X-Men: The Official Game Review

The DS version of X-Men misuses its characters, controls poorly, and is otherwise utterly generic.

Like so many other movie tie-ins, X-Men: The Official Game for the Nintendo DS is a formulaic action game that is, mercifully, short-lived. Fans will barely recognize their favorite characters--partly because they're tiny and nigh unrecognizable, but mainly because Wolverine, Iceman, Nightcrawler, and Magneto have had their superpowers scaled back significantly in order to jibe with the character-swap mechanic that is central to the game's design. Ironically, the character-swapping gimmick and the stylus-oriented controls, which were no doubt meant to make the game more interesting, don't make the game any more enjoyable or playable than it would be if it were oriented around a single character and a standard button-oriented control scheme. In fact, very often, these nuances make the game more frustrating.

The DS version of X-Men makes rather poor use of its characters.
The DS version of X-Men makes rather poor use of its characters.

The game picks up right after the second movie left off, with Wolverine in pursuit of Lady Deathstrike and seeking information behind his origins and those of the Weapon-X program. While that's going on, the government kicks its anti-mutant campaign into high gear. Eventually, the two plot points come together, and the three X-Men are reunited, along with Magneto, who, just for the heck of it, has decided to help the heroes out. You alternate control of the characters while going through 40 short top-down levels filled with cookie-cutter thugs and the occasional boss. Levels can be replayed at any time to attempt to earn health and mutant power upgrades, and once you've completed the story mode, you'll be able to access additional survival and boss rush modes.

Generally speaking, the game is a "by the numbers" beat-'em-up, where you battle waves of enemy soldiers and dodge their gunfire while collecting health items and unlocking doors here and there. The interesting wrinkle is that every action is performed by tapping or dragging the stylus on the touch screen. This has good and bad implications. On the one hand, it feels very intuitive to tap on enemies to direct attacks and to send objects sailing across the screen using Magneto's magnetic powers. On the other hand, the touch screen isn't always quick to respond.

Central to the game's design is the ability, or rather, the requirement, to swap between characters on the fly. Nightcrawler has his own levels designed specifically around his ability to manipulate time and space, but most levels require the use of all three of the other mutants. Each character has had his superhero repertoire reduced to one or two actions, meaning that there are some enemies and obstacles that one character can handle and the others can't. Wolverine can slash enemies on the ground, but he can't touch flying drones. Iceman can hurl frozen projectiles, but he can't damage anything with heat-oriented shielding around it. Magneto can't attack human opponents directly, but he can use his magnetic powers to hurl objects in the environment at them. He can also shatter heavy metal doors that the other heroes can't get past. Routinely, you'll find yourself in situations where you have to switch between the characters multiple times to deal with a single room filled with a variety of enemies and obstacles.

These arbitrary restrictions, while appropriate for a video game, are idiotic considering what we've seen the characters do in the comic books and movies. They also make the game more frustrating than it ought to be. First, managing the shoulder buttons and touch screen to swap characters and select enemies requires ridiculous levels of dexterity and stamina. Second, the tiny character graphics make it tough to quickly differentiate one character from another, which means, just to bring up one example, that you'll sometimes find yourself trying to attack human enemies unsuccessfully with Magneto when you meant to use Wolverine and his adamantium claws.

Character models are tiny and often indiscernable from other random characters on screen.
Character models are tiny and often indiscernable from other random characters on screen.

On the whole, the graphics and audio are weak and uninspired. Level layouts, in addition to being generic, resemble the sort of thing you'd see in a Game Boy Advance game. There's not much in the way of decoration or color in the environment. Character animation is fine, but the characters are tiny and distorted. The majority of bosses are the same size as the heroes, and the larger ones are never completely shown and don't display much in the way of moving parts or coloration. On the upside, the animated comic-panel cutaways that appear between some levels are pretty snazzy. Meanwhile, the audio consists of some generic action-style music and a bunch of cookie-cutter explosions. They're not particularly bad, but they're a far cry from some of the highly orchestral and voice-accentuated stuff we've been getting from numerous recent DS games. There's nothing about the graphics or audio here that couldn't have been done on the Game Boy Advance.

In the end, the best thing that can be said about the Nintendo DS rendition of X-Men: The Official Game is that, indeed, there are X-Men in it. Apart from that, this is just another generic action game, hampered by poor design choices and dodgy controls, and it doesn't do much to capture the abilities or the personalities of the characters it portrays.

The Good

  • Stylus input feels intuitive
  • Story fills in the blanks between the last two films
  • The game is over quickly

The Bad

  • Abilities don't jibe with what we know about the X-Men
  • Mix of button and stylus controls is often painful to juggle
  • Too easy to swap to inappropriate character during combat
  • Graphics and audio are generic
  • Character graphics are tiny and ugly

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X-Men: The Official Game

First Released May 16, 2006
  • DS
  • Game Boy Advance
  • GameCube
  • PC
  • PlayStation 2
  • Xbox
  • Xbox 360

Based on the 3rd X-Men movie, this game lets you control either Wolverine, Nightcrawler, or Iceman in a fight against villains from the movie and beyond.


Average Rating

2888 Rating(s)

Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.