If you have been watching television, movies, or reading much of anything on the internet lately, you are likely aware that the latest comic book movie, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, opens today. It is appropriate, then, for us to look back at the origins of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance franchise. This series has all the hallmarks of a good Co-Op Casual Friday game: high kid appeal, local multiplayer, and simple gameplay. The one that started it all for this excellent series of games was X-Men Legends.
X-Men Legends came out almost five years ago. In 2004, the predecessors to the trio of modern consoles were in their heyday, and X-Men Legends was released for each of those systems:Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube . The X-Men movie franchise had not yet been sullied by the third film (I'm still bitter, even years later). X-Men Evolution, a successful cartoon series, had ended a good run the year before. The time was ripe for a good X-Men video game, and X-Men Legends delivered.
Best described as an action/RPG hybrid, X-Men Legends had gameplay elements taken from some of the finest classic co-op titles. The four player simultaneous multiplayer and overhead perspective brought to mind Gauntlet and its sequels. Health and energy potions, as well as the customization and superpower skills, were reminiscent of the Diablo games. You could even make the point that the combo system, where two powers could be combined for enhanced effectiveness, was similar to that of the Marvel Vs. Capcom series of 2D fighting games. I don't know about you, but the blending of Gauntlet, Diablo, and super heroes is enough to make me as giddy as Kat after she realized she didn't really miss Free Comic Book Day.
The story is quite simple. A new mutant, a young woman code named Magma, joins the X-Men. Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are up to their usual world threatening activities, so the X-Men are naturally tasked with stopping them. Other villains plucked from the comic books make appearances as well, notably the Sentinels and Shadow King, who appears in a particularly well designed level taking place on the astral plane. The ending is suitably epic, and generally you'll hit it after around 15-20 hours ofgameplay.
If that's not enough mutant mayhem for you, be thankful: the replay factor is through the roof for X-Men Legends. You can play through the entire game with a different set of characters, for one. If that isn't enough, you can even level up different powers and abilities for your favorite characters the second time around. Take my favorite X-Man, Cyclops, for instance; he has two wildly different skill setups that can both be effective. My first playthrough, I chose to focus on leadership and the targeted optic blast, allowing for an XP bonus for the group, enhanced combo damage, and long range support. That plays quite different from a tactics / wide range optic blast build, which makes Cyclops a decent hand to hand fighter, and allows for decent area damage and knockback when surrounded. Other characters have similar builds that play quite differently, as well. This, added to the large number of playable characters, makes X-Men Legends one of the most replayable games you'll find.
The co-op elements of the game are nothing exceptional, but nothing to sneeze at either. Four players can take on the role of your favorite mutants. Though local co-op is all that is supported, that was not unusual for the time. Thankfully, any player can drop in and out with ease. Combo attacks add to the feeling of teamwork. You can even perform the fastball special, the classic move where Colossus uses his superstrength to hurl Wolverine at opponents like a clawed, adamantium-tough ball of fury.
If you're looking to play X-Men Legends today, look no farther than the Gamecube version, which will play just swimmingly on your Wii. If this Sony support page can be believed, a PS2 copy will work fine on your PS3. No such luck for the Xbox 360, as X-Men Legends, and its sequel, are both missing from that to-short backwards compatibility list. Still, chances are you can find some way to enjoy the original Marvel four-player co-op slugfest today. If you are a fan of the comics, movies, cartoon, or have children who are, X-Men Legends is definitely worth your time.