Not the X-Men you X-pect

X-Men: Battle of the Atom is a new free-to-play card battle game that lets you face off against the forces of evil at the head of a famous band of mutant superheroes including Scotius Summerisle, Stepford Cuckoos, the Glob, Cipher, and Cypher. Wait, who?

If you’re a casual X-Men fan – you enjoyed the movies, maybe read a few trade paperbacks – then the first thing to know about Battle of the Atom is that it’s probably not the X-Men you X-pect. As a tie-in with the “Battle of the Atom” comic crossover that began in the fall of 2013, the mobile game features “hundreds of characters spanning 50 years of X-Men history,” according to the App Store description. To fill a roster that broad, Aeria Mobile brought in just about everyone who ever appeared in a mutant comic book, from past, present, future, and even alternate worlds.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

The net result is a menagerie that might be familiar to die-hard fans of the franchise but is largely baffling for anyone who thinks of Thunderbird or Northstar as “exotic” X-Men. This would be fine if it was actually a good CCG, but that’s the real problem with Battle of the Atom: It isn’t. It is, in a word, boring, and while that may be at least in part due to the cookie-cutter nature of the CCG genre, there’s simply nothing about this one that makes it stand out from the crowd.

All the usual CCG elements are here: Battle enemies by tapping the screen, collect points to recruit new cards, enhance and evolve cards to make them stronger, build a powerful deck, square off against your fellow players and, when your stamina runs out (which will happen relatively quickly at higher levels), stop playing until it recharges or fork over some money to make it happen immediately. But it’s unengaging and flat, and comes off feeling like a minimal-effort tie-in mandated by the marketing department and farmed out to the lowest bidder.

The “gameplay” of tapping on the screen to battle enemy forces barely counts as such, since that’s really all there is to it, and the visual appeal is virtually non-existent because the small, pixelated characters in the combat window look like they were swiped from the old X-Men arcade machines of the mid-90s. It’s especially incongruous because the rest of the art isn’t bad; it’s almost like someone whipped up some placeholder characters on their lunch break and the studio forgot to replace them before the game was released.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

There is something of a strategy aspect to Battle of the Atom, as each attack can be carried out by the lead character alone or with between one and five cards taken from the “mission squad,” a deck of ten cards chosen from the overall roster of collected characters who can lend a hand in combat. Each has an attack and defense value as well as possible special bonuses and a rarity rating of Common to Epic Rare, and can inflict extra damage and earn extra experience based on Team or Connection bonuses with other cards.

The idea, of course, is to maximize their effectiveness by building a deck that takes advantage of these bonuses, but the reality is that it’s just not necessary. A properly-built deck will undoubtedly be more effective, but the game has an “auto-build” function that will handle the details for you; and more importantly, it doesn’t seem to matter – I may have blown through stamina a little faster than I would have otherwise, but I never had anything even remotely resembling difficulty getting through a battle or defeating a boss.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom

Poor-quality character art aside, the card art is one of the game’s few strengths, as you might expect from a CCG based on a comic book, and there’s an impressive variety of styles on display including “classic” superhero proportions and poses, grimmer and vaguely Kubert-esque ink renditions, handsome “paintings,” and more. Each card has two visual states – normal and evolved – and also a brief bio explaining a bit about the character’s background and origins. It’s enough to give the game a certain appeal among comic book aficionados, particularly fans of the X-Men, although I doubt it delivers much above and beyond the “Battle of the Atom” crossover for those following it.

But as a CCG, it’s a letdown. It offers nothing new of note, the trading feature isn’t implemented yet, and it’s just flat-out dull – and that’s saying something, given that the genre isn’t exactly known for its off-the-hook gameplay excitement. There are far better options out there – I hear Marvel: War of Heroes isn’t too bad – and with so many of them on the table, only the hardest of hardcore X-Men fans are likely to find any hook in this one.