The X-Men have always faired well in comics, TV shows, and, more recently, movies. Unfortunately for licensed video games, you never know if the game will be good or bad-- but chances are, most often, it will be bad. Certainly the X-Men have overcome this jinx in games such as Marvel vs. Capcom, but I was still skeptical since a completely different company made this game.
The premise of Reign of Apocalypse is that the X-Men end up in a parallel universe where Apocalypse, one of the X-Men's greatest foes, controls the world. The X-Men have to fight their way through many levels, including what Wolverine calls the "flamin' moon," to reach a warp gate to return to their version of the world.
It should be noted that the game manages to have five characters on screen on occasion without noticeable slowdown. Overall, Reign is a very colorful game-- so expect to see said characters interplay across lush environments.
Some of the art for projectile attacks in the game is great, but other examples, such as bullets, are pretty lame. A bullet will slowly creep across the screen and it's pretty hard at times to tell its positioning in order to avoid it.
Another significant example of a sprite that could have more work is the symbol for health. Health is depicted by a small cross that is either solid brown or transparent brown. At times, this symbol can be hard to see on the screen during the action-- something bigger and brighter would have been much better.
You may wonder why there's not much more to say on Reign's graphics. Basically, the visuals were not the best part of this title, so maybe that is a plus. Too many games these days focus more on graphics over gameplay.
Digital Eclipse may have not added speech, but they make up for this from a variety of other sound effects and decent music. What's that? Decent music in a Game Boy game? Yes, it is true. Simply amazing.
Some of the better sound effects in the game are Wolverine's as makes tin cans out of enemies. There are plenty of metal robot characters in the game that make a great metallic thud when they are punched. Sometimes I wish the GBA could produce more sound effects at once, but there are limits to what a handheld with a miniscule speaker can do.
Reign has several different moves to pull off for each character. Back in the day, I remember playing another side scrolling fighter, Turtles 2 & 3 for the NES, and there really was only punch, kick, and jump kick (and the last move took off a piece of health). In X-Men, not too much has changed from this standard fighter formula, but it works, so why not use it?
Before mentioning what the controls do, it is important to note that in Reign, enemies have health bars and cannot be attacked when they have fallen to the ground. Generally, all enemies will have to be knocked down at least once before they die. Some moves are quick and do a lot of damage in one blow, while others take repeated button mashing but do more damage over time.
Pressing A will do a weak attack, but button mashing A will result in repeated attacks that will cycle through an animation and take a big chunk of health off an enemy before they are knocked down. Generally, mashing A is the most common move because it is easy and the most effective.
Pressing B will result in a more powerful attack that knocks down opponents in one hit. B is useful in situations when there are lots of enemies on screen at once and you just want to deal with one or two at a time. A B-button attack will do less damage then a fury of A attacks before the enemy is knocked down.
Pressing A and B at the same time will result in attacking in both directions, which is handy when enemies encompass you. I wonder what sort of thumb the beta testers had because pressing A and B at the same time is hard to do on the GBA. It would have been easier for me to press select and start at the same time. Using L and R at the same time would have been a better button combination for this move.
Pressing R will make the character jump and pressing A while in the air will result in a jump attack. The jump attack is always useful in side-scrolling fighters, but you can't live by the jump attack in Reign because enemies still manage to attack you while you're in the air.
In the onscreen interface, there is a Mutant Power bar below the health bar, which indicates whether or not you can do a Rage Attack. Basically, once this bar is full from attacking enemies, press L to do a powerful move. In the case of Wolverine, he unleashes a wild flurry of attacks in a spinning, confusing, and unstoppable path.
Now that you know how the controls work, I'll move on to the level setup. Reign follows a very cut and dry level design approach:
A. Fight a wave of enemies.
That may sound boring, but using Wolverine and beating up sentinels is fun. Once beating up the same enemies again and again just starts to become tiresome, then there's a boss to face and the experience becomes new again.
There are a few downsides to the gameplay, however. The biggest flaw I saw in Reign was a cheap trick to beat bosses and, on certain occasions, enemies too. The problem is that it is extremely easy to beat a boss that has gone off the side of the screen. When that happens, just keep attacking and the boss will keep trying to walk back on screen but will get attacked and stay in place, only to continue trying to get on screen. This problem could have been overcome if bosses could not be knocked off screen, or if bosses would avoid being at the same position as the player when coming back on screen.
The next big problem with the game is the length and difficulty level. There are twelve levels in the game, but they are not that long. There are many continues in the game, enough that you'll most likely beat the game without having to start a new one. I approximate that it took me less then three hours to beat the game using Wolverine. That's about US per hour of gameplay... yikes.
Games in this genre often suffer from being too short because there are no puzzles to stump the player. All the game involves is fighting, and even the toughest fight can be easier then a puzzle at times. In a way, it's physical versus mental capabilities. For a game to be fair, the player's virtual physical capabilities have to be adequate to win. Mental puzzles, on the other hand, have to be challenging enough at times that it takes some thought to solve the problem. Lengthy games such as Mario and Zelda use puzzles-- not enemies-- to make the game hard. In some ways, X-Men is like a walk in the park, filled with all sorts of colourful characters.
Digital Eclipse did include four playable characters to choose from, so there is the opportunity to replay the game four times. Also, there is a co-op mode if you manage to seek out someone who owns the game and a GBA. There just is not as much incentive to play Reign, however. After beating it once, I think it would have been better to make the game more difficult or have unlock a harder mode.
To end this section on a positive note, there are battery saves in this game. You can save up to four different games on the cartridge, meaning there are no problematic passwords to remember.
What? I have to say more? Alright then.
If you could rent this game or buy it used, then by all means, feel free to nab a copy. There is not enough game inside to make it worthwhile to buy a new copy at the GBA game prices in today's market. Of course, the game's best character is Wolverine, so use him before any others (Cyclops looks a bit too rigid and upstanding). Yet going back to my original concern in this review's intro: Mission Accomplished. Even if it's on the short side, the X-Men license was used successfully in this game; kudos to Digital Eclipse.
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