Last year's X-Men Legends proved that there could be a video game adaptation of comic book material that didn't suck. I even argued within my review of the original title that the combination of comic book lore, energetic fight sequences with varied enemies and the powers themselves made the action/RPG title stand out as an exceptional title. I wasn't alone in this, as critics acclaimed the game, easily paving the way for a sequel. Fortunately, the follow up to the game not only returned to the Xbox and PS2, but branched out to other platforms, including Sony's PSP. Now players can take the X-men with them on the go in a UMD port of X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse.
The story of Legends II seems extremely unlikely until you realize just how dire the situation is: Professor X's team of heroes is forced to team up with their worst enemy, The Brotherhood of Mutants. The two adversarial teams put their animosity aside for the time being to take on the largest threat they've ever faced – a genocidal mutant known as Apocalypse. Unfortunately, even with the combined strength of both groups, Apocalypse could potentially be stronger than all of them. See, he happens to be the world's first mutant, born more than 5,000 years ago and imbued with near immortality. With an M.O. of experimental genocide that covers both humans and mutants alike, the X-Men and Brotherhood set out across the world to foil the madman's schemes for global domination.
Like the console versions, the PSP version of Legends II lets you field four mutants; while you only control one of them at a time, you can switch back and forth between them whenever you want, which will be necessary to accomplish certain tasks, such as environmental puzzles. Apart from the standard light and heavy attacks, you'll also be able to trigger any one of more than the 160 superpowers that are included in the game. All of these abilities are separated into different classifications, such as Melee, Projectile and Energy, so even players that aren't acquainted with the comic books will have an idea about what they're triggering. As your characters gain more experience, you'll be able to gain much more powerful super attacks and more destructive combos. The ability to meld two powered attacks together for combos is somewhat more appealing this time around thanks to the inclusion of "bad guys" on your team. Just wait until you start breaking things with Juggernaut or Magneto and you'll see what I mean. The PSP version also has exclusive characters that the console rendition simply doesn't have, which is a great bonus.
The expanded team also leads you to focus more attention on character building and upgrading throughout the game. No longer will you find that each mutant grows along with your squad in power if you neglect them; instead, solely focusing on a core group of characters will significantly weaken the rest of your squad. Fortunately, you'll be able to boost any lagging characters in the numerous Danger Room missions scattered throughout the game. Besides that, you'll want to rotate through all of them to observe the numerous reactions that both sides have towards each other. Like I said earlier, these two groups hate each other, but are teaming up out of necessity. This doesn't mean that the past wounds have healed though, and you'll hear snide comments thrown back and forth to each other as you're progressing through stages.
You'll also notice that NPCs will react to you based on which characters you're currently controlling. For instance, if you're an X-Man and you approach Beast or Forge, they'll be cordial when they give you information or sell you items. On the other hand, if you're a Brotherhood member, you'll wind up getting the cold shoulder from them comment-wise. You'll also discover that it's much better to mix and match your teams to gain access to certain areas. For instance, on Genosha, there are some doors leading to equipment and items that you can't unlock without a Brotherhood member on the squad at that time.
While you can depend on some rather decent AI for your team during single player games, you can play up to 4 player co-op over infrastructure or Ad Hoc modes. The gameplay then acts exactly like that on the consoles whenever one player jumps in and takes over a fighter. That's an extremely cool feature that works relatively well, with some technical exceptions. For one, you still have to worry about the amount of lag that you'll incur by playing with friends. You'll also have to worry about load times if someone accesses a menu screen, as the pause between gameplay and subscreens is rather lengthy.
In fact, most, if not all of the issues with Legends II on the PSP are technical in nature. This is practically a perfect port over from the console versions, with extremely sharp visuals that sometimes equal or trump those of its brethren. Unfortunately, there are moments when the camera zooms out so far that you can barely see what's going on action wise. Whereas you could always reorient or refocus the camera in the console version, there's no such luck in the PSP version, so you'll have to wait until the game zooms in for you. There are also a number of moments when the game stutters or hangs which isn't always dependent upon the onscreen action; while it'll slowdown a bit with a super combo or a lot of animations going on at the same time, you'll discover these hitches triggered randomly. You'll also notice that the menu screens look extremely cluttered and hard to read. Coupled with the load times, you will want to avoid them as much as possible, which isn't entirely possible to do since you'll need to equip items and level up your characters frequently. However, the sound effects, particularly the voiceovers, are extremely solid and are faithfully transferred over to this version.
Technical glitches aside, this is an excellent port of the console title that doesn't cut any corners with the story or a number of the features in the game, which is a feat in and of itself. Plus, the additional exclusive characters further boost a title that already has tons of replayability. This is perhaps the title that will prove that action RPGs can work on the PSP, and comic book fans will enjoy taking their favorite heroes and villains on the go for some serious beat 'em up portability.