Ever since the introduction of the DS many have wondered if developers would actually catch on and utilize the abilities of the touch screen or simply take the easy route and use the screen for simple inane tasks such as displaying the map. This is where X-Men: The Official Game for the Nintendo DS actually shines; developers Amaze, known for their work on last year’s atrocious Spyro game for the DS, have actually designed the entire game around the use of Nintendo’s innovative handheld. In fact you cannot even start the game without using the touch screen, which may throw some people off, me included as I am still a button mashing man at heart, but at least they let you know from the start that your weapon of choice will in fact be the stylus. What this has created is a game that while very creative, still has some issues to iron out before becoming a true household name.
X-Men for the DS is a straight up action with an overhead perspective that requires the player to use only the touch screen when navigating and fighting enemies. Now while this may have sounded ingenious on paper, the end result is certainly not without its fair share of problems. For instance to attack an enemy you must target them on the screen, then your protagonist will simply wail away with their attacks until said enemy is defeated. This randomized style of combat can lead to more than a fair share of accidental deaths and missed attacks. For the most part the idea is solid and in fact very unique, however once executed in game there really seems to be something missing from the equation that makes the game enjoyable at all times.
Just like its big brother console version this game contains three heroes, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Iceman, and one exclusive character to the DS, Magneto. What this means is that you will have to cycle back and forth between characters as some enemies require special attacks to be taken down. Personally the addition of Magneto really adds something to the game and once again we feel that he should spawn his own sequel, touch screen combat refined of course, but unfortunately some levels don’t even contain moveable objects so completing them solely as the master of magnets is nigh impossible. The rest of the cast suffers from mediocrity syndrome as the core game mechanic is simply tap on an enemy until they are dead which becomes extremely repetitive long before the game’s conclusion. There are a few extra modes outside of the standard storyline such as Boss Rush and Survival, but with the simplicity of the boss battles and the fact that the main game is overly easy to begin with, they almost seem like afterthoughts.
The graphics also have some issues; Amaze obviously used the same top-down engine found in last year’s Spyro game for the DS and with it the same graphical glitches and sluggish frame speed of the aforementioned title. I have seen some pretty impressive titles on the DS and I know that it can handle better 3D models on 2D backgrounds, so why is this game having clipping issues and slowdown problems? The answer has to be the fact that the game was slightly rushed to meet the movie release so in turn we receive a year old engine complete with the bugs and glitches. None of these are by any means game breaking, but they certainly should not have made their way into a final product.
Through all the mess there is one saving grace and that has to be the sound. The DS is certainly not known for its dynamic scores or Dolby Digital prowess, but the music and effects in this game sound really good on the handheld, especially if you are using headphones. The composer has scored the game almost perfectly and the effects are not your cutting room floor rehashed clips heard in every other game. Sadly with the limitations of the DS we won’t be hearing the sounds of Patrick Stewart or Hugh Jackman voice all of their lines, but in the end the sound design is truly top notch on this portable title.
I absolutely love the fact that Amaze went an entirely different route with the design on this title, they get extra credit from me for trying something different. Unfortunately the end result becomes way too dull long before it should and it results in a game that really could have used a few more months on the design floor. If developers can take note and continue to try and innovate with the DS the way Amaze has just imagine the possibilities for simple action games in the future. For now I recommend giving X-Men for the DS a rent, if for nothing more than to just experience the originality they were aiming for. Oh movie deadlines how you mock me-