Even though there was quite a mixed reaction over XXL, most critics and fans agreed that this style of game had potential. Open area brawlers had always been what suited Astérix the most and with the ground work having been laid down in XXL the year before, étranges Libellules were back once again with a promise of bigger battles and greater adventures. Though the memorable faces would not be limited to the universe created by Goscinny and Uderzo this time around.
Panoramix the druid calls in the other druid chiefs to a meeting to speak about the new threat that the Romans pose to Gaul with the invention of new kind of super soldier. The other druids show little fear when hearing of these plans and ask Panoramix why he would be so concerned over the Roman’s upcoming plan since they have never been successful in the past. The reason is simple – Panoramix is the mastermind behind the new plans. The Romans take the druids captive with the help of the traitor and César himself orders them sent away and thanks Panoramix for his help. When word reaches the Gaul village of what has happened, the village chief Abraracourcix is shocked at the reveal of Panoramix’s betrayal. But Astérix is not convinced the druid would simply switch sides and help the Romans. As Astérix and Abraracourcix argue, the mysterious defected Roman spy Sam Shieffer appears to alert the Gauls of the Roman’s plans. He reveals the the captured druids are held in Las Vegum, a resort filled with games and activities built on César’s orders. While Shieffer can’t answer why Panoramix has changed allegiance, he tells the heroes that Las Vegum will be the place to find all the answers they need. Astérix, Obélix and Idéfix sets off once more to take on the Romans and save the druids, and most importantly find out what has happened to Panoramix.
When released, the game marketed itself as the world’s first video game parody, featuring characters and locations directly inspired by other video game greats. Few seconds will pass before you see familiar things that catches your attention, from names to likenesses. Even the box art uses inspiration from GTA.
The game world is filled with references left and right scattered all over in different ways. You find places named things such as the Fatalitum, meet characters named Larry Craft and jump on star themed pinball bumpers to reach higher places. Every turn is filled with some kind of reference to virtually any kind of game from Space Invaders to Super Mario Sunshine. Las Vegum is an huge open hub world where the player wanders around and areas are split into 6 sections: Lutetia, WCW, LuckSore, Little Venetia, Pirate Island, and SeizeUs Palace. Each of these sections contain multiple areas within that creates some truly huge levels with intricate puzzles and massive battles. It’s not just video game references that can be found within the game, but also several movies and even sports.
Like XXL, this sequel also has a heavy emphasis on co-op, though this feature was given a severe boost in accessibility. Unlike the first game where swapping was decided by the CPU or done by entering a swap field found on certain locations, XXL2 allows the player to hot tag at any given moment. The puzzles found in XXL2 are modeled to work with the individual characters attributes. Astérix is small, fast and can reach through tight spaces, jump onto higher ledges and use magic potions to plow through legions. Obélix has his signature strength, but can also be shot out of cannons and lift big boulders as well as break iron doors. The rope-pulled air carts make their return though with simplified controls for more enjoyable results. The control scheme overall has been simplified by relying less on combos and rather adding new standard attacks. Now you can use a secondary attack that stuns enemies, allowing you to grab them or position yourself better in the fights. The battles you encounter are much better paced and executed, usually being against 60-70 opponents at once coming in waves. Winning these fights are essential as they unlock doors and areas. There is a new reward system found in the game that allows the player to win prizes by performing the onscreen command on the enemy that has the flashing gift icon. Unlike the first game where the combos had to be purchased, the are simply gained after each boss fight in XXL2.
The enemies are also much more varied than those found in XXL. It was maybe this aspect of the game that gave it the most attention when it was released. In addition to the standard ensemble of Roman soldiers, legionnaires and Egyptian saber wielders, the game also boosts a cast of various foes disguised in garb which looks awfully similar to those of famous video game characters. There are Italian men in red and blue squirting you with water, blue spiked helmet guards using golden rings as weapon, even a dark haired martial artist who sends out wave motion projectiles and even fly off screen in slow motion. Almost every area will reveal their own kind of video game themed enemy that you will start encountering throughout the game. It’s an interesting contrast to see the heroes of all the video games we remember being parodied into being enemies in this game.
The locations are now much more layered and interesting with less reliance on open empty areas to fight, which allows for some old school puzzle exploration. Though XXL was a rather large game, XXL2 puts it to shame with a fully connected world through the Las Vegum hub and features little loading, being often masked by accessing a underground metro system that connects the areas and loads the new area while waiting for the lift. The puzzles still rely often on lighting torches, though now simply by punching the lantern instead of running around with a burning torch before it extinguishes. The air cart also returns with some simplified controls and also operating on its own, allowing Astérix to do some rotations to avoid ledges, walls or fetch items along the cord it runs on. There are also the new bomb puzzles where one of the heroes has to push a bomb across narrow passages or tight spaces with the danger being if it even so slightly touches a single wall or object, it will explode. With the push system controls and some clever level design, these puzzles give some great laughs. The bombs will look awfully familiar when you first see that they have cutesy face on them, very similar to another bomb oriented video game hero. The destructible walls also look quite familiar.
With so much going on on the play field, it’s quite easy to forget the storyline despite being unique compared to the many cookie cutter Astérix games out there. The story plays out through cut scenes, which still suffers from some voice acting issues, though it is much better than the first game. The two major setbacks are the camera and the boss fights. The camera doesn’t do a good job centering itself properly around the protagonist and especially during the sensitive guiding of the bombs, it’s extremely frustrating that going through a corridor or door will lead the camera to go loony and make it hard to see where exactly you’re going. The boss fights are just a waste of potential for the most part, and are incredibly uninspired. Astérix and Obélix must fight the mutated super soldiers by stunning them and knocking out their emblems mounted on their chests. The initial fights are rather interesting by using some good co-op moves to pull it off, it’s just that this is the only kind of boss you will meet, with very little variation. Even the last boss of the game is the exact same with very little addition to the showdown except a few color changes. With the video game parody thing the game has going, the boss fights had some great potential to make use of that, but instead what you get is something very uninspired.
XXL2 is full of easter eggs, secrets and unlockables. In each area, there are secret souvenir shops that can be found which will unlock different galleries and other secrets in the Souvenir menu. There are also 30 diamond helmets to be found, often hidden in secret rooms or outside of camera reach. These helmets unlock character galleries which allow you to go and look at the in-game models of each character found. You can also find casino machines all over the place which, at the price of a few helmets, will roll and give you a random item, providing that you win.
Reception for the game was again somewhat of a mixed bag, though not specifically for the game mechanics. It seems that the parody aspect of the game gave it attention beyond what was maybe expected and so many gamers, many of which were from countries without general knowledge of Astérix thought the game to be some kind of cheap knock off, using all these familiar faces as a selling card, but were confused to find a game that focuses on its own characters which most had no previous connection to. Fans of the franchise were mixed in that they felt the game lacked most of the common Astérix set pieces and seemed like a far fetched idea and an excuse to use the license, but if you look a bit deeper into what étranges Libellules you’d find that they actually used everything that Astérix would do in the albums and cartoons, but applied to the world of video games. Satire, humor, mystery and action is all found in this game and done in a way that makes for a very wholesome gaming experience. The only real shame is how secondary the story is when it actually had the potential to be a very interesting one. The music remains a bit out of place just like in XXL but since the locations are so ever changing, it doesn’t stick out as much. There are still moments of complete silence that feel very awkward however. The music was once again composed by LaForest.
Astérix & Obélix XXL 2: Mission: Ouifix – Nintendo DS / PlayStation Portable
A year after the initial release, a PSP and DS port was released under the name Astérix & Obélix XXL 2: Mission Ouifix (Wifix in English). The PSP version is essentially a graphically downgraded port of the PS2 version with the same soundtrack and voice acting being ported over. The new addition is the wireless co-op mode which lets a player tag up for some Roman bashing melee, a much appreciated addition that makes the PSP port worth the double dip. Also included is a new deathmatch mode, pitting characters against each other in an arena inspired by either Las Vegum or the Astérix universe and makes use of new weapons that can be picked up along with the standard hand to hand mechanics. This port was handled by étranges Libellules.
The DS port is quite different from the PS2 and PSP game. This version is a 3D beat em up played on a fixed 2D plane, making Astérix or Obélix always follow a linear path rather than the open hub found in the other games. The bottom screen shows all your stats, and tapping the picture of the secondary character does the swap. Most the puzzles have been either dumb down or modified to allow them to work on the 2D layout, and the air carts are now done by using the stylus and guiding it on a map that appears without touching the walls. It’s a pretty unremarkable port and quite clunky to play. The graphics are pretty jagged and suffers from quite a lack of detail due to the small screens. It does however allow for single cart multiplayer and has the deathmatch mode included.