

GrrrYou would think that someone learned from the whole Jungle Hunt thing, but experience is for quitters. Here’s Conan the Barbarian except… nope. It’s just Conan the Barbarian. Did Conan ever fight endless hordes of lizard people? Well, Rastan totally does. Maybe that’s new? I don’t know. I’m not a barbarianologist because, apparently, that’s not a real thing. Thanks a lot, Obama.

Battle Shark

No game could ever live up to that title. I’m not even going to… aw… It’s a submarine shooter? That is totally lame.

New Zealand Story

SqueakAnother tale as old as time: Tiki and Phee Phee are young kiwis in love, but tragedy strikes when Phee Phee and her phriends are kidnapped by a blue leopard seal (which is totally not a walrus). And, rather than go ahead and eat said kiwis like some manner of toothy mammalian horror, Phee Phee and the gang are stuffed into cages across various mazes filled with an oddly high number of ballooning monsters (that is to say the monsters are using balloons to travel, I don’t mean to imply the monsters are getting fat). Tiki is ready for battle, though, as he’s equipped with deadly arrows, and has the ability to steal weapons from the corpses of his defeated foes. Oh, and he can steal a flying swan balloon, too. Because it’s adorable, that’s why.

While this might all sound like basement level insanity (this isn’t even the only old school game to be based entirely on the deliciousness of kiwi birds), what really pushes this one over the top is the “New Zealand Story” angle. Yes, kiwis are indigenous to New Zealand. And, yes, after every stage, you get a real life map of New Zealand. And, as you progress, you will learn the geography of New Zealand, and which areas potentially include enormous, kiwi-eating whale bosses. Was this title made with a grant by the New Zealand tourism board? Or, more likely, did some random dudes in Japan just spin a globe, point randomly at the Pacific Ocean, and base a game on the first country that happened to appear? Which option is more sane?

Ninja Kids

Totally swoleBy 1990, you couldn’t cut it with bubble-based dinosaurs anymore, so it was time to give in to the times and release a beat ‘em up. Except… nobody at Taito had any idea how to make a beat ‘em up, so they made something that’s a little more Mega Man than Streets of Rage. You take damage for simply touching an opponent, ranged attacks are king, and most enemies go down in one or two hits. Despite the fact that the beat ‘em up genre was well established at this point, it almost feels like the long lost missing link between 2-D action games and Mike Haggar’s Big Day. It’s an amusing proto-beat ‘em up from way back when! Nothing weird about that!

Oh, except the fact that you’re fighting against a literally satanic cult.

And your main characters are puppets.

And every attack slices your opponents in half.

And it’s the source of this image

Every Sprite Comic Ever

And it’s kind of racist.

And… man, it’s just weird.

Games used to be really weird, guys!

FGC #346 Taito Legends

  • System: Taito Legends was released for the Playstation 2 and Xbox, but most of the featured games here are primarily arcade releases. Except Bubble Bobble, of course, which only appeared on the NES Classic.
  • Number of players: Two players allow for better quarter consumption than one. Four is even better!
  • GrrrFavorite Game (Compilation): Okay, technically it’s Bubble Bobble, because Bubble Bobble is love. But New Zealand Story is a close second, and there’s a part of me that feels like it should have been another Contra or alike that holds the run ‘n gun mantle for the early days. Or I just like fighting not-walruses. Could be one of those.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: There are a number of light gun games on this compilation, too (including the sublime Operation Wolf), but there is zero light gun support. And did this thing ever appear on the Wii? Noooooo.
  • Did you know? No, really, The Ninja Kids is racist as hell. The most general “thugs” are big-lipped African Americans that are about as powerful as kittens and are recklessly bisected by your favorite ninja. It is disturbing. And this is a game that involves a satanic cult!
  • Would I play again: Well…

What’s next? We’re not quite done with Taito Legends yet, as there’s one game on this compilation I want to give a closer look. Which game am I talking about? Well, please look forward to finding out!

Oh, the devil

FGC #323 Sneak King & Big Bumpin’

DO NOT LOOK AT THISA lot of people ask me why I bother with collecting videogames. It used to just be concerned adults/parents/mentors that claimed I had some kind of hording brain issue, but I learned to ignore those squares pretty damn quickly. Then, as time has gone by, I have learned that this question has come from the most unlikely of sources: other gamers. “Why, Goggle Bob, do you buy all these physical releases of games when digital is so much easier? You don’t even have to leave the couch! You’ve filled an entire room with these mountains and mountains of cheap plastic. Why are you doing this to yourself? We’re worried about…” etc. I’ve heard it all before, and, for anyone willing to wait for an answer, I have one response: Burger King’s Sneak King.

Okay, that might not be my only response, but it’s definitely one of ‘em!

I am hopelessly addicted to buying videogames. I know this. I have this pathological need to own any given piece of videogame history entirely because… what? I think discs are somehow going to outlive my Playstation account? In fact, I want to say the first game that ever really got me out of my “no digital” shell was Mega Man 9, but I was downright excited for the recent physical release of Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 because it meant I could finally possess a physical version of the exact same game. Never mind that I still have my “original” Mega Man 9 download transferred to my WiiU, and never mind that I bought the game again on sale on Playstation 3 because I had nothing better to do with five bucks; no, ignore all of that, because I have a disc in a case that, let’s face it, is more likely to be destroyed than an entire videogame console. But it still somehow grants me this all important illusion of permanence. So I still debate on the merits of purchasing a digital version of the latest fighting game (you know the “whole game” isn’t on the disc! They release new DLC every other week!) Dance it!and lament the lack of physical media for any digital game I love (hi, Sonic Mania). I need my totems of power, and if I don’t have a physical version, what’s the point? Playing a game for fun? Please.

But, while that is obviously a prominent psychological disease the likes of which medical science has not yet fully explained, I am aware of that problem, and I can overcome it. I have loosened my grip over the years, and I am capable of buying digital releases. Given the choice, I would prefer a physical release, but I can deal with purchasing, say, every Naruto game ever for fifteen bucks during a Playstation flash sale. I’m okay with that, because I know it isn’t a game (or franchise, whatever) that is “important” to me, so I can buy in bulk, stuff it all in the fridge, and… watch it rot.

And that’s my latest problem.

Like every other videogame hoarder (particularly those with Steam accounts), I now own about 200 downloaded titles that I have barely acknowledged (left alone actually played and beaten). This drives me absolutely insane, as sorting through these games is… not pleasant. I try to put them in appropriate folders! I try to organize my collection… but then there’s another flash sale, and I haven’t even played these games yet, so is this latest purchase a beat ‘em up or a “generic” action game? Dear God, maybe it’s an action-adventure with JRPG elements. I don’t even know what to do with that! Bah, just put it in the Dark Souls pile. And this all sounds innocuous, but when I finally feel like playing X-Men Arcade again, I have to search through not only multiple “what is that” games, but also numerous systems in an BUMP!attempt to even remember where I downloaded that game in the first place. And don’t even get me started on those downloaded “collections”, as I don’t want to be reminded that I own every 20th Century Capcom release seventeen times over.

But the real losers here are the games. I can safely say that there is not a single game in my digital collection that I bought “just because”. In all honesty, from the Narutos to the experimental shoot ‘em ups to the occasional “is like Dark Souls, but” title, every game I have ever purchased, I have purchased because something about the game appealed to me, and that’s worth a Lincoln. “Sure, I don’t have time to play this game right now, but I’ll get to it when I have a chance,” I foolishly told myself. And then it went into the pile, lost forever under a mountain of Vita titles that I’m going to transfer to the system real soon, I swear, just give me another day to clean off that memory card. I’ll get to it!

But physical games! Physical games I’ll never lose! Because they take up so much space! And my failures and impulse buys are all right there on a shelf (many, many shelves, in fact). They all stare back at me, not lost to some cavernous hard drive, but teetering on the edge, ready to collapse and inevitably crush my fragile skull beneath a deluge of SNES cartridges. I can see (right now!) every physical videogame I’ve ever purchased, including those that came with a BK Value Meal.

Sneak King is a game wherein you, as the Burger Nightmare King, sneak around teeny tiny arenas, and attempt to deliver random BK menu items without being seen. It gets old after approximately twelve seconds. Big Bumpin’ is a party game that pumped all of its resources into making really interesting and ornate bumper car arenas, but forgot to design anything approaching fun gameplay. There’s a kind of air hockey mode available that ain’t bad, but everything else is sub-Monkey Ball. Well, the air hockey is sub-Monkey Ball, too, but you don’t notice its badness quite as much as the one where the best way to play is to hide in the corner forever. Come to think of it, that technique works in a bunch of Sneak King levels, too. Maybe these games don’t actually want you to play them?

BUMP!But play them I shall! Because I have the memory of a goldfish, and actually seeing a game makes me about 1000% more likely to play the game than stowing it in the digital fridge. And, like eating some rotten Whopper from the fridge of your choice, I will barf at the sheer rancidness of this selection. It’s crap! I should know it’s crap! These are videogames that literally came with a side of fries! But I’ll play them again, because I bought a pair of plastic disc coffins, and, by God, I’m gonna play some Burger King nonsense this week!

So, in conclusion, I collect videogames because I’m a masochist. Glad we settled that.

FGC #323 Sneak King & Big Bumpin’

  • System: Technically these are supposed to be Xbox 360 games, but they’re secretly Xbox titles that are abusing the 360’s backward compatibility. Everything is a lie.
  • Number of players: Sneak King is a solo affair, Big Bumpin’ allows for up to four quickly bored players.
  • Let’s talk about fast food: When I was growing up, the only fast food in town was Burger King. Since I was a child and had the palette of a heathen, any trip to Burger King was precious. Then, when I was in high school, a McDonald’s moved in, with a Wendy’s shortly thereafter. So the Burger King went out of business, because who can compete with the cardboard-flavored hockey pucks available at Wendy’s? NummyAnd that was that. Now I have to drive like fifteen minutes if I want to eat a Whopper, which, thank goodness, rarely ever happens.
  • Favorite Sneak King Level: Why does Sneak King start in a lumber yard? Why is that the first thing someone thought would be a reasonable location for a crazy plastic king to deliver breakfast items? Is there some kind of lumberjack breakfast thing being implied here? Also: how did this game get made?
  • Favorite Big Bumpin’ Stage: I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. Let’s say the blue one.
  • Did you know? There’s also a third Burger King game from this era: Burger King Pocket Bike Racer. It was not in stock when I picked up its cousins. I have never regretted that fact.
  • Would I play again: I guess? Nobody ever asks if Final Fantasy really ever happened, but that might come up with these titles. I must prove their existence to the masses!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Tiny Toon Adventures Buster’s Hidden Treasure for the Sega Genesis! I would expect the next article to be tiny, toony, and just a little loony. Please look forward to it!

What?
Don’t even ask.

FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka

It’s the things that you don’t even notice that make a genre.

Let’s look at Street Fighter. And, yes, in this case I am talking about Street Fighter 1, arguably the granddaddy of the fighting genre. Look at this hard-hitting arcade action.

FIGHT!

Did you see what happened there? Did you see what Ryu and Retsu did? No, I’m not talking about their janky movements or their complete lack of hyper moves, I’m talking about turning around. It’s a simple, automatic pivot to guarantee combatants are always facing each other, and it’s the most important innovation in the fighting game genre.

FIGHT?!Think about, well, just about every videogame ever. “Where are you facing” is important in any experience where you have to aim. Mario? I suppose it doesn’t matter if he’s facing the wrong direction while he dashes through the Mushroom Kingdom, but he better aim straight and true when it’s time to start chucking fireballs at Bowser. Contra? Sure would be nice to be able to back up and shoot forward when facing down some of those bosses. And Mega Man, from the company that would bring you Street Fighter, ends every stage with a 1-on-1 Robot Master battle for supremacy… but the Blue Bomber could technically spend the whole match firing in the wrong direction. It’s up to you, player, to make sure your lil’ dude or dudette is pointing forward, otherwise Samus might keep launching not-so-magic missiles into the darkness, and not a pulsating brain.

But it is key that the protagonist be able to aim in any direction, or at least left and right. While it might be interesting if Mega Man boss battles functioned differently than the typical stage gameplay, in order for it to be consistent, Mega must be able to turn around at will, because you never know when a telly might be sneaking up from behind. Mario doesn’t even have the ability to scroll the screen left in his first adventure, but he can still turn around, because goombas are a wily and mischievous kind of chestnut. Bowser is always going to be on the right side of the screen, but that doesn’t hold true for his damn Hammer Bros. emissary. While your main opponent is bolted to the right, even Contra features a final boss that requires shooting up, down, and back to survive a friggen inanimate organ. Manual turning is important in a lot of genres.

But not in fighting games. In fighting games, turning is always a liability.

FIGHT!Guilty Gear Isuka should have been a thing of beauty. The previous Guilty Gears were great, enjoyable 2-D fighting games in an era when the 2-D fighter seemed to be all but dead. Capcom was resting, Mortal Kombat was dead or totally 3-D (or both), and, sadly, no one took up the torch of Eternal Champions. But Sammy did their best to keep the fires of 2-D combat going, and, over approximately 60 incremental releases, Guilty Gear had become an excellent source of 2-D fighting fun. And there was a pretty large roster of 20 or so playable characters, so let’s do something new and innovative with the 2-D genre. People like Smash Bros. and Marvel vs. Capcom’s four player mode, right? Let’s take the preexisting Guilty Gear architecture, and make a 1-v-1 into a four player free-for-all! All the characters and moves you love, but now featured in a brand new, completely hectic battle royale. Chaos is the new normal!

And, seriously, I want to say this was an excellent idea. On a personal note, I have a hard time getting my less fighting game inclined friends to play any true fighting games other than Street Fighter. The 1-v-1 format naturally seems to lead to more “focused” matches, and, if you don’t already have a good base of fighting game knowledge, of course you’re going to lose to the guy that already started playing the game last week. Meanwhile, in Smash, or Wii Sports, or even a “board game” like situation, the social aspect of four or more players leads to a lot less pressure to perform, so even those filthy casuals can have fun. In that way, a four player “evolved” 2-D fighting game should lead to more enjoyment with friends, and people won’t immediately notice how brutally I’m kicking all of their asses. I mean, uh, fun for the whole family?

STAY AWAY!Unfortunately, concessions had to be made to account for four simultaneous fighters. For the first time in Guilty Gear history, the game would like to know which direction you want to face. You’re between two different opponents: do you face right or left? You’ve got a choice, and it’s as simple as pressing a button.

And it’s absolutely horrible.

Manual turning in a 2-D fighting game is… abhorrent. Considering that mix-ups, jump attacks, and footsies are all random phrases I just googled and hope actually have something to do with what I’m saying, there are a lot of ways to “confuse” your opponent about where you’re going to be next. Then there are special moves that carry your fighter (or opponent) clear across the screen at the press of a button. And, finally, you’ve got teleporting moves, the yoga-derived bane of everyone’s existence. In short, there is a pile of ways to switch sides in a fighting game at any given second in a match, and when your character doesn’t immediately and automatically pivot, get ready to start chucking fireballs into an empty void. Oh, and never mind the fact that the damn computer has no problem turning on a dime and kicking your ass accordingly.

WeeeeeBut it’s that coveted “casual market” where Isuka really flounders. Want to try to get that four player action going? Well, good luck, because “move left” is not the same input as “turn left”, so expect some really frustrated newbies standing right next to an opponent, but slashing air on the other side. What? There’s a turn button? Which one is that? Oh… okay… wait… Now I’m facing the other way again… which… that one? Uh… can we play something else now?

It’s not that it’s completely impossible to understand, it’s just that it’s transparently unintuitive, and there are no shortage of party games out there that don’t share the same handicap.

And that’s what it all comes down to: pivoting, simple turning around, should be 100% intuitive. In a platformer, it’s a matter of flicking the right direction. In a fighting game, it’s an automatic turn. Nobody thinks about it, it’s just that simple, and you can get back to attempting to master a dragon punch motion.

The automatic turn is the most important thing to ever happen to fighting games, and when it’s missing, it is sorely missed.

FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka

  • System: Playstation 2 and (OG) Xbox. There’s supposed to be an arcade version out there with fewer characters, but I have never seen a Guilty Gear arcade cabinet, left alone a four-player Isuka monstrosity.
  • Number of players: Four! I just said that!
  • Say something nice: This game is actually enjoyable once you “master” turning. As I mentioned, this game was released during the PS2-era’s 2-D fighter shortage, and I did play ol’ Isuka quite a bit as a result. Completely impossible to get anyone else to play it for more than a few rounds, though…
  • Favorite Character: Zappa is possessed by evil spirits. In any other franchise, this might lead to a character that has generic, etheric magic attacks. Here, Zappa is practically broken in half by angry ghosts, and occasionally seems to summon horror monsters (and terrifying insects). I want to say Zappa was basically the inspiration for BlazBlue’s Arakune (the character that is a big ol’ bag o’ bugs), but whatever inadvertent origins abound, he’s fun here.
  • Hey you said there’d be a puppy: Oh, fine. Here’s your puppy. He’s riding a whale or something.

    D'aww
  • Did you know? There’s also a beat ‘em up in there. Oddly, it seems to use completely different “turning” controls. Was GGI designed under the influence of powerful chemicals? It seems like a simple explanation.
  • Would I play again: No thanks. I’ll just be here quietly waiting for the next Guilty Gear Xrd update. Maybe they’ll finally include a character I already like!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS! Agents are (gonna) go! Please look forward to it!

FGC #219 X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse

Here come the X-DorksThere 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!

WeeeeeThe 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.

Ultimate X-Men

NerdsThis 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

Check out the tongue“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)

Big scary dudeXML2: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).
  • Think about itSo, 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!

AHH