As game sales are beginning to surpass ticket sales, the movie industry is playing an increasing role in our video games. A popular film release is often now accompanied by a simultaneous, multiplatform game launch. The X-Men's triumphant return to the big screen was, in my mind, marred only by the arrival of the breathtakingly mediocre X2: Wolverine's Revenge in stores everywhere. So, having played through Revenge, I was a bit worried while loading up X2: Battle on my BREW-enabled T720. Despite the different genre and platform of Battle, I was afraid the superhero game curse might doom the title before it had a chance. Fortunately, my fears were somewhat assuaged.
X2: Battle lets you play as any of three mutant heroes: Wolverine, Storm, or Nightcrawler. Each character comes complete with a poorly drawn character sketch and a slightly customized plot recounted through conversations with the estimable Professor Xavier. Although the slap-dash libretto of this grand opus feels like an afterthought, it does feature a loose movie tie-in.
Apparently, Stryker is using a mind-control serum to dominate the will of mutants everywhere. Kurt Wagner, alias Nightcrawler, is the first to succumb, since he's furry and weak-willed; however, no mutant, regardless of body hair amount, is safe. His activities have turned your comrades-at-arms against you, forcing you to fight them off in several richly detailed stages. Eventually, you work your way up to fighting Magneto, who has to be prevented from killing Stryker for some reason. This confused me, since I thought that killing him was the goal of the game.
Really, though, it hardly matters, since you'll forget about Battle's lackluster plot entirely when you see its gorgeous graphics. The character sprites are huge and beautiful. The game's lush environments serve as exquisite backdrops to your skirmishes, each vaguely relevant to whatever the heck is going on in the plot. The first stage, for example, is set outside the White House, where the president reportedly suffered a mutant attack.
Perhaps X2: Battle's most striking feature is its incredibly simplistic control. Doing away with such conventions as separate attack buttons, TKO Software has opted to integrate all the fighting commands into the directional pad. The result is horrendous. The forward key attacks your assailant, so long as you're right next to him. Otherwise it, well, moves you forward. This necessitates some awkward, Verizon-commerical-esque guesswork on the part of the player: "Can I hit him now...can I hit him now? Good." Aerial and crouching attacks are available, in addition to your standard head-on maneuver, but they're difficult to pull off and are ultimately unrewarding. In order to perform a crouch attack, for example, you press the down key, which makes your character sit down. Then, you have to wait for your opponent to get close enough to hit, since it's impossible to move while crouching. In the end, the most effective strategy is just to attack constantly, perhaps throwing a few blocks in there for good measure.
The gameplay's only saving grace is the cool, character-specific special moves that can be achieved by charging your power meter. The power meter gains a little bit of charge every time you hit your opponent. If he hits you, though, his meter will rise and yours will fall. This makes for a sort of special move tug-of-war, which adds to the competition. If you're lucky enough to charge up your meter all the way, it'll start flashing. When that happens, you can press the Select key to perform a wicked special move. The special move animations are definitely the highlight of the game.
Easy on the eyes but hard on the hands, Battle has some great strengths and some crippling weaknesses. The determining factor in how much you enjoy the game will be fandom. If you love the X-Men, you'll be able to overlook some crappy control to play as your favorite heroes. If you feel no special connection with the characters, however, you might find King of Fighters, which has a superior combat system, to be a better buy.