maanantai 1. syyskuuta 2014

REVIEW - The Walking Dead | Xbox 360 | 2012

GENRE(S): Adventure / Interactive drama
RELEASED: April 24, 2012 (PC, PS3) - August 26, 2014 (MAC, PC, PS3)
AVAILABLE ON: MAC, PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Telltale Games
PUBLISHER(S): Telltale Games, Sony Computer Entertainment (PS Vita)

In 2003, writer Robert Kirkman and artist Tony Moore unleashed The Walking Dead, a comic book series chronicling the lives of survivors of a zombie apocalypse, and telling horrible stories of how ordinary people would realistically be affected by such an event - how innocence dies and you hold on to your humanity with everything you've got and more. The comic book was a critical and commercial success thanks to its themes and different take on the age-old zombie story, but international success had to wait until AMC picked up the rights for a TV adaptation. Premiering on Halloween in 2010, AMC's The Walking Dead became an overnight phenomenon, enticing horror and drama fans alike. Five months later, Telltale Games announced they were working on an episodic adventure game based on The Walking Dead, with Robert Kirkman himself on board as a consultant. Instead of being directly based on either the comic book or the TV show, the game went with a story arc of its very own, featuring a few characters from the comic books to really tie it to the rest of the franchise. After the first season ended with its fifth episode in November 2012, formerly discreet critics began praising the game very vocally, and its success didn't end there; at the Spike Video Game Awards, the game won Best Downloadable Game, Best Adapted Video Game, and finally the coveted Game of the Year, from under the noses of many sure winners. Telltale Games' major breakthrough was soon followed by the announcement of The Walking Dead: Season Two. A few days ago, this second season came to its end, and thanks to its expectedly great success, a third one is coming, but since this might well be it for the original story arc of the game, I think the time is quite ripe to finally review Telltale Games' The Walking Dead. It's quite a trip - pretty much the best the franchise has had to offer thus far.

The light in a world gone dark

STARRING
Dave Fennoy : Lee Everett
Melissa Hutchison : Clementine
Gavin Hammon : Kenny
Owen Thomas : Omid
Mara Junot : Christa / Anna Correa
---
Erin Yvette : Molly / Bonnie
Michael Madsen : Carver
Scott Porter : Luke
Shay Moore : Rebecca
Christine Lakin : Jane

Lee and Clementine set out on the longest
journey of their lives.
An important note: this is indeed a review of the WHOLE series thus far, both Seasons One and Two, with the Season One expansion 400 Days also taken into account. The changes to graphical presentation and the UI between the two seasons are minimal; the few changes which mostly regard storytelling style will be addressed by the end of the review.

Convicted murderer Lee Everett's police escort swerves and crashes, trying to avoid a strange figure crossing the road. Lee manages to escape custody, but finds himself in all new trouble as he is attacked by a group of the undead. He finds shelter in a seemingly abandoned house, which however is inhabited by an 8-year old girl named Clementine, whose parents are out on a vacation they will obviously never return from. Lee immediately forms a strong, father-daughter like bond with the girl and promises to guard her with his life as they make their way across the country ravaged by a full-blown zombie apocalypse, to find a new safe home.

After I broke up with my ex-fiancee in the summer of 2009, I stopped watching TV altogether - watched much less movies than I did before, too. I just didn't feel like watching movies alone (still don't!), and even an hour sitting in front of the TV felt like a waste 'cause it was so full of crap. Every time I'd pick up the remote and try to watch TV for more than two minutes, there was something horrible on. Hyperactive cooking shows upon hyperactive cooking shows, that God damn retarded home improvement show (not the 90's sitcom!), travelling documentaries, or even worse, those "911"-type of overtly melodramatic, re-enacted "documentaries". "IT SEEMED LIKE A FUN FAMILY TRIP, BUT THEN SOMETHING WENT HORRIBLY WRONG......... stay tuned!" Cut to commercials, and when the show's back on, they spend the next 20 minutes recapping the events before the break, then cut to another break, and then maybe the grand revelation comes. And it's usually something like "Just halfway down the long road, little Charlie shit his pants in the car". And then they interview the whole family and they're all like "I'll never forget it, the smell of it's forever burned in my nostrils." Zoom in. A few tears, maybe. OK, I'm taking this too far, you probably get it. There's more: repetitive sitcoms, 30-minute commercials for miracle product X, crappy teen shows of all genres that I hope no-one watches, useless talent shows, ultraboring game shows with stupid, complicated rules (what the hell happened to good old quiz shows, really?), and last but definitely not least, the scourge of all humanity, Big Brother. When I was seven years old, I told my teacher I think TV is the best invention ever. If I was able to travel back in time, I'd smack that little bastard around 'til he's able to breathe just barely enough to someday grow into the person I am now.

Lee learns that to survive in this new world, a
brother must turn against brother.
There were good shows back then, such as my long-time favourite South Park; but that glorious 30 minutes or an hour per week wasn't enough to keep me even remotely interested in TV. Besides, many shows were syndicated all over the place; you could never keep up with what was coming and when, and from where, and what season we were at. In the case of South Park, I think one channel was re-running season one, another was re-running season four and one's broadcast was with the times. It became way too complicated on top of everything else for me to even want to keep up with TV. Well, then I discovered Netflix. Way over here, and back then, Netflix was relatively compact in terms of variety, but it had many good movies or movies I had always wanted to see but had no time or interest to watch alone; these ones I could watch at my very own pace, it always loaded more or less the exact spot I left off at. What interested me even more was the variety of TV shows I had missed, and always wanted to watch. One of these shows was called The Walking Dead, and the first season they had available blew my mind. The Walking Dead single-handedly restored my faith in quality TV, and helped me discover something even better I'd missed in the form of the amazing Game of Thrones. Then Telltale Games made a game out of The Walking Dead, and as it happens, now they're working on a game based on Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead gives me all the reason to be excited for it.

Now for the part where I feel stupid, after ranting on and on about modern television: Telltale Games' The Walking Dead has virtually nothing to do with the TV show. A couple of characters from the show appear, but even they are not voiced by the same actors, and they're much more influenced by their comic book counterparts in look. I knew this when I first downloaded the first episode of season one; I got it for free, and the game was fresh off its big win at Spike, so I definitely wanted to take that risk of trying to forcefully tie the game to the TV series and fall on my ass all disappointed when it didn't work out the way I expected. I'm like that, I try to make connections all the time. On a positive note, it doesn't have all that much in common with the comic books either. It's a story of its complete own, and a very good one - considering the many long-range slumps of the show, I will rather easily go as far as to say it works even better as a drama than the show. It's got good pacing, great build-ups for and between characters, and much more zombies, or "walkers" than you'd expect to see in a Telltale title. It's got everything, for people who like and understand the interactive drama for what it is. It's a game, but not in the usual sense. It will make you laugh, smile, cry, and hurt. Not all of the outcomes are up to you - but how your characters deal with constant tragedy, how it shapes them as people, and what kind of people they'll be once it's all over, are exclusively your concerns.

In this new world, suicide's an honorable choice.
The visual presentation from character to environmental design, to mere details, is very similar to the comic book, which is no surprise since creator Robert Kirkman himself and comic book publisher Skybound Entertainment were in very close cahoots with the writers, artists and designers all the way. As far as the TV adaptation's influence goes, the game makes good use of silence as a dramatic effect; as the tutorial points out in the very beginning of the trip and a few choice points along the way, silence is nearly always a valid dialogue option if you can't come up with a hearty response. The musical score by Jared Emerson-Johnson hits all the right emotional notes with an otherwise typical score, and there are a few, more fleshed out tracks that appear as end credit songs, soft rock and such. The voiceover work is top notch; usually I cringe whenever I hear the words "in-house talent" combined, as it always reminds me of the first Resident Evil game, but not to worry. These people know their business. The big one to follow Michael J. Fox's cameo as Old Marty in Back to the Future is Michael Madsen, who does the voice of the supposed lead villain of season two, and does it so good that I had nightmares of this guy. When he finally got what was coming to him, I had to replay the chapter a few times, just to make sure he's dead. That wasn't a spoiler, by the way - in the world of The Walking Dead, everyone's basically dead, they just don't know it yet. In case you didn't know, "The Walking Dead" refers to the survivors, not the walkers.

In the usual sense of being a game, 99% of The Walking Dead is of the very casual kind. Most of the story is told in automated cutscenes; however, there are times you must move your character (Lee, Clementine and the several survivors of 400 Days) yourself, successfully respond to a QTE prompt or few, even solve some very mild puzzles, though even the mildest of puzzles are ousted altogether by the time of season two's second episode. Very often you need to engage in combat with a walker or a whole horde of them, or even bandits, all the while getting shouted at or otherwise stressed out by something else on the side - combat is basically very easy and forgiving (the target zone is bigger than it looks and which trigger you pull at an RT prompt doesn't matter), but the point of these scenes is rather stressing the shit out of you with their audiovisuals, not challenging the gamer in you. You're living this - as scripted as the characters sound like judging by written word, it is made clear almost right away that they live and learn through you, and vice versa.

So here we get to the biggest difference between season one and season two. Season one's protagonist is Lee, and the main focus point of the story is the development of this brooding convict's strong feelings, dare I say unconditional love OR extremely bad temper, towards a child he hardly knows. The decisions available to Lee in any situation nearly always include a decision that notably benefits Clementine, but also a decision that drives him further from the girl. Lee is also a calm, but easily irritable man, and isn't afraid to get physical if he feels the need to - like his background goes to show. It's extremely exciting to play as Lee; he's so relatable that it's easy to find a sensical consistency to your decisions, even if you take a break from the game in the middle, that waiting-for-the-next-episode break for example. Actually, one of my favourite scenes in season one is the very end of episode four, where you make the final dialogue choice of the episode; the end credits roll, and the first line in episode five is what you chose in episode four.

Even the living aren't that nice.
Season two has a similar moment, and the first episode in general really doesn't feel that different from season one, except for the fact that you're controlling Clementine - to whom the main protagonist's torch passes on to near the end of season one - a physically smaller and mentally a bit more sensitive character, although of course the girl's toughened up a LOT from what we started with, she's grown up way too quickly. Her dilemma alone makes us feel so sorry for her from the beginning, but also intrigued - she's even more of a hopeful spirit than she was before, things can never get any worse for the girl in her own mind. Of course they do, all the time, and that really starts to frustrate her and turn her from an innocent child into a raging beast desperate for survival. However, there's only so much a little girl can do; there are action scenes coming Clementine's way, but generally she's more of a conversationalist; she tries to get through by talking, and if that's simply not possible, she has a few trusted adult friends watching her back most of the season's duration. The decisions you make as Clementine very rarely concern her, but the people around her. She needs them to survive. They watch her back, she watches theirs. They double-cross her, they meet the beast. Or a sniveling brat. Once again it's all up to you, and your interpretation of the character. Clementine can indeed be built up to be a real bitch in the disguise of a 10-year old girl, a mean and manipulative little shit... or you can try your best to just always treat and present her as the same girl you found alone in that treehouse so many episodes ago.

So here's the thing with decision-making; the greatest flaw to come to mind when we're talking 'Dead is inconsistency, which comes in somewhere along season two. Even the best decisions might turn out to break your character once the dialogue choice is actually spoken, or when the chosen action actually takes place. Let's elaborate. Lee is depicted as a somewhat unstable character in the early goings of season one; even if you make a "bad" decision as him, it might still pass for a plausible solution and the story shapes out just fine, 'cause you just know the man has a temper and he's easily stressed out, he might even lash out at Clementine if he's at a boiling point, it's OK. But, playing as Clementine is somehow different. Sure, the whole ordeal has changed her, but sometimes the decisions are a bit too extreme even for someone who's been through so much - she's Clementine, for God's sake. A couple of times I really stumbled as her, 'cause the time limit for the decision was so unforgiving, it took me a while to read and think through all the choices, and there was just one choice (in addition to silence) that seemed remotely realistic and reasonable for my interpretation of the character. For example, I encouraged another character to beat down another one, 'cause I felt he deserved it. Well, I soon got another say in the situation when it looked like he was killing him - I started feeling the guy had understood the point and wanted a dialogue choice where I would calmly tell the attacker to back off. Well, apparently there was one, but the time limit scared the shit out of me, so I chose one which kinda looked like it, and Clem suddenly jumped up and screamed out something like "Let him go, he hasn't done anything wrong!" Even if this wasn't a mistake on my end, that just didn't make any sense at all - the guy on the receiving end was definitely an asshole. Just one mistake really bummed me out and I found myself not caring for the choices I made for the next five to ten minutes. Never happened during the first season.

Sometimes it really sucks to be a little girl.
All that I just said wasn't meant to spit flame on the second season. It sucks to not be in full control of the situation, yes, but it isn't such a huge or constant problem. Maybe the thing is just that Clementine is such an intriguing character you'd want her to be just as easy to play and unconditionally relate to as Lee. As far as episode-long slumps go, The Walking Dead has none, not at any point. There are several episodes which I consider notably better than the rest and some of Telltale's best work. These include the first couple of episodes of season one as well as the season finale, the second episode of season two, and the season finale released less than a week back. Generally, compared to The Wolf Among Us which also came to its season finale a while back, The Walking Dead has delivered on a much steadier pace, and it's already left a trail of 11 episodes, which equals to about 17-18 hours. That's miraculously long for a Telltale story, and what's even more miraculous is that even while a lot's already been done, I believe it's got all the potential for at least five more episodes. For example, seeing as they already used a couple of tricks from the TV show during season two, they could spin something off the show this time, with different characters. Or perhaps really follow up on what they merely tinkered with in 400 Days - there are surprisingly good ideas still out there.

Just in case they've used up all the good ones or end up using up all they've got left too soon upon the premiere of season three, I decided to review The Walking Dead right now and dwell on which grade of awesome it currently stands at. It has those Telltale glitches, though not as bad as in The Wolf Among Us. Season two isn't quite as captivating on the playable character's side as season one - though it has even better set-ups in general, as well as a great lead villain - and utterly effortless Trophies/Achievements, as well as many shallow decisions tone down on the replay value. These few flaws are hardly enough to spoil a true gem; so far, the best in the field of interactive drama.

UPS
+ Amazing story and characters, that's all a great Telltale game needs...
+ ...Plus there's fantastic audio to go with it
+ In a nutshell it's better than the show ever was in my humble opinion, and that's saying a lot

DOWNS
- Some of those weird pauses/glitches present in any game utilizing the Telltale tool
- Character-related inconsistencies rear head, especially during season two
- Trophies/Achievements are all 100% automatic, easiest two Platinums/Completions ever pull some bad pranks on replay value

< 9.0 >

REVIEW - Iron Man 2 | DS | 2010

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: April 30, 2010
AVAILABLE ON: DS
DEVELOPER(S): Griptonite Games
PUBLISHER(S): Sega

Like most Marvel Comics movies as I've noticed recently, Iron Man 2 had its first showing on April 24th, but its official premiere on May 7th, 2010. The film was another box office success, having the highest-grossing opening of the year, but most critics were not as pleased with it as they were with its predecessor, although Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as the main character Tony Stark once again won unanimous praise. A week prior to the premiere, three different video games entitled Iron Man 2 - though none of them had anything to do with the movie - were released, and once again it was the Nintendo DS version that got cut at least some slack, while the console games and the PSP game got utterly mangled. Well, it's definitely better than the first one, no doubt about that - hell, it might even be the best Iron Man game there is. That's not saying much beyond anything.

Here comes the War Machine. Yay.

Tony Stark finds that a recent attack on Stark Archives and the attempted theft of JARVIS' back-up files was conducted by the Roxxon Energy Corporation, who are working with the terrorist group A.I.M. to create a new battle armor using Iron Man as a template. Tony and James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, reluctantly team up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to take down the opposing force before they finish their work.

A flight in the park.
I remember next to nothing about the film Iron Man 2. The only time I watched it I'd consumed a few more beers than I probably even realized. I tried to look it up everywhere, with no intention of taking the easy way out and leeching it off the net, for research and atmosphere, but then it turned out beforehand that the game has nothing to do with the movie - that took a weight off my shoulders. Even though it uses the likenesses of the characters on film, it's a stand-alone story set after the movie. That means the arrival of the War Machine - another Marvel superhero named after a hard rock classic - who made his film debut in Iron Man 2. One of the keys to having a better and more comfortable game than the last one is, in fact, War Machine. You see, as War Machine you use the dumbass touch screen controls and targeting system that destroyed the last game - so while he gets the scraps, Iron Man has traditional control. Which makes him the only character I'd ever even think of using to play the game beyond the mandatory tutorial. And even that's not very fun, not for long.

The game looks quite all right all the way to the cutscenes, since having no source material means no movie stills, just DS-quality 3D as fine as it comes. I guess the music would be all right if there were more than two or three tunes - I mean, really? This time, there's no spoken dialogue at all - more of dialogue in general, though. Lots more. In fact, you get cut off every 30 seconds for the longest time into the game, either by JARVIS or your BFF who's following in your shadow each step of the way.

Iron Man 2 differs extremely from the first Iron Man game on the DS. First of all it's essentially a 2D game, which alone perhaps does make playing as War Machine a bit more bearable. That, and the fact that you can actually see the enemies' precise placements on the touch screen as big red dots, you can just tap them without having to hover around as cannon fodder and look for a hot spot with the stylus. However, since I'm a naysayer for the whole damn touch screen, I'll take Tony and his traditional controls instead of playing just one mission as War Machine.

ED-209 makes a cameo. OR, the
character designers have legal
issues on their hands.
When Tony's around, Iron Man 2 is more of a beat 'em up than a shooter, and a big part of it takes place in the air. What makes it even more of a beat 'em up rather than a shooter is the fact that your basic cannon's extremely weak in the beginning of the game, and since you can only permanently upgrade your stuff between missions at Tony's lab, you'll have a lot of time to grow more comfortable with close-range attacks than using your ranged firepower. On each mission you reach several turning points, in which you must simply beat down or shoot up a given amount of enemies to be able to proceed to the next stage. Even outside the confines of these scenes, your only goal is to turn a bunch of robots into a steaming pile of scrap metal. There's nothing more to it - an occasional 2D arcade shooter scenario (those are actually quite cool!), and practically useless collectables here and there, but that's it. That's the idea of the game. It carries on simply like this for way too long - it's not even the shortest game around. But well, since the controls are at least all right, the game might prove itself to the undemanding audience on long road trips.

The way the game handles a case of death is quite interesting. Basically you have unlimited continues, and if and when you respawn, you respawn at the exact spot you died in (or where your suit's power ran out, as the game puts it), but pay attention to the word "if". You see, getting your metal ass handed to you challenges you to a connect-the-dots type of minigame where you need to correctly align the outer rims of the arc reactor (Tony's "heart") with its core in 40 seconds, so the suit's reserve power would activate. If you fail, it's back to the beginning of the mission, and every time you die, the puzzle gets harder. I hated this system at first, but now that I think of it, it's kinda cool. It's like a very fair checkpoint system, but with challenge. It's like you're buying yourself a checkpoint. Props, seriously - I wish there would be more fresh ideas, though I guess I have to face the truth here: exactly how can you diversify an Iron Man game? He might be fun to watch, but not exactly the most interesting choice to star in a Marvel Comics video game, unless they made a good game out of The Avengers (the film series) some day. At least there we'd have a few more interesting characters to choose from if things got too dull, and still Downey's version of Tony Stark to crack a good joke or few. I doubt it'd be fancy, but interesting to try out.

If you're an easy customer, a fan, a sucker for mild handheld entertainment over serious gaming (yeah, I know those kind of people), or all of the above, Iron Man 2 is worth a shot. It gets extremely boring too quick, sounds even more boring right from the start, War Machine is useless, and the dialogue which constantly throws you off the ball is the last nail for me, but the game's not a total and utter failure quite like I expected it to be.

UPS
+ Good graphics
+ The checkpoint system's the kind you'll probably loathe at first, but you've got to admit it's quite clever
+ Decent controls for Iron Man
+ I think old arcade enthusiasts will find the few 2D shoot 'em up scenes quite cool

DOWNS
- "Blah-blah-blah, JARVIS, blah-blabbity-blah"
- Touch screen controls - basically, War Machine
- As fun as it sounds to beat up robots, everything has a limit, and that limit is met a bit too fast...
- ...And, that's all there is to the game; everything extra's just for show
- Just a few tunes, and none the more contextual than last time around

< 6.4 >

keskiviikko 27. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - Iron Man | DS | 2008

GENRE(S): Action / Shoot 'em up
RELEASED: May 2, 2008
AVAILABLE ON: DS
DEVELOPER(S): Artificial Mind & Movement
PUBLISHER(S): Sega

I don't think anyone ever really thought of making an Iron Man game again after the commercial and critical flop that was the 1996 game Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal - yeah, still a cool title. There was that one low-budget Iron Man game for the Game Boy Advance, but it doesn't really count since it was just another heartless by-product of the Marvel Comics spike created by the overwhelming success of Spider-Man and X-Men, with zero advertising and low gameplay value; I'm surprised they didn't make some sort of game out of everyone on Marvel's roster at that time. Iron Man's international success just exploded upon the arrival of Jon Favreau's 2008 film, starring the already fantastic Robert Downey Jr. in his landmark role. The film was hailed as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, even noted as one of the best films of 2008 by the American Film Institute. It originally premiered in Australia on April 14th, 2008, and in the United States on May 2nd - that very same day, three different video games were released with Sega as the publisher; one for the PC, PlayStation 2, PSP and Wii, one for PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, and finally, one for the Nintendo DS. Surprisingly, the DS version got the most credit out of the three different versions of the license... which wasn't much. The movie's greatness might help you to bear the game... but forget the movie and you've got yourself a mess a bit too close to that last X-Men game for the DS.

Stark don't approve

Billionaire weapons industrialist Tony Stark is kidnapped by terrorists during a demonstration in Afghanistan. What seems to be a random attack against any foreigners turns out a masterplan, as Tony has been targeted on purpose to build a WMD for the terrorist forces. Instead of just following up on threats, Tony starts work on a high-tech battle armor with a fellow hostage, which he then uses to escape the camp. Upon returning home to the United States, Tony ceases weapons development, much to the dismay of his devious business partner, builds a much more advanced version of the suit and begins harvesting terrorism all around the world as a colossal and witty problem solver known as Iron Man.

Well, the first step is making a good
game. The second is quitting with
these damn half-baked stills.
Seriously, how awesome was the movie? I didn't really know a whole lot about Iron Man when I was first heading into it. I hadn't even indulged myself in the monstrosity known as Iron Man / X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal back then (another excuse to utter the name). I had heard it was "quite good", and this was most notably coming from someone who hadn't a clue of Iron Man beforehand and not much love for comic books in general, which just goes to show how easily even non-comic book fans can enjoy the movie. I saw it, and I immediately ranked it among the best superhero flicks ever made, right up there with the best Batman movies. Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as Tony Stark is just off the charts, and he alone is responsible for the salvation of the sequels - I don't know what The Avengers would've been without him, at that. Oh, he does voice the character in the game as well - but even Downey isn't skillful enough to save this heap of common debris.

I guess the graphics are OK, nice 3D for a 2008 DS game, right up 'til horribly outlined movie stills come along to spoil what could've been a breakthrough in cutscene design. The music is of the (very) standard orchestrated fare of superhero games, there are no heavy guitars or even some variations of rock classics to be heard here. The best part about the sound is hearing Robert Downey Jr. speaking Tony's lines, at least some of them - the cutscenes are text-only. Doubled with those horrible stills, no less.

Now the first level doesn't feel all that bad, or the short periods you spend on the ground in general. Sure, the controls are bad, but not bottom-end awful. You use the touch screen for the flamethrower, but at least you can turn around by using standard controls, so you don't necessarily have to aim the flamethrower with that damn poking pad. You can also punch with Y, X, B or A instead of taking the DiScomfortable way out by poking the punch button in the left corner of the screen. After I was done with the first level, I was nearly going to give the game a lot more credit than I thought, at least a lot more than I gave X-Men - The Official Game, which mostly suffered from horrible touch screen gameplay.

Sorry boys, my upgrades aren't ready
for tanks. Come back next level.
But then, all went to hell with a horrible demonstration of poor man's Desert Strike... on the DS. I recently played Desert Strike, which was one of my favourite 16-bit console games in my childhood (I actually owned a copy on the Amiga, though). It looked and felt so cool back then, but in my later years, I've started to wonder what exactly was so cool about it. Probably just the destruction of public places - I've always loved that. Well, there's nothing cool about even doing that in Iron Man, there are no kicks to be had at all. It's just a pointless shoot 'em up where you need to take out a series of targets in the most lame - or alternatively, awkward - fashion, and when you've done enough of that, the circle starts anew in just another scenery. Yet repetition is the least of your worries.

The flight scenes are where the touch screen rears the ugliest of its heads. First of all, the Y, X, B and A buttons don't mean shit anymore. As long as you're using your basic, lame weapon, it works fine, but you won't hold for long with that squirt gun. The more powerful weapons have a cooldown period after each shot, and these ones you need to aim, carefully at that, before shooting them at a target. It's extremely hard to dodge from harm's way by using the standard pad and trying to aim at those targets all the while getting bombarded from every fucking direction. The enemies are quite weak, but pack 'em up and you're in trouble. Even if you do survive, you'll be hurting - Tony's shields will be back up, but your hands might be in need of medical treatment.

The numbers aren't helping Iron Man 2, but I guess I have to head into that game as soon as my playing hands have healed to take another beating, just to get this over with. Perhaps Iron Man wasn't quite the most horrible experience I've had, on the DS or in general as the on-ground gameplay's almost (and relatively) entertaining, but it goes to show that some superheroes just aren't video game material, not even at their potential best.

UPS
+ Robert Downey Jr.
+ Mediocre, yet tolerable gameplay as long as you're on ground (the minority)

DOWNS
- The cutscenes
- Less than mediocre and completely intolerable gameplay as long as you're in the air (the majority)

< 4.5 >

tiistai 19. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Uncaged Edition | Xbox 360 | 2009

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 1, 2009
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Raven Software
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

After the original X-Men film trilogy came to an end with X-Men: The Last Stand, the same producers started working out a reboot. They decided to start with a film dedicated to the origins of the most popular X-Men character, Wolverine, and explore the rivalry between him and Sabretooth, as it was never properly done in the original trilogy. Though Liev Schreiber was cast to replace Tyler Mane as Victor Creed, Hugh Jackman was recast as Logan without second thought. The film cleverly introduced many Marvel stalwarts to the Marvel cinematic universe, including Silverfox (Lynn Collins), Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and most notably, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), and it was a hit in the box office, but critics hated it and Hugh Jackman himself (who also worked as one of the producers) was disappointed in the film. The film premiered in Australia and the United Kingdom first, and in the United States on May 1st, 2009. That very same day, a game entitled X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out on the PlayStation 2, Wii, PSP and the Nintendo DS. PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners got the "Uncaged Edition" of the game. The latter got mighty fine reviews to its credit, especially in comparison to the movie - some critics even said that the expanded plotline of the game was written much better than the movie in its entirety. Quite impressed by the demo back in the day myself, I decided to give X-Men Origins: Wolverine a chance. Turns out the game deserved it. It's not a top-quality hack 'n' slash game by any means, but it was clearly made with some heart for Marvel fans and gamers alike, and it's one of the best X-Men games there is.

"Can I help you?" "Are you a beer?"

STARRING
Hugh Jackman : Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine
Liev Schreiber : Victor Creed
Dave Florek : Col. William Stryker
April Stewart : Kayla Silverfox
will.i.am : John Wraith
Steven Blum : Wade Wilson
Robert Wu : David Nord, a.k.a. Agent Zero
Anna Graves : Raven Darkholme
Gregg Berger : Fred J. Dukes, a.k.a. The Blob
Chris Edgerly : Remy LeBeau, a.k.a. Gambit

OK boys, let's put some metal on metal. I'm
guessing mine wins.
Note: I usually review the game, not a specific edition, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Uncaged Edition is widely considered a wholly different game than the last-gen title, so I made an exception here.

While being hunted by an anti-mutant army some time in the future, Logan reminisces on his fragmented past as a soldier in Colonel William Stryker's strike force, the events which led to a violent grudge against his half-brother and former associate Victor Creed, and finally, his involvement with Stryker's Weapon X program.

Let's get one thing straight right away, completely regardless of how this review's going to end. When you make a good movie, the game's probably going to suck. When you make a bad movie, the game's definitely going to suck. Since critical reception to X-Men Origins: Wolverine was so mixed, you could say this game breaks both rules. In its usually poor company, Wolverine could easily be called a great game. Then, on to the usual stuff: I sincerely liked the film, I don't understand why people were so hard on it and went so easy on a crapfest like the last film in the trilogy. Jackman pulled his best Wolverine since the first film - still the best film in the whole franchise if you ask me - Lynn Collins looked smoking hot and made her 15 minutes on screen the best parts of the film with that feat alone, and though I admit the script could've used a bit more depth and more of that same spirit that made for the best parts of the trilogy, and though it's clear as day the CGI effects sucked horse balls, I think it was all in all, an entertaining action film. They could've done worse.

Here, we have the game, which is surprisingly faithful to the movie. No actual changes to the plotline here - almost every major event and plot twist in the movie takes place in the game in occasionally alternate fashion - but it's greatly expanded to meet the standards of a full-length, third-person action game, as well as an X-Men game. The two main characters and a few random ones are voiced by the same actors that worked on the movie, which gives off good vibrations from the start. It's definitely a CGI model of Hugh Jackman we're in control of, who's actually voiced by Hugh Jackman, and not just another comic book caricature who's faintly modelled after Hugh Jackman and voiced by Mark Hamill.

I feel like I've been doing this for an hour.
That being said, the game looks quite good, and the Uncaged Edition (the "next-gen" edition we're seeing so much on the PS4 these days... just sayin'!) delivers with gratuitous amounts of gore, it's also naturally a lot faster and smoother in every sense than the "original" version (which however was released on the same day). The level design, however, is the game's most lethal downfall, and I even know just the game to compare it to; Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The game looks big on paper, but the fact of the matter is, that most part of it is a back-and-forth run between almost identical levels, if not the exact same levels. In a nutshell, as fun as it can be to do "that stuff" using a character who often proclaims to be the best at doing "that stuff", it just can't, but will, get boring towards the end. But well, at least the beginning promises great things, most licensed games are dead on arrival - especially most X-Men games.

The game features appearances - were they just cameos or main cast appearances - by a few Marvel Comics stalwarts, who are somewhat designed after their appearances on film, including the original X-Men trilogy if they happened to be in those films. I think it's fantastic, it does wonders to the continuity. The distracting downside is that whoever does not reprise their role from the film, have also had their characters designed after their earlier film or comic book depictions. The voiceover work definitely hits the mark; the gaps are filled with some of the most talented artists in the field. No subtitles, though, and you know how silently Jackman speaks; it's very hard to make out his lines from time to time. The sound effects are top notch, and the music is of the standard yet functional variety.

As far as general gameplay is concerned, X-Men Origins: Wolverine non-surprisingly follows the most basic guidelines of Devil May Cry and God of War. You hack and slash your way through countless enemy waves (more countless than usual), solve a few mild puzzles along the way, upgrade your abilities with EXP dropped by enemies, and test your might in a few more or less strategic boss fights ("strategic" isn't a seal of quality), QTE's and all. The storytelling style itself brings a little colour to the bland level design; you constantly switch between two periods in Logan's life, the first being Team X's final mission in the jungles of Africa which leads to their disbandment, and the other being Logan's pursuit of his half-brother and teammate Victor Creed in Canada, after the latter kills his girlfriend Silverfox and thus, provokes Logan into taking part in his former superior Stryker's Weapon X program which both blesses and curses him with an unbreakable adamantium skeleton.

I just had to put this here. Joyride, part 1.
It simply doesn't work that well, though, while it does seem like a fantastic game in the beginning - the half an hour which was included in the playable demo. You are introduced to new basic abilities at a rapid pace, and man, are they cool before you realize how many enemies you are to kill in this game. You have a quick attack and an area attack as per usual, and you can either launch enemies up in the air or to the other side of the Earth just as easily. You can grab any standard, weak enemy - they're not around for long - and slash 'em up with a well-timed instakill manouver which works on stronger enemies once you've roughed 'em up a bit, as well. There are several different finishing manouvers found the easiest by simply experimenting. Finally, my favourite, but which you'll also get a little too familiar with, the lunge, which enables you to attack any enemy at a distance, even on the other side of a pit. The first ten minutes of the game feature Logan lunging at a helicopter and taking out its pilot in mid-air. Which is simply ultra-awesome. But in another 20 minutes, the lunging ability in particular turns into an overused run-of-the-mill.

The boss fights in this game are boring as hell at their worst, especially on Hard. The lunge is a very important ability as the enemies tend to be large and their weak spots just happen to be at their upper backs or their heads. You have to lunge in, claw at the weak spot as fast as you can, jump away before they hit you, then rinse and repeat for a million times. They just don't seem to go down and you'll start to feel like you're doing something wrong, or that there must be a better way. No, there is not. And the bosses' strategies never change, there are no particular changes to their behavioral patterns that whole time. You have to prove yourself to the game, time and again - "Look asshole, I've GOT this!"

Joyride, part 2. Best sequel ever.
Logan's natural healing factor comes into play in an interesting way. The "health meter" could be described as his "flesh meter". Whenever he eats enough bullets, the meter goes to zero and his vitals are exposed. If the second meter goes down to zero, the game is over, so what you need to do then is to run around without taking damage until both of the meters are back up. You can also take advantage of Logan's excellent feral senses in a mode surprisingly called "Feral Sense". It's quite like Detective Mode in Batman; it helps you navigate by following scents, spot important items, and even fight certain enemies invisible to the naked eye.

Some abilities you really learn on the go, some are there from the beginning, executable if you experiment enough. You level up automatically by killing enemies and gain a maximum health boost; starting with level 5, you start to earn skill points which you can assign to whatever you want. There are plenty of upgrades to be had for your health, endurance, strength, and each one of your special Rage abilities. Unlike in any other X-Men game where Rage just means you'll go berserk and gain a temporary boost to your strength and speed, here it's just one of the four Rage abilities. The others are fast and brutal manouvers that can often save your hide in a tough spot or a crowd. There's a Rage meter for these abilities, which goes up when you gather these orange orbs, dropped by enemies and found inside breakable background items. About time the orbs turned up.

Calling for silly bonus attires.
You can pep Logan's attributes up by going on a hunt for two prominent varieties of collectibles; dog tags and mutagens. Dog tags picked from the necks of dead soldiers give you a fair bunch of EXP each, and mutagens work the same as accessories in any RPG; the mutagens are particularly cool, probably the freshest idea in the whole game. Wolverine's not the first hack 'n' slash to have special accessories to perk you up, but it is one of the only ones where these accessories aren't considered cheating - like in God of War II, which, I probably don't need to remind you, is one of my favourite games in the world - instead, they're fair rewards for hard work, and can speed up some of the game's slowest slumps quite a bit.

The game is a cakewalk for a true hack 'n' slash veteran; there's no question that as decent as the game is, the biggest challenge is to bear it - the level design, the simple amount of claw fodder and the boring boss fights will get on your nerves sooner or later. The Achievements for this game really aren't from the hardest end either, so if you're a die-hard X-Men fan, I'm guessing this is one game you'd want to go all in for.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is far from a perfect genre game among its distinguished peers, but it is truly a remarkable game in the field of movie licenses, and to think it was received so much better than the film! I don't remember something like this ever happening; I'm even willing to overlook some minor stuff 'cause the game's such a step up. It's a joy to bring the X-Men branch of the Marvel marathon to an end on such a positive note, after having to endure such pain including what I perceive the worst game in history. Very recommendable for hack 'n' slash and Wolverine fanatics, however you should not expect a game you could just go at again and again - but a good, cheap novelty item to keep you busy during the hard rains.

UPS
+ The best playable Wolverine ever
+ A nice and simple character development system
+ Immediately useful collectibles
+ Yummy cameos and a good story altogether, expanded greatly from the film
+ Fast and brutal combat mechanics...

DOWNS
- ...Combat itself gets brutally repetitive even faster
- Back-and-forth, lengthy and repetitive levels, compensated for a little with the steady alternation between a few scenarios
- Crappy boss fights, not nearly up to any standard of the genre
- As much as I like Jackman, he could speak up; no subtitles

< 7.8 >

perjantai 15. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men - The Official Game | DS | 2006

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 16, 2006
AVAILABLE ON: DS
DEVELOPER(S): Amaze Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

Activision had five different developers working on versions of X-Men - The Official Game for seven different systems. While duties for the Game Boy Advance version fell onto the ostensibly experienced WayForward Technologies - who fell a little short of the expectations of the target group - the DS version was handled by Amaze Entertainment, who had extensive experience working on licensed games for kids and young adults alike. Not that they were ever that praised, but at least they had a hunch of what they were doing. Or so we thought - they got a little carried away here.

Touch too much

Lady Deathstrike turns up alive and well, and Wolverine follows her trail to Japan, with Professor X, Iceman and an "old friend" trying to bring him back to the mansion where he's needed. Meanwhile, the Professor contacts Nightcrawler and asks for his help in dealing with an anti-mutant organization which is somehow linked to Wolverine's vendetta.

I smell something else.
X-Men - The Official Game, round 2, does not start with with warm thoughts. Though fragments remain the same, the plot's all different from what I just got accustomed with. It's not such a bad deal otherwise, but I'm getting a little confused as to what's really the gap-filler here. Of course it's the console version, but why drag these handheld games even further down in value by intentionally making them so poetically insignificant? More importantly, I still have some personal issues with the DS, even after witnessing good gameplay and even a couple of truly good if not great games in at least five out of the ten-something experiences I've had thus far (most of which I've not reviewed, how ironic). MOST importantly, the Game Boy Advance game sucked - and mostest importantliest (heh), this game got even worse reviews than the other Nintendo handheld iteration of the game. No, this time the problem isn't the usual one. This is definitely a DS game, made with the DS' capabilities in mind; not a Game Boy Advance game disguised with a second screen. The biggest problem is of the exact opposite kind.

The game looks pretty good - occasionally very rough, but generally decent enough to pass the test. The cutscenes are done in a comic book style, but this time they actually feature drawn versions of the film characters; the splash screens have HD portraits of the actual characters as they appear on film. So in this case the game takes the comfortable middle road. Still no stills from the movies, which in this case is a bigger relief than usual since the game isn't directly based on any of them. The music is also quite good, it mostly lives on the magic of stereo sound though. There you are at the title screen, humming along to the theme song - then you touch the screen as the game tells you to, and it just simply goes to hell.

Long story short, this iteration of the title is a top-down action-"adventure" game. The 40 levels of the game switch between fetchquests, boss fights and just plain ol' action levels in which you need to survive a few scripted waves and then just make your way to the exit, at a very uneven balance and pace. They averagely last from one to five minutes each. Getting through any kind of level with a top score - in other words, collecting these score thingies scattered across the levels, defeating as many enemies as possible, and finally getting through the level within the time limit shown on the upper screen, as well as the rest of your HUD, earns you a rank from one to five, or as the game puts it, "Upgrade Score". Don't believe that shit, you can't upgrade anything in this game. Least of all your very own motivation.

Like in the Game Boy Advance game, you start off as Wolverine and him alone, but the next couple of levels introduce the rest of the playable cast: Iceman, Nightcrawler, and finally, out of the nearly purest blue, Magneto. Having the X-Men's deadly nemesis along for the ride for the first time in a traditional action game is probably the most notable upside to this whole slug... on paper. Nightcrawler's teleportation ability has never worked in a video game and it doesn't start to have any more use here. Magneto works just weird, and it will probably take you a long time to get used to his ability (if you've played "Obi-Wan" in Angry Birds: Star Wars, you know what I mean). I've always thought Iceman was a wuss. That leaves Wolverine, again. Well, he's not a darling to control either. You see, I've often criticized these games for bad controls but this game just takes the cake. They went too far.

Oh shit, the tail gave me away.
Every X-Men has a specialty, of course - just having Wolverine kick all kinds of ass is not possible. You have to switch between the available characters all the time, occasionally at a very rapid pace, by using L. Get this: L is the only button that actually has some use in this game. You use the digital pad to move - yeah, duh, but get THIS: you ALSO use X, Y, B and A to MOVE! It's like a second digital pad, probably designed for the left-handed, 'cause every action - that's your basic attack and very little else - is touch-based. You can just imagine how comfortable it is to control your character with one of the sides of the DS, and constantly poke the small screen with that damn stick - not to forget that you're supposed to pay constant attention where you poke so that your punches will actually do something. It's horrible, I tell you. When I switched to the DS emulator to get screenshots, it didn't get any more comfortable having a controller in the other hand and the mouse in another, and my will to live shattered when I got to the first Nightcrawler level.

I didn't beat the retail game either, 'cause I grew so tired of the awful gameplay around the 17th or 18th level. The generic Game Boy Advance platformer was a dream compared to this.boring, but even more specifically painful wannabe action-adventure. In good news, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, and the X-Men franchise has now reached it. After seven months of vigorous testing of my patience and endurance, I'm FINALLY heading to the final game of the X-Men branch of the Marvel marathon, and I can you tell you right now that it will end on a slightly more positive note than any of you might've expected.

UPS
+ Looks and sounds like a DS game instead of a superficially enhanced Game Boy Advance game

DOWNS
- Simply awful gameplay... and that's all that it takes

< 4.1 >

torstai 14. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men - The Official Game | GBA | 2006

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 16, 2006
AVAILABLE ON: GBA
DEVELOPER(S): WayForward Technologies
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

X-Men - The OFFICIAL Game? Well, how about that? What's the definition of "official" here? Were the other gazillion X-Men games somewhat unauthorized? Is this game supposed to be the cream of the crop, worthy enough to be endowed with the word "official"? Let's cut the crap; X-Men - The Official Game was released as a tie-in video game to X-Men: The Last Stand, the final film in the original X-Men trilogy which has since been expanded to a prequel trilogy and a stand-alone Wolverine flick, both of 'em quality stuff if you ask me. (The Last Stand itself sucked horse balls. Just putting it out there.) What might explain the "official" part in the subtitle is that the game was the first X-Men game that actually had more to do with the films than the comic books... sorta. Instead of a direct adaptation of the film - which was yet to premiere - the game was a stand-alone story in the film series' continuity, written to bridge the gap between X2 and The Last Stand. What started as a quite interesting and lucrative idea turned into a poor excuse of a beat 'em up-oriented action game. Two completely different conversions of the same plot were released for both of Nintendo's handhelds. Let's start with the Game Boy Advance version - if we must.

Colossal headache

Wolverine, Colossus, Iceman and Nightcrawler return to Alkali Lake after the tragic events that took Jean Grey's life and put Cyclops out of commission, to retrieve spare parts for Professor X's sabotaged Cerebro. They're greeted by a few old acquaintances as well as a couple of new adversaries.

Falling down towards the end of this
marathon of crap! Whee!
After finishing the review for X-Men: Wolverine's Rage, I said there were four reviews left, but make that five. I was completely certain Activision would've taken the easy way out with the handheld games and release two practically identical games for the Advance and the DS. Hell, I was fully prepared for the DS version to have some sort of splash image on the second screen (as if to say "hey, aren't we technologically adept?"), but play out and look exactly the same as the Game Boy Advance version. Well, it turns out they're "completely" different games, with "completely" different features. We'll see when we get to the next review, but if this Game Boy Advance title is any indication of what's coming, the future is not looking good. Three years after a quite decent showing in X2: Wolverine's Revenge, the X-Men franchise takes several steps back with a typical, sticky action-platformer that simply is not fun to play. How ironic that the game was developed by a company calling themselves "WayForward" when the game's the exact opposite - and you know what the company had on their backlog those days, way before they hit it big by getting associated with Silent Hill and DuckTales? Barbie games, games based on the animated version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and one of my everlasting 16-bit "favourites", Mickey's Ultimate Challenge, plus several other crappy licensed games for kids, expiration date slated for whenever they learned to talk. Neato. And here we have an X-Men game. Feeling confident yet?

The game doesn't look that bad; it's just quick, generic work in general. It's hard to tell the playable characters apart. The cutscenes look quite all right, and personally I'm fine with the comic book caricatures of the film characters rather than badly digitized mug shots you see in so many licensed games of the era, not to mention those revolting movie stills. I last played the game five minutes ago, and I can honestly say I can't remember the music at all, it's of that variety of stock.

Wolverine's the cover boy and stars as the lead character, as well as the character you inevitably start the game with - as well as the only truly useful character in the bunch due to his range and speed. How surprising... the other playable characters are Iceman and Nightcrawler, and exclusively in this version of the game, Colossus. Characters that haven't been featured in these games for a long time, that's cool. It's funny that the exclusive character is the second most valuable character, but only due to his ability to smash certain obstacles and objects that stand in the way of actual progress. He's strong as hell, of course, but he has pathetic range. You practically have to stand an inch away from an enemy to deal damage as Colossus, and that way you'll take damage yourself, all the time. Like in that Madness in Murderworld game ages past, you can switch characters at any time the storyline allows you to, but once a character's K.O.'d, he remains that way. This time, though, there are unlimited continues, generous checkpoints, and whenever you need Colossus, it's usually in a point where it's virtually impossible to lose.

Everybody: "It's a Juggernaut!"
The game is an extremely typical, easy platformer in which making progress reminds me of that X-Men: Wolverine's Rage game on the Game Boy Color, in the sense that your only goal is to make it through the levels. It doesn't matter how much ass you kick, nothing matters except getting to the exit. You can just run through the levels if you feel like it, 'cause there are no power-ups, no collectibles, nothing to even the odds. The control scheme is, should I say, unbelievably generic considering the day and age - you have five different standard attacks, triggered by a direction on the digital pad (or none), a (shitty) special attack which is triggered with A + B, plus a Rage meter, filling which automatically puts you into an exceptionally ugly and generic Rage-mo, which doesn't even allow you to do that much more damage than per usual.

As the cherry on top, the game brings back the two age-old problems of the vintage Marvel Comics action game; hasty level design with two developmental stages, those being copy and paste, and horrible controls. Sure, the guys do what you tell them to do; it's just that they do it fractions of seconds later. It took me half an hour to get past Juggernaut - the second boss - due to the bad controls and those only. There are no right reasons for this game's occasional difficulty.

On to the DS version of the game. I already snuck a peek of the aggregates up at GameRankings, and it turns out the DS version was beaten up even worse than the Game Boy Advance version. Well, ain't that promising. Luckily I have to go to work a long-ass, aggravating shift now.

UPS
+ Good looking cutscenes
+ Good story and cast of playable characters...

DOWNS
- ...Only one of practical use, though
- Generic gameplay
- Generic level design
- Delayed controls

< 5.0 >

keskiviikko 13. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X2: Wolverine's Revenge | GBA | 2003

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: April 15, 2003
AVAILABLE ON: GBA
DEVELOPER(S): Vicarious Visions
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

A few weeks before the world premiere of X2, an accompanying video game was released on the three major consoles of the era, as well as the PC and Mac, entitled X2: Wolverine's Revenge. Once again, while this game seemed like official film merchandise with the X2 brand on it, and even Hugh Jackman on the cover, it was yet another comic book license that storywise had more to do with X-Men Origins: Wolverine - which was still six years away! - than the X2 film. The characters were modelled after their comic book counterparts, and Hugh Jackman didn't even lend his voice to his signature character, instead it was Mark Hamill who starred in the game. So, it's just another X-Men game, leeching the film makers' bankrolls. It was received fairly good, though. Oh, but to be completely precise, that's not the game on the plate here... what we have here is the Game Boy Advance game of the same name, released a day after the big boy. Which, against all expectations, got the best reviews. Shocked as I am to find it true, X2: Wolverine's Revenge is quite entertaining.

*Snikt!*

Outta the way, bub!
In 1968, a mutant calling himself Logan was used as a guinea pig for a secret government experiment conducted at an isolated location in Canada, codenamed Weapon X. He manages to escape the Weapon X facility, but won't leave before confronting the scientist in charge, who tells Logan that all Weapon X subjects are injected with a deadly virus that works as a failsafe, and kills a human subject within a year - its effects on a mutant are yet unknown. Over 30 years later, Logan has joined the X-Men and goes by the name of Wolverine. Beast examines his blood and tells him that the virus has bypassed his healing factor and will kill Logan within two days. Wolverine travels back to Edmonton to infiltrate the Weapon X facility, look for the one and only cure for his condition as well as clues to his vague past.

The X-Men game I'm most familiar with through time is, without question, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released in 2009 on the tail of the movie (but which once again is only loosely based on it). Minutes into X2: Wolverine's Revenge on the Game Boy Advance, I could almost swear this was a portable conversion of THAT game. The plot is so similar, the level design is so similar - although progress is made in a mashed up order - and in this unrefined "version" of the game, you can't really tell whether they used the comic book version of Wolverine or Hugh Jackman's film version as reference for character design. Except for the splash screens and cutscenes which show the truth. Maybe being so familiar for the most part put off a good vibe right from the start, I don't know, but the truth is all the same; basically the worst thing about this game is its name. Despite some really frustrating moments from the very beginning, X2 is good, reasonably advanced handheld entertainment. Finally!

That's not Hugh Jackman.
The game looks good - no, let me rephrase that: it looks VERY good. Long before the introduction of the Nintendo DS, the camera zooms in and out smoothly depending on the situation, perhaps roughing up the pixels a bit, but fucking nothing explicitly up for the player. Character animation works, it's only the enemy design which could've used some more work, as well as the unintentional slowdown occurring whenever the camera zooms in the same time as Wolverine's in Rage mode. The music is quite good, obvious stock for any GBA action game from Shin'en Multimedia, but it works nonetheless.

Basically, the game plays out like any Wolverine game you might imagine, but good solutions to age-old problems reveal themselves right off the bat. Let's see now: I always had a beef with Wolverine's claws being confined to limited use. Well, in this game the use of the claws is basically unlimited, but if you go on a crazy Edward Scissorhands killing spree, Wolverine very quickly goes into his unstoppable Rage mode, and after he's done acting like a maniac, he cools off for a couple of seconds which leaves him completely prone to enemy attacks. Climbing walls is impossible while in Rage, and for the duration of the cool-off period, and as the entirety of the third level so irritatingly proves, climbing walls is very essential in this game, one of its most frustrating elements in fact. I'll return to it in a bit. Sheathing the claws enables Wolverine to sneak up on stationary enemies and knock 'em out with a single blow to the neck (Canadian death grip?) in a bit o' poor man's stealth action, and it also activates his healing factor - which brings into question, how closely are the plotlines between this game and the game on the big boys related? Not very. This here's a much simpler plot, which is even closer to the Origins game.

Wolverine vs. The Joker in Taco's Revenge!
The level design is fun for a change, (cue "although") ALTHOUGH the levels could be just a tiny bit shorter and we would still have a game of reasonable length at our hands. Permanent power-ups, such as dash and slide, are hidden across the levels; of course, you need these power-ups to be able to proceed, I don't really get why most of them are hidden like rare collectibles, behind frustratingly hard stretches of wankery usually related to the wall climb. Time to reveal the evils.

I said that the game had flaws from the beginning, so let's start from the beginning. There are these bridges in the first level that collapse immediately when you step on them, which means you need to dash over 'em. Now there's no problem in getting the dash power-up, it's right there in plain sight and Professor X even guides you to it if you're still having problems seeing it (which means you're blind, so sorry man, I guess your gaming days are over), but a huge problem occurs whenever you're beating down an enemy soldier in the vicinity. He might dive straight through the bridge and leave a permanent gap on it, which makes it impossible for you to cross it without risking a life. A similar splinter pops out in the next level where you're chasing Sabretooth. He makes gaps on the bridges as part of the scripted challenge, but you're in a huge hurry throughout this luckily short level. Just one second of hesitation is enough to lose track of that hairy bastard and cost you a life.

Now it's starting to look like the most recent
Wolverine flick.
Well, then the wall climb comes along and all sorts of trouble will hit you like a ton of bricks. Drones come from above without warning, hitting you on the head while you're on a wall - there's nothing you can do about 'em, and there's also nothing you can do about Wolverine letting go of the wall and falling straight down, in the worst case on a mat of spikes and dropping dead. Climbing up a straight wall is not difficult, but jumping to an adjacent one is much harder. Double that if there's an enemy on the top of that adjacent wall. One bullet is once again all it takes to send you all the way down to the start of that already frustrating vertical chute; it's like the game was designed not to have "checkpoints" along the way of those, or "checkblocks" which you could fall onto, not having to start the whole thing over. What's most annoying about the wall climb is, non-surprisingly, the fact that you cannot climb without your claws. One of the boss fights at a surprisingly early stage practically requires you to punch the hell out of your opponent with your claws - which means you'll go into Rage, and once Rage ends, there's the cool-off period - and climb both sides of the field, in rapid succession. ...Well, at least there's some strategy involved. Not what I thought after the first couple of boss fights.

Overall, even with that annoying wall-climbing madness convincing me otherwise, plus a few miscellaneous, accursed flaws, X2: Wolverine's Revenge is honestly one of the most entertaining and even innovative games I've played during the whole Marvel marathon thus far, and will very likely turn out the best X-Men game out of 'em all, as surprising as it is.

UPS
+ Wolverine's exceptionally fun to play as for a change
+ Good story, though simplified from the one of the console version
+ Good graphics
+ Notably better level design than in most licensed handhelds (and Marvel games in general)

DOWNS
- The wall-climbing ability - and its importance
- Level-specific frustrations throughout the game
- The title; it's just an X-Men game, pure and simple

< 8.1 >