Super villains were born on a Monday morning. It's obvious. Pure evil is always the product of hangovers, early mornings and that poorly made first cup of coffee. But if super villains are the product of Monday mornings, then Bastion - the chief bad guy in X-Men: Next Dimension - was invented when the boss insisted everyone work over Christmas, cut the bonuses and banned mistletoe on the grounds of health and safety.
You see, Bastion is no ordinary super villain. According to Next Dimension, he's so evil he can't even find hired help, and had to build an army of robots to wage his war - unsurprisingly against the mutants and their protectors, the X-Men.
But sadly, Bastion, like much of Next Dimension, is about as original and inspired a choice as a canteen-made prawn sandwich.
Wrung from old and new
Just about anybody who's glanced at a beat 'em up menu screen since 1991 will recognise Next Dimension, with its story, arcade, versus, practice and survival modes. And it doesn't get much more exciting when you venture deeper - relatively recent additions to the genre are easy enough to synthesize from the diverse world of Stan Lee's comic creations. Take super moves for example. Have a completely wild guess as to how they implemented those? Hopefully it won't spoil the surprise, but 'super' moves harness 'super' powers.
It's a theme which continues throughout most of the game. Interactive scenery finds a home, and the X-Men twist is that only mutants with telekinetic powers (or a suitable reach) can hurl ringside objects at their opponents.
Meanwhile, some take-offs are easier to spot than Wolverine's sideburns. Arenas are tiered, DOA style, so a particularly well aimed blow will send your enemy falling to the ground far below, tracer effects are used to exaggerate the heavy strikes and the familiar quarter circle forward plus punch will often send a fireball sizzling across the screen.
And as you'll quickly realise if you spend any time with the roster of characters, many of them are based on their contemporaries in other titles. Toad, for example, is a rather unflattering Kilik wannabe, with an arsenal of limb stretching moves and a rather mischievous tongue.
Next Dimension does make a few relatively feeble attempts at innovation though, but unfortunately with virtually no success. The super move charge bar, for example, is split into three sections, and you can charge them individually with each successive blow to gain access to specific moves. However, while the idea is to use L1 to switch between them so you know which one is charging, in practice bouts are far too hectic to effectively make that split second decision.
Then there's the ability for certain characters to fly. If your character can stand taller than most, then pressing L2 after jumping will keep you in the air for a short spell of time. But apart from raising some peculiar questions about the game's collision detection (which occasionally caught us in projectile attacks which zoomed miles over our head) and confusing the hell out of anybody we introduce to the game, the practical benefits are negligible.
Compounding matters is a frustrating control scheme which demands the use of both D-pad and analogue stick. Thanks to a quirk of the controls, the D-pad can only be used to jump, while the analogue stick can only be used to sidestep (the "3D" element). There's no way to remap the buttons, so you're left either jumping or dodging, or flicking your thumb confusedly back and forth between controls.
This flaw, along with the speed of the game, means that many of the more interesting moves at your disposal are far too risky to attempt, leaving you with a pretty narrow range at any given time. Whether you'll have the enthusiasm to persevere and become a truly skilled X-Man is doubtful - we certainly didn't.
Worse than Mutant X?
There are some things to be said for the Next Dimension though. Visually it looks rather nice (if only on the PS2), with detailed character models - clearly representative of each character - and some fairly large (and often imposing) arenas. What's more, each character's repertoire of moves is pretty extensive and draws upon familiar attacks. But when all you can say for a game is that the license is a good one, it shouldn't really sound like praise.
Perhaps the most damning thing of all about Next Dimension though is that throughout our time with the game, we never once felt the impact of a blow or watched a character reel in pain - there's virtually no weight to any attack and hit contact is unconvincing. For a game based on a collection of the world's most powerful superheroes, that's as good a reason as any to avoid it.
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