The Game Boy Advance is starting to look like it just might usher in a renaissance for old-school 2D gaming. Witness Activision and developer Digital Eclipse's latest offering on the GBA, X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse. It's a side-scrolling 2D beat-'em-up that features slick animation and gameplay that calls to mind the classic Konami coin-op from back in the day, and it packs quite a bit of punch on Nintendo's handheld powerhouse.
A combination of stills and text set up the story, which follows the X-Men after their return from a mission in the Mojoverse. Upon arriving at X-mansion, the team is shocked to see the mansion in shambles and decides to get to the bottom of the mystery. You'll be able to select from four X-Men: Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, and Rogue. Each character has a unique set of attacks that is true to his or her abilities, albeit in scaled-back fashion. An onscreen mutant power bar keeps you aware of when you can trigger their unique attacks.
Control is solid with a basic configuration. Movement is handled by the D-pad. The A and B buttons on the GBA face are used to trigger different types of attacks and throws. The R trigger is for jumping, which helps when attacking enemies standing in a group or when avoiding weapons fire. The left trigger unleashes your character's rage attack (essentially a superattack) when his or her mutant power bar is full. In addition to being a devastating attack against most grunts in the game, the attack has the added benefit of granting you invulnerability for a few seconds. It's also possible to perform "clear out" attacks, which take out enemies surrounding you but drain your life bar.
You'll find three modes to explore: story, multiplayer versus, and multiplayer co-op. Story mode spans 11 levels with familiar locales such as Xavier Mansion, Department H, a Sentinel base, the Savage Land, and Genosha and follows your character as he or she uncovers the truth in each environment. Multiplayer versus lets you take on a friend one-on-one in an arena via the GBA link cable. As you complete the game with the various characters in story mode, you'll be able to unlock extras for use in versus mode. Multiplayer co-op lets you and a friend take on story mode together. The catch is you'll have to share nine lives with your partner, and you won't get any continues. Unlike other GBA games, X-MEN: ROA requires both players to have a copy of the game.
To complement the solid play mechanics, developer Digital Eclipse has cooked up some truly impressive graphics. The various characters animate fluidly, especially Storm and Rogue. Their various combos and attacks are smooth and feature a good amount of animation. Detail across the board is equally impressive. Everything from the backgrounds to the various effects on enemy characters, such as muzzle fire from weapons and lightning from Storm's eyes when she uses her powers, can be seen. Sound varies from very good (the sound of Wolverine's claws) to generic (some of the weapon effects).
So far the game is a blast to play, reminding us of the days when walking right and smacking down any opponents that got in our way was what gaming was all about. X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse is set to ship this month for the Game Boy Advance.