This game was released for the Gamecube, Playstation 2, and X-box consoles. Since I was still being a Nintendo fangirl around this point and time, I purchased the Gamecube version. I'm not sure if there is any difference between the various versions or not.
The game is an action RPG. What that means is that you are once again punching, kicking, and using your mutant special powers, but while doing so you're also gaining experience and leveling up. When you level, you get to choose how to update your stats and upgrade your mutant powers. I generally prefer RPGs that do this stat modification for you because I always worry that I'm making the wrong choice. You also equip armor, some of which gives you special bonuses.
The game suffers from one problem that a lot of games of this era suffered from. Game designers got excited about the extra space and better technology available to them, and therefore added things that were unnecessary and annoying. For instance, you fight a lot of random henchmen. Each type of henchmen has two phrases like "You're dead, mutie!" or "You'll never win, X-men!" and every single one of them feels the need to shout at you the moment they see you. It didn't take long for me to start shouting "Shut up!" at the screen. A lot of the cut scenes are made with the best CGI available to them at the time, which means that they look pretty bad now. They looked really horrible on my 42" HDTV. Other scenes use cel shading to help recreate the comic book style, and these look a lot better.
You can play with a max of four X-men at a time, with a total of fifteen X-men eventually being available to you. They provide a good balance of ranged attackers who use projectile attacks, tanks who can take a lot of damage, and balanced fighters who can do a little of both. Wolverine has his healing factor, which makes him an almost necessary part of the team. The others will need your help to heal. It reminded me a lot of Gauntlet, except instead of hearing "Wizard needs food badly!" you will hear one of the X-men call out to you in their own distinctive way. Pretty much every character fits their personality from the comics. You can switch between the four characters you are using at any time while on screen, and when you reach a save point, you can switch team members or pay money to revive any who may have died. You can also buy items from Forge here.
There are comics and videos to pick up throughout the game, and you can view them once inside the X-mansion. There's also a computer terminal in there that lets you play a trivia game for extra experience points. I got every answer right on the first try, but that's only because I knew a lot of the comic history. If you're not so well versed, you can learn a lot of the answers by talking to people around the mansion between missions. If you go upstairs in the mansion, you'll see the various X-men's private rooms. These are great because they contain details that aren't necessary to the game, but show love and appreciation for the characters. Storm has plants in her room and Colossus is halfway through a painting, for instance. Downstairs in the mansion is the Danger Room. It resembles the lower levels of the mansion from the movies. Cerebro's room is an exact copy from the one in the film. The Danger Room has training levels that will also give you extra experience. These are a huge help when you get stuck in the missions and can't get any further.
Somehow, they convinced Patrick Stewart to provide the voice of Professor Xavier for the game. None of the other characters feature their movie counterparts, though it is interesting that Steven Blum, who voiced Wolverine, would later do so in Wolverine and the X-men.
The story follows Alison Crestmere, a somewhat obscure mutant who was originally a member of the New Mutants and has a lava related power. In the beginning the X-men rescue her from the Brotherhood, and we follow the game through her as she trains at the mansion and gets to know the X-men and what they are all about. If you knew nothing about the X-men going in to this game, I think it would teach you enough to get you interested in reading the comics. The various missions in the game all relate to rescuing various team members (in order to have the opportunity to add them to your party later) or fighting classic X-men villains like Magneto, the Shadow King, and the Sentinels.
Beyond the few little mechanical hiccups, this game is just as enjoyable to play today as it was when it came out. It took me a little bit to get used to controlling my team members, but it never became annoying. Their AI is not too great, and they will happily put themselves in the middle of too many enemies and die quickly if you let them. Fortunately, with one push of a button you can call them to wherever you are. You can also set it so that they will automatically use a health potion once they get to a certain percentage of life - which is of course useful up until the point that you run out of them. I found the idea of purchasing armor largely useless, as you usually find the basic armor as well as special items scattered throughout the levels. Overall I really enjoyed playing it and while I didn't get to finish it before doing this review, I plan to keep going until I do because it's just that good.
There was also a sequel that came out for all the same systems which is largely more of the same with a few different characters and powers and a different story. It also added the ability to play multiplayer online. The success of this series also led to the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series of games, which is basically the same thing but featuring characters from all over the Marvel universe.
And so ends my experience with X-men video games. There are a lot more out there, from games based on the movies to fighting games to X-men appearances in various Marvel games. X-men: Destiny is planned for release later this year. They haven't released many details in terms of gameplay yet, but apparently it will require you to make choices to help decide where the story goes. It sounds like a great concept, so I hope they execute it well.
Next up I'm going to change direction a little and talk about a couple of my favorite X-men characters.