A good game plays by a set of clearly defined rules, and a great game gives you plenty of clever opportunities to break those rules. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse breaks the rules by letting you to create a mutant dream team of heroes and villains from a cast of characters that includes the legendary X-Men, as well as Magneto's sinister band, the Brotherhood. The game was recently released on consoles and the PC, and now PSP owners can also take a shot at the ancient bad man known as Apocalypse. It's impressive that Vicarious Visions somehow managed to cram every little detail of the game onto a handheld, but aside from the portability, there isn't much new here. However, if you haven't played the game on consoles, you won't be sacrificing anything if you pick up the PSP version--which you should certainly do if you have any interest at all in the X-Men or in action role-playing games in general.
The X-Men and the Brotherhood unite on your PSP to take out the evil Apocalypse and his four horsemen.
The story in X-Men Legends II kicks off with a great rendered cutscene that shows Magneto, Mystique, and Sabertooth teaming up with Wolverine, Cyclops, and Storm to free the enslaved Professor Xavier. Even if you're only a passing fan, you know that Magneto and Professor X aren't exactly cordial with each other. However, the Brotherhood and the X-Men are forced to set aside their differences to focus their collective attention on the newest (oldest) bad guy in town: Apocalypse. Actually, to call Apocalypse a threat is an understatement, because he's one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe. After all, he's about 5,000 years old and is damn near invincible. The game picks up shortly after Apocalypse has all but destroyed the mutant haven known as Genosha. Eventually, Apocalypse kidnaps four mutants with a specific type of DNA, and with the help of the crackpot geneticist Mr. Sinister, Apocalypse plans to extract that special blend of DNA to make himself even more powerful...so he can take over the world.
The story here isn't particularly original, but it's made compelling by the huge cast of great characters from the X-Men universe. There are more than 20 playable characters in this version of the game, with familiar faces like Wolverine, Gambit, Magneto, and Storm alongside more-obscure characters like Toad, Bishop, The Scarlet Witch, and Sunfire. To sweeten the pot even further, there are several unlockable characters. However, we won't spoil the surprise here.
In addition to the playable characters, there are a ton of recognizable heroes and villains that make appearances as enemies or as nonplayable characters. One of the best parts of X-Men Legends II is the way you can mix and match Brotherhood and X-Men characters to achieve a powerful--if unlikely--team of characters. With so many characters, there are plenty of different combinations to try out. If that isn't enough for you, you can also unlock dozens of different skins in the game. Some of the skins look ridiculous, but that pretty much comes with the territory when you're a superhero. However ridiculous their outfits are, the characters look great on the PSP. The different skins are detailed and distinct, and all the characters animate well, whether they're executing spectacular special attacks or simply pummeling enemies to the ground.
In addition to the game's look and power combinations, the assorted characters will elicit different reactions from nonplayable characters. You'll often have to speak with Forge to purchase items, and if you're controlling a Brotherhood character when you speak to him, Forge will be much less friendly than if you approach him as one of the X-Men. These character interactions don't affect gameplay at all--and there are only a couple of canned reactions from each character--but this makes for some great back-and-forth between the two teams.
The gameplay in X-Men Legends II follows the same beat-'em-up-and-collect-their-items pattern of Untold Legends. You control a party of four characters, though you can only directly control one character at a time. But you can easily switch characters on the fly by holding the left shoulder button and pressing one of the directions on the D pad. You'll often need to switch among characters, because some of the puzzles in the game require the specific abilities of a certain mutant. You might need Iceman to put out a fire or Magneto to generate a metal bridge across a gap, for example. For the most part, though, you just run around various levels beating the crap out of bad guys and collecting items and experience. As you gain experience, your characters will level up and become stronger, and they'll learn new skills. You can allocate all the experience and skill points manually if you want, or you can set an option to have the points automatically distributed as you earn them.
There are more than 20 characters in the PSP version of X-Men Legends II, each with signature moves and abilities taken straight from the comics.
Each character has several different skills based on his or her mutant powers. There are melee, boost, projectile, traps, and more. Each skill is assigned to one of the four main face buttons, and in battle (if you have enough energy) you can hold the right shoulder button and press the corresponding button to use that special skill. This makes it easy to switch between straight-up fighting and using skills. Each character can also learn a couple of super skills, which not only look really cool, but also are extremely powerful. Cyclops has a super beam attack that can hit multiple targets; Wolverine has a spinning radial attack that does heavy damage; and Magneto has a metal attack in which he crushes everything in sight by manipulating the metal objects in the environment. For the most part, you don't actually need to use these skills to beat the game, but they make it a lot quicker and easier to deal with hordes of enemies. And since some of the boss fights in this game are truly epic, they just wouldn't be as entertaining without an all-out clash of mutant powers.