The success of Untold Legends demonstrated that PSP owners loved the idea of taking an action-RPG with them while out on the town. X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse was a solid game on consoles, and when it was announced for the PSP you got the sense that if done right on the handheld, it could be a sleeper hit. Well, Vicarious Visions has done an amazing job, making no sacrifices in porting the game over to the PSP.
X-Men Legends II sees sworn enemies, the X-Men and the Brotherhood, teaming together to defeat Apocalypse, a threat so great that it will take the combined forces of the two groups to defeat. This unusual pairing allows you to choose from a roster of twenty playable characters (Magneto, Wolverine, Storm, Mystique, Sabertooth, Cyclops, and many more), mixing and matching good and evil characters to put together the strongest group of four mutants possible.
At its core, Rise of the Apocalypse is a typical hack n'slash adventure game. Your team consists of four mutants, each with their own special attacks and abilities. Combat is simple, with movement relegated to the analog stick, and a few basic attacks and a jump occupying the face buttons. Special attacks and moves can be performed by pressing and holding the right shoulder button in conjunction with a face button. One of Magneto's powers allows him to create a bridge, while Storm can form a tornado to put out fires. You control only one character at a time, but you can switch between the four by simply pressing the left shoulder button and a direction on the d-pad.
The action is viewed from an almost isometric perspective as you fight your way through the levels, killing endless bad guys, searching for people, or collecting items. There are also some light role playing elements to the game. You can power up your abilities, learn new moves, and collect and equip a variety of items. If you're not into micro-managing your heroes, the CPU will do all the work for you, leaving you to simply fight your way through the game. There's nothing groundbreaking about the gameplay, but the interesting story, engaging combat, and nice visuals all come together to create an enjoyable adventure.
In most games, when you have on or more allies that are computer controlled, "mildly handicapped" is about the best you can hope for, when it comes to their ability to help the cause. X-Men Legends II actually has some pretty good AI – your comrades will attack effectively and even heal themselves. You can even tweak the settings to have your long range fighters hang back a bit if you want. It's not like playing with a real person or anything, but they're pretty darn good.
There are a few minor issues with regards to the gameplay, but nothing that will ruin it for anyone. The game will hang-up and stutter really badly on occasion, particularly when coming out of sleep mode. This also happens when navigating the game's (poorly designed) menus. Even though the game has a decent map system, it can be confusing figuring out where to go. Usually when this happens, you've just got to backtrack out of the level to trigger a cut-scene, but it's odd that the game isn't clearer about your objectives considering how good the map system is.
X-Men Legends II not only supports four player co-op play via ad-hoc, but also co-op play online. With the limited online support that PSP games have had thus far it's cool that the developers took the time to include the same level of support that the console versions had. There's a little bit of lag when playing online, and the camera zooms really far away if your team gets too far apart, but minor quibbles aside, it's very good.
X-Men Legends II looks remarkably like its big brother on consoles. The characters are large, colorful, and are nicely animated. They've each got a number of unique attacks and special moves – they don't simply look like the same character with a different skin. The environments are large, colorful, and filled with plenty of stuff to destroy. Occasionally the levels get really dark, making it almost impossible to see, even with the PSP's brightness turned up all the way. Usually it doesn't stay dark for long, as you can quickly move out of the area, but it's a pretty noticeable problem, especially if it gets you killed. When the action gets hectic on screen it can be difficult to figure out exactly what's going on. With four heroes, a few enemies, and a bunch of explosions on screen, it's tough to figure out who's doing what, where your character is, and where the bad guys are. You can generally get out of these situations unscathed by mashing the buttons though, so it's not a huge deal.
Legends features a very impressive, fully orchestrated soundtrack. It stays in the background most of the time, but gets louder when a big battle breaks out. The voice acting is also quite good, which goes without saying when Patrick Stewart is part of the cast. This is a game based on a comic book so some of voices are a little over the top, but for the most part, they fit the game nicely. The sound effects are plentiful, with the sounds of punches, kicks, explosions, and things smashing filling the air at all times.
If you didn't play the console versions of Legends II, but you're looking for a fun action RPG, you could do worse than to pick yourself up a copy of the game for the PSP. On the other hand, if you played the heck out of the game on the PS2, then there's no reason to play it again on the PSP, since the two are so similar. Vicarious Visions should be commended on not compromising anything in the transition to the small screen; they did a great job.