X-Men Legends Was The Perfect Introduction To Marvel’s Mutants – Screen Rant

The X-Men Legends games were the perfect entry point for new Marvel fans, spotlighting the team’s history while telling approachable new stories.
Before Raven Software created Marvel: Ultimate Alliance the studio worked on a series called X-Men Legends, which provided the perfect introduction for new fans to Marvel’s mutants. X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse may not have boasted as diverse a roster as those featured in the two Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games, but they were no less entertaining and were arguably stronger because of the narrower focus. Whereas it was easy for certain characters in MUA to get lost in the carnage, mostly every mutant got a chance in the spotlight in X-Men Legends, whether that be as a playable character or as one of the many NPCs who had the task of explaining the X-Men’s history to players.
The first X-Men Legends was released in 2004 and bears many of the hallmarks of the X-team of that era, including an aesthetic heavily influenced by Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men comics. While that may date the game in some aspects, Legends is still a great introduction to the X-Men for newcomers and one that encourages exploration of the comics via the use of flashback levels, trivia machines, and a fully explorable X-Mansion. The sequel, Rise of Apocalypse, also excels in this area, uniting the X-Men with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and taking players to several iconic X-Men locales, ranging from the Savage Land and Genosha, to Apocalypse’s base in Egypt.
Related: What Marvel’s Avengers Could Learn From Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
One of the primary reasons why X-Men Legends was such a good introduction for Marvel newcomers – and particularly for those interested in the X-Men – was that it encouraged experimentation with team builds. Most X-Men fans may love Marvel’s Wolverine, and Legends certainly had its fair share of great Wolverine moments, but it would be fair to say that he’s hogged the spotlight since Hugh Jackman debuted as the character in 2000’s X-Men. What Legends did so effectively is that it balanced highlighting the more mainstream mutants with the ones that maybe didn’t have as big a focus traditionally. All the staples of the films and X-Men: The Animated Series were there, but so were the less prolific characters, particularly in the sequel, which featured the then relatively unknown Deadpool as a secret unlockable character.
What makes X-Men Legends in particular work as a great introduction to the deeper aspects of the X-Men, though, is the audience surrogate character of Alison Crestmere. The game begins with Wolverine and X-Men leader Cyclops rescuing Alison from Mystique and Blob after her powers develop in public. After this introductory level, players assume the role of Alison as they explore the X-Mansion. It’s a new experience for Alison, and it gives Raven the perfect excuse to bombard the player with information all about the team and their history.
The X-Mansion was brilliantly realized, with multiple dorms and areas to explore, and it’s here where the game managed to integrate the soap-opera elements of the X-Men comics seamlessly. Romance, gossip, drama – it’s all there, should the player spend enough time exploring, and it’s yet another example of how Legends’ depiction of Marvel’s mutants made it a comprehensive X-Men game.
All of this helped make the X-Mansion feel properly lived in, and as Alison, players were given the opportunity to live their own X-Men fantasy by being adopted by the group, encountering their favorite characters from the comics and animated shows, and being able to hone their skills in the Danger Room until they were ready to head out into the field. It’s still cool to play as the iconic Marvel characters in X-Men Legends, but it’s a testament to how good the audience surrogate is that Alison feels just as important.
Related: Marvel’s Wolverine Needs A Combat System Different From Batman Arkham’s
To an extent, few other comic book video games have been able to replicate the sense of history that Raven imbued X-Men Legends with. Players have benefited from seeing unique and varied depictions of Batman and Spider-Man in recent years, with studios like Rocksteady and Insomniac Games placing their own stamp on those two iconic characters respectively. This can often mean that much of the history of those universes gets locked away to be explored in the future. That approach brings with it a lot of narrative potential, but there’s also a lot to be said about dropping players right in the middle of the comics and seeing what sticks. X-Men Legends was its own unique depiction of the X-Men mythos, but it would best be described as comics-adjacent, as it directly referenced key comic book events and issues as having taken place in the timeline before the start of the story.
Gameplay-wise, there’s fairly little that separates the X-Men Legends games with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. Both series are enjoyable, isometric RPGs that take players on a whirlwind tour of some of Marvel’s most iconic locales, giving them the opportunity to build their own ultimate X-Men or Avengers team in the process. However, while X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse are just as good as the first Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, they have seemingly been overlooked in recent years, with Ultimate Alliance receiving a long-awaited third entry, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, on Nintendo Switch in 2019. This is to be expected, given the Avengers have largely replaced the X-Men as Marvel’s foremost superhero team in the wake of the MCU, but it still feels unjust that fans have yet to see X-Men Legends 3, given Legends is every bit the game Ultimate Alliance was, only with less flashy graphics and no Spider-Man.
Ironically, the less flashy graphics have in some ways ensured that Legends has aged better than the first two Ultimate Alliance games. Raven adopted a cel-shaded approach for X-Men Legends, and while the blocky hands are a tad distracting during in-game cutscenes, the comic book feel of both games still works. There may be a litany of dank dungeons, but the darker environments help make the characters and their abilities pop even better. The gameplay in Legends doesn’t feel outdated compared to that which is seen in the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance franchise either, as Raven more-or-less stuck with the system they introduced in the first entry through to MUA.
It’s also absolutely worth revisiting in 2021. The X-Men may not be as prolific as they once were, but they’re still a major force at Marvel and have recently benefited from a relaunch in the comics led by former Avengers and Fantastic Four writer Jonathan Hickman. Factor in new games and upcoming appearances in the MCU, and it’s possible that mutant mania could be making a comeback. Given fans have been without a new X-Men game since 2011’s X-Men: Destiny, and with Marvel’s Wolverine not arriving until after Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, replaying X-Men Legends – or even discovering it for the first time – is a great way to prepare for the group’s second coming.
Next: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: How to Unlock All Secret Characters
Ewan is a Gaming Features Editor for Screen Rant and may in fact have way too many interests. His love for comic books, video games and Dad Movies also instilled in him a love for writing, which he’s been doing since he was about 16. Originally from Liverpool, Ewan made the move to Newcastle in 2014 to study History at Northumbria University (which he loved), and has stayed there ever since. You may have heard/seen him on YouTube a bunch as well.

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