Superhero video games seem to run the gamut from the utterly inspired (like the recent Batman Arkham titles) to the laughably unplayable (Superman for the N64). Sadly, it seems as though most licensed comic book titles fall into the latter category.
I originally had high hopes for Activision/Silicon Knights’ X-Men: Destiny, but when the lackluster reviews started rolling in for its console iteration I reined in my fanboyism. I did, however, hold out hope that the portable version would somehow be more palatable. Yet even that optimism proved misplaced.
Just like its big brother, X-Men: Destiny for the Nintendo DS takes place outside of current comic continuity and puts a particular emphasis on decision-making, but right out of the gate it seems that your options are sorely limited. Rather than a trio of characters, this version saddles the player with but a single choice for your untested mutant protagonist, and his superpowers are also limited to two simple flavors: enhanced melee combat abilities or ranged energy projection.
In the chaos following an attack at a rally in memory of the late Charles Xavier, young Samuel Kamerhe must make his way through bland, blocky environments, fighting waves of identical anti-mutant zealots and occasionally interacting with members of both the X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood. The choices you make – whether to fight for mutant/human unity or to crush those troublesome flatscans with the power of your genetic superiority – are meant to affect the action of the game and the development of your mutant abilities in sweeping, meaningful ways, but, as is so often the case, your moral dilemma is little more than wallpaper meant to spruce up a tired action title.
Unlike some fans, I have no problem playing as a no-name character in an X-Men game. In fact, the opportunity to carve out my own niche within the fiction of Destiny – as opposed to, say, playing as Wolverine for the umpteenth time – was a genuine draw. Sadly, amid all the fruitless wandering, checklist-style missions and uninspired power-up and costume collection, X-Men: Destiny never really gave me that option.
If the gameplay was in any way compelling, I could likely forgive the lifeless comic panel cut-scenes and even less engaging in-game graphics. Likewise, I could even overlook the mostly toothless combat if the title had any measure of the comic book’s visual charm. Instead all that’s left is a somewhat interesting plot that falls flat in between shoddy gameplay and ugly visuals.