I was really looking forward to X-Men 2: Clone Wars. Despite playing a lot of SNES and Sega Genesis titles back in the day, I never got around to beating the sequel to one of the most popular rental games in our locale. I did play the game, but I think I wasn’t as good with video games back then. So I was quite eager to get my hands on this again.
So without further ado, let me tell you about this game.
X-Men 2: Clone Wars is an action platformer for one or two players, much like it’s predecessor. Developed by Headgames, Inc and published by Sega, this game is exclusive to the Genesis. The cast from the previous game makes a return: you can still play as Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit, or Nightcrawler. Joining them as playable characters is Beast, Psylocke, and Magneto (playable after beating him). I can remember that Magneto’s inclusion as a playable character was used in marketing this game. And it is quite notable since, villains aren’t normally playable in video games based on comic book characters.
This time around, the X-Men are dealing with a new threat: the Phalanx. These are alien creatures with the ability to shapeshift and assimilate other beings, hence the title of the game. The Phalanx is attempting an invasion of Earth and to stop them, the X-Men will have to venture to different locations.
You start the game with a total of nine lives and no continues. There is no save or password system either, nor any option to change the difficulty. So, X-Men 2: Clone Wars is the type of game that you’ll have to beat in one sitting.
Basic Combat Mechanics
X-Men 2: Clone Wars makes good use of the three-button controller of the Genesis. The A button does special moves, normal attacks to the B button, and jumping is mapped to the C button. Each character has a good set of moves at their disposal. All of the characters have the ability to do upward and downward attacks, making them feel very capable in my hands.
It’s also notable that this game no longer makes use of a mutant power bar. So you can use each character’s special moves to your heart’s content! Cyclops, Gambit, and Nightcrawler have charge meters which fill up when you hold down the special attack button. Once full, they can unleash more powerful special attacks.
The game also makes use of a health mechanic that I found quite interesting. Your health meter is split into two areas: a red zone and a yellow zone. At the start of every stage, your health is refilled up to the maximum of the red zone. If you manage to refill it (via power ups) past this and into the yellow zone, your character’s special attacks will be stronger.
I think this is a great system to reward skilled players. The more careful you play, the stronger your characters are. This system also gave me incentives to explore stages more, as I searched for health refills.
The Returning X-Men
Unlike the previous game, you can no longer change characters in the middle of stages. You can only change characters at the beginning of each stage. So it’s important to know each character’s strengths and weaknesses in order to play this game effectively.
Cyclops’ main advantage is his optic blasts. He can aim this in seven directions, and even downward while jumping. His optic blasts will allow you to take out enemies as soon as you see them. His melee attacks are weak though, and his jumping ability is quite lacking.
Gambit is quite similar to Cyclops. He’s got a ranged attack that you can aim in multiple directions. Gambit’s kinetic cards aren’t as instantaneous as they need to travel some distance before hitting enemies. Gambit makes up for this with higher jumps, and faster melee attacks with a longer reach.
Nightcrawler’s teleportation no longer goes past walls. This is a good change in my opinion, because he broke several of the previous game’s stages with that. It still damages enemies and you can still use this to get to hard to reach areas. Nightcrawler gained the ability to crawl up walls, and he feels a lot more athletic now.
Finally, Wolverine’s claws are always out in this game. His special attack is a lunging claw swipe, which sounds pretty basic but is actually a useful move in practice. He does have his healing factor in the game, and he can use his claws to climb up walls and even across ceilings.
The New Characters
Beast was designed brilliantly in this game. To represent his superhuman strength, he’s got the strongest melee attacks. But he’s not a slow brute. He’s actually quite athletic, with diving attacks and a fast wall jump. His special attacks aren’t very good. In the air, he does a rolling move that I couldn’t quite figure out how to use. On the ground, he does a pound which I think damages enemies in the immediate vicinity. When his health is in the yellow, this ground pound launches a shock wave to Beast’s left and right.
Psylocke uses a sword which gives her attacks a range that’s comparable to Gambit’s. She uses the sword in a really good spinning aerial attack. Her special attack is her psychic knife which is strong but only works on organic enemies. She can also do wall jumps, but she’s not as good at it as Beast.
Of the new additions, Magneto plays the most differently. His regular attacks are magnetic bolts, which he can also aim in multiple directions. On the ground, his special move is this orb that explodes, almost like a small EMP blast. This orb can pass through walls and is really powerful. In the air, he can levitate. This is useful when trying to avoid enemies on the ground. But he doesn’t fly and his jumps are a little floaty. It takes a bit of time to get used to Magneto.
With all that said, the new characters all bring something new to the game and each one is very interesting to play as.
Uncanny Stage Design
I don’t normally talk about stage design but I feel that I need to mention this. I really liked the stage layouts of X-Men 2: Clone Wars. For my playthrough, I played exclusively as Cyclops to see if I could handle all of the stages with his weak jumping ability. And yes, I beat the game not needing to play as any other character. But as I was playing through the game, I could see all those alternate routes that other characters could have taken. Some stages are definitely easier for certain characters and harder for the others.
So you can play this game in different ways. You can opt to play it optimally, always choosing the best character for each stage. You can choose a more challenging route, picking the worst character for every stage. Or you can do character specific playthroughs, which I ended up doing. If I didn’t need to play other games to write new articles for this blog, I would have done more playthroughs with other characters.
I also liked how some stages broke the repetitiveness by moving away from exploration. There are short sections wherein you’re in free fall, and you have to avoid stage hazards. There are a pair of areas with rising toxic water, so you needed to get to high ground as fast as you can. And there’s this section that’s perfect for Cyclops, where a lot of enemies would spawn constantly.
Uncanny Boss Battles
When it comes to video games based on comic book superheroes, what I look forward to the most are the boss battles. These are the moments when I truly feel like I’m stepping into the shoes of my favorite superheroes. And X-Men 2: Clone Wars does have really good boss battles. Some of the things that you’ll fight in this game include a Sentinel core, and Phalanx-clones of X-Men villains like Fabian Cortez and Tusk.
I think that’s my only complaint about the bosses in this game – some of them are just clones of the real thing. But that’s not any better than the most common excuse that developers use to bring in named villains in X-Men games, which is as Danger Room constructs. Some of these fights are your standard boss fights, where you need to learn their attack pattern and counter accordingly. Other fights will require a specific out-of-the-box strategy, like what you’ll need to do in order to beat Magneto.
Seriously, these boss battles are really good. The battle with Apocalypse is more than just a straight up fist fight. And so is the battle with the large Phalanx alien near the end. I would really love to play this game again so I can try other characters in the boss battles.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
X-Men 2: Clone Wars looks amazing from a graphical standpoint. All the character sprites are beautiful and well-animated, which is notable given that there are seven different playable characters and all of them have a lot of different moves. Regular enemies are also quite detailed but not as well animated, which is understandable.
Stages are also quite detailed. There are a few standouts, like how you can see Sentinels behind you at the factory, and the Earth looming in the sky at the Avalon Space Station. One minor complaint is about how some of the stages don’t really change even though you’ve been exploring for quite a while. So it doesn’t feel like I’m really getting farther. On the flipside, the developers really took advantage of the X-Men lore and avoided using generic locations.
In terms of sound and music, this game is such a treat to the ears. They used much better stage tracks compared to the previous game, especially for the Savage Land. Sound effects are apt and work well, except that they only used one effect for all the regular enemies when they die.
I wish I could say the same about the game’s presentation, but there’s barely anything here. There is no introduction scene because the game starts off with a cold open. The opening credits and title screen are all shown in the same Cerebro monitor that is used for the character selection screen. Cutscenes consist of chats between Prof. X and Cerebro – on the same monitor.
You do get to see an illustration of Professor X wearing the Cerebro headset in the game’s ending, and that’s it. I’ll take a good game with awesome game mechanics over a bad game with really good presentation. But this does impact the experience negatively somewhat.
One thing that I can’t really speak for is how X-Men 2: Clone Wars plays in two-player co-op. It feels like it’ll play better compared to the first game, simply because there aren’t as many gaps and pitfalls. But I don’t have any means to try it so I can’t say for sure.
But man, as a one player experience, X-Men 2: Clone Wars is impressive. I can’t believe the developers were able to create a game wherein you have seven different playable characters, and all of them work and provide a good variety of gameplay experiences. Each character feels accurate to how they are in the comic books. And while the lack of passwords, additional lives or continues, or the ability to change difficulty can make the game seem really hard, I think this game offers a fair challenge. It is difficult, yes, but you’ll be able to figure the game out after you play it over and over.
I strongly recommend X-Men 2: Clone Wars for anyone who enjoys 16-bit action platformers, even those who aren’t fans of comic book superheroes. And if you’re an X-Men fan, you need to be able to play this game. Especially nowadays, when there aren’t any new and good X-Men games being released.