There was a time when a younger, more naive version of me believed that unwavering faithfulness to the source material was the key to any cross-media adaptation. Then I saw the Watchmen movie. Zack Snyder bashing aside, it was a relief to find out that Glitchsoft’s Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past mobile game was based not on the current film but the classic comic book story with which it shares a name. It succeeds completely as a tribute but less so as a gameplay experience, muddling its old school platformer vibe with imprecise controls and repetitive enemies.
You’ll find no time-traveling Wolverines here, Hugh Jackman or otherwise. Just as Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin did in the early 80s, Glitchsoft centers the narrative on a future version (the far-flung future of 2013!) of Kate Pryde and her desperate attempt to change the past in order to prevent a nightmarish reality where the mutant-hunting Sentinel robots have taken complete control.
A few of the X-Men are still alive and kicking in the future, including the aforementioned Wolverine. The game allows you to choose between them and unlock more as you advance, magically swapping to Kate or whoever is supposed to be the main character at that point in the narrative when you arrive at a cutscene. It’s a little off-putting at first, but a smart decision in terms of giving players some choices.
The gameplay is straight up retro 2D platforming that requires only a few virtual buttons. You get a d-pad for movement on the left and a multi-purpose attack button plus a jump button on the right. Each hero has some special attacks and abilities which can be performed by swiping the attack button in specific directions, which sounds easy but doesn’t always work that well in practice.
Everybody has a double jump, which is nice for reaching higher platforms but ends up making all of the characters feel floaty, if you’ll permit me to abuse an adjective for my own purposes. It’s weird to see Wolvie or Colossus gently descending back to the ground after a double jump, but you’ll have to get used to it.
There are enemies by the dozens to be slashed, punched or blasted, though many of them are simply cannon fodder to put obstacles in your way until you can get to cooler battles with the Sentinels. You’ll see human gang members and little orbs by the dozens, none particularly interesting or memorable. Yet the game grades you on how many you defeat plus how many experience and health orbs you can find and destroy, so simply speed-running past them is not really an option.
Between levels, experience can be spent on improving any hero’s abilities, some of which (like Wolverine’s healing factor) are extremely helpful. Unlocking new costumes is also an option, and you’ll be able to choose from multiple looks for several characters before too long.
Both the character designs and in-game backdrops are pretty spiffy and very close to the comic book art style. The Sentinels appear as suitably giant-sized bosses, and since some of the levels are set in the present — er, past, but the present when the original story was written — familiar villains like Pyro and Mystique show up and are instantly recognizable.
If the journey to get to the best parts of Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past was as interesting as the destination, this would be an excellent comic-based mobile game. As it is, it has to settle for being pretty good, and something that hardcore fans of the source material are going to appreciate much more than non-comics readers. But hey, it’s never too late to jump from one group to the other.