Re(?)Considered: Asterix & Obelix XXL 2
Time for a criticalretrospectix!
I don’t know how popular Asterix is in America. There is a film adaptation called Asterix Conquers America, but according to my crack research skills (Wikipedia) it was never officially released in the United States, possibly because of its threatening title. At any rate I feel I should briefly educate you, in case you don’t know – Asterix is a series of graphic novel albums about an “indomitable” resident of the small French village of Gaul, and his battles with the encroaching Roman Empire. This essentially amounts to about 44 pages at a time of Asterix and his pal Obelix beating the piss out of Romans, Vikings, Hun, Upper-class Twits and whomsoever may deign to cross them. As you have no doubt realised, this scenario lends itself extraordinarily well to gaming.
A succession of surprisingly decent games followed – Asterix for Sega Master System was terrific, ditto the NES, Game Boy and SNES games of the same title. The SNES sequel, Obelix, was also worth a play. But it’s the PS2 title – deep breath – Asterix and Obelix XXL 2: Mission: Las Vegum that I speak of today. This is the sequel to Asterix and Obelix XXL (released in the USA as the nonsensical Asterix and Obelix: Kick Buttix), but this second instalment didn’t see a release in the Land of the Free until its remastered version landed on modern consoles just this year.
Naturally, being a licensed PS2 game, it’s a 3D platformer. There’s a heavy emphasis on fighting, with combos that allow you to pick up Romans and use them as living whips, or swing them around like a dervish. Unfortunately, they seem to have seriously overestimated the appeal of these attacks and will frequently lock you in rooms and force you to defeat fifty enemies before you can move on. That would be alright if the system was more complex and balanced, or there were more enemy types than the three you generally encounter, but… er… it isn’t, and there aren’t. With this limitation hanging over the entire game, only exceptionally enjoyable, challenging platforming action can save it. Regrettably this, too, is absent.
Why, then, should XXL 2 be Re(?)Considered? Surely there are higher-quality PS2-era platformers that need a reappraisal? People still think Jak 2 is bad, for instant. And nobody’s talking about the terrific Vexx. But XXL 2 offers something that neither of those titans can match – parody. You see, in XXL 2, there are references to other videogames – classic and contemporary – all over the place. Out the ass, I believe is the accepted parlance. Roman soldiers don armour that resembles Mario and unleash a mounted water-cannon at our heroes ala Super Mario Sunshine’s F.L.U.D.D. A blue, spikey high-speed Roman attacks with a gold ring. My favourite is the head-band wearing, hadouken-throwing Roman who, in a really excellent touch, expires in slow motion with an echoing “ugh… ugh... ugh…!” Yes, it’s rather a cheap thrill, but it’s still cool to play spot-the-homage. Some are pretty obvious - the tutorial character Sam Schieffer with his night vision goggles recalls Splinter Cell – but some are a little more leftfield, like the 1-up mushroom decals carved into stone, the bombs in the shape of Bomberman’s head, etc. The list goes on, and it kinda makes the game worth playing.
Flawed, certainly, but not bad, XXL 2 is a decent example of a mostly-dead genre and I’m glad that Microids’ remaster has made it available once again. That said, I expect it to sell about six copies outside of Europe. I’m delighted to own one of them, by Toutatis.