Category: Feature

Any kind of post that is unique to GameLuv.

Marvel Games Retrospective 3: X-Men by Konami

This is the third in my series of reminiscing on Marvel games of the past and present (although almost three years late!), and we’re going to revisit the mighty mutants of Marvel, the Uncanny X-Men, in their first arcade game! [Read Part 1 and Part 2 here]

X-Men was a unique title in that it had three cabinets available for play: there was a two player cabinet, a four player cabinet, and a massive six player, two screen behemoth. While multiple screen arcade games weren’t new, as Darius and The Ninja Warriors had multiple screens, X-Men’s six player count was definitely something that hadn’t quite been tried before and wasn’t quite duplicated afterwards. The game was released in 1992 and was an instant hit in the arcades, a time in which arcades in the US had been revitalized thanks to the success of Street Fighter II.

Wolverine is pretty sure this place is gonna get real crowded real soon.

Panorama!!!

The source of the arcade game was inspired by the 1989 animated pilot titled “Pryde of the X-Men,” wherein Kitty Pryde is introduced to the team in quite a hit-the-ground-running kind of fashion. It featured Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Dazzler, and of course, Wolverine, against the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants led by Magneto, taking the fight all the way to Asteroid M. Now, retrospectively, “Pryde of the X-Men” isn’t very good. There’s a lot wrong with it. And for some bizarre reason, Wolverine is given an Australian accent, which may or may not have foretold the future where Hugh Jackman was to faithfully take the claws for about 17 years. But if you’re a Marvel loving kid waking up in the wee hours of the morning in 1989 to watch the Marvel Action Universe, a syndicated block of cartoons featuring reruns of old Spider-Man (And sometimes His Amazing Friends) episodes and, for some reason, Robocop, seeing that was a very pleasant and very welcome surprise.

A couple years before that whole Adamantium snafu....

Wolverine against Magneto??? That’s crazy talk!!!

The art style in the game is very much influenced by that pilot, although with a slight anime touch, and it looked great as a result. Time has worn that away a little, but it still looks pretty good even if a bit sparse. The screen fills with enemies, explosions, and fire and it still keeps up with all the action. It was a step up from the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game in every way.

The gameplay is simple. Like TMNT, you fight in a wide plane in all eight directions. You get three buttons: attack, jump, and mutant power. You can combine attack and jump, but the mutant power is a little tricky. You get a limited number of them, which only refill by one at the end of a stage, and on top of that, using one will drain your health by four points. And that’s the kicker: this game is hard, designed to do nothing but suck down your quarters like nobody’s business, and unless you’re bringing a full posse, you are inevitably going to spend a few dollars on this game. Forget about going it alone, too. Shawn and I did beat it in the arcade once, with a random third player, and I’m pretty sure by the end of it we were all tapped out of money. The Japanese version is a little more forgiving, with the insertion of health packs and bonus items, but not by much.

Kitty's going to be fine. It's the Master Mold who should be worried!

The game even features some characters not featured in “Pryde of the X-Men,” like Mystique, the Wendigo, the Master Mold, and Bonebreaker of the Reavers.

Of all the characters, Wolverine was of course the best melee character and Colossus had the best mutant power, so people went to play those two first. Cyclops and Nightcrawler were average, and Storm was fine in a pinch, but why does she have to fight with a staff? Nobody wanted to be Dazzler though. Dazzler was lame, they said. Why play as Dazzler? Well, I’m going to shock everyone here and say that Dazzler is an OK character. Sure, she started out as a rollerskating disco queen, and sure, she was basically thrown away after the 1991 X-Men comic reboot, but there is nothing wrong with Dazzler. In fact, in the game, she even has a neat flip throw that gets her out of some situations and her mutant power is not bad when used efficiently. Would the world have preferred Jean Grey, Rogue, or Psylocke? Sure, but they weren’t in “Pryde of the X-Men.” Dazzler is fine.

Alison Blaire is blowing up the charts, her new single is fire

Dazzler’s power is to turn sound into hard light. She can handle herself.

Another thing that I should mention is the sound. Not just the music, which was really good arcade style music, but the voice samples throughout the game are pretty much legendary. The game starts off with a short narration and then after Charles Xavier asks you to “Go and SAVE the CITY!” we are off! Now, it is highly doubtful that any of the voice talent from the “Pryde of the X-Men” were available for the game in the same way that some of the X-Men animated series cast was used for Capcom’s later X-Men: Children of the Atom arcade game, but the voices are pretty great. One of the more fun things to do in the game is to interrupt the level boss as they make their introductory speech. Memories of “Pyro will—ugh!” and “Nothing moves the—” are pretty fresh in my mind and always fun to replicate. Of course, everyone remembers Magneto’s “Welcome to die!” and it always gives us reason to laugh while we punch him in his face. Or, better yet, use Colossus’ mutant power and get him to yell a very satisfying roar. This game was very loud, and since arcade operators were not shy to turn the volume up on the cabinet, all the explosions and yells drove home how epic this game felt.

"Welcome to die?" How about I welcome my fist to your nose, buddy?!

“Welcome to die?” How about I welcome my fist to your nose, buddy?!

X-Men was released at the height of the battle between the Genesis and the SNES and everyone at the time wondered why it never came to consoles. Turtles In Time made a very nice SNES game, so you could imagine that a little work on Konami’s part might make for a decent translation, right? While that could have been possible, the problem came down to the same situation that has mucked up a lot of Marvel’s properties throughout the years: licensing. The X-Men were already licensed for home consoles by Acclaim through its LJN—yes, the same LJN that produced the execrable Marvel’s X-Men on the NES—and Flying Edge labels, and they had just released a terrible game called Spider-Man and the X-Men In Arcade’s Revenge; the next year would see the really good Genesis X-Men game by Sega, and in 1994, Capcom’s X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse would appear on the SNES, leaving no room for Konami to port their title.

As time went on, people took it as a given that the only way to play Konami’s X-Men was to emulate it through MAME, but in the unlikely year of 2010, it finally reached home consoles via the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. It even saw a release on the iOS and Android! Ported by Backbone Entertainment, the game featured internet multiplayer (only four players though!), the usual graphical options for emulation, and the inclusion of the Japanese version just in case you wanted to experience some of those power-ups they took out of the American version. It was pretty good, but by 2010, gamers who had decided action fighters were long past their sell-by date wrote it off (and many of these same people wax nostalgic about the Simpsons arcade game, also made by Konami, which is something I don’t understand at all). At some point, between Konami’s retreat from the gaming sphere and Marvel’s insane licensing situations, it was delisted from all services, and as of 2017 it leaves MAME, once again, as the only place to play it.

You left Jean Grey for who???

Ten years after this game, these two would hook up.

Is Konami’s X-Men dated? Yes, of course. But is it still fun? Yes, there’s lots of fun you can have with it. Bring some friends together; it’s not actually a terribly long game and you’ll be immensely satisfied once you beat the stuffing out of Magneto. Or better yet, find a young kid who’s just getting into superheroes and have them experience it. They’ll love it.

And stop hating on Dazzler.

Shawn’s Note: Sure enough, it still pleased the nephews back at Christmas. It’s colorful and kinetic enough that even without knowing who the X-Men are they were having fun. At one point they unexpectedly got into a fight over who could put in the most credits though. Explaining arcade games might be the hardest part about playing it with them.

Achieving: 200 Miles followed quickly by a Satisfying Death

I’d been working my way towards Mile 200 in The Flame in the Flood since January but after a hospital visit, weeks of feeling terrible and then a Disney vacation I didn’t get to finish it off until just this past weekend. There are 6 parts in total if you want to watch a longer leg of the journey but it really wraps up nicely in the final episode above.

After hitting the 200th Mile *DING* I decided to end my run as spectacularly as possible by dying from 10 simultaneous afflictions… amid a bear attack *DING*. Then I remembered that there’s a Director’s Commentary mode so I started a new game, listened to some early dev talk and managed one last Trophy for staying on the river for 10 miles without stopping *DING*.

Achieving: Tales of Pointless Self Reward retold in brief posts whenever we feel like it.

Catching up with Jambo! Safari after 17 Years

Earlier in the week I recounted my sub-par experiences with pinball during our vacation to Disney World. But just a few feet away from those janky machines was one of the best surprises of the whole trip: Sega’s Jambo! Safari. I probably haven’t touched the game since 2000 and at the time it wasn’t as appealing as Crazy Taxi, Emergency Call Ambulance or any of Sega’s other wild arcade racing games. I may have played it five or six times in my life but just recently I’d been thinking about it more intently.

This also reminded me of the pseudo-port/sequel that Sega released on the Wii in 2009. Jambo! Safari: Animal Rescue has some of the same gameplay as the original but it’s also inflicted with Wii-itis: the compulsion to throw in kid-friendly motion controls and minigames. On top of that it looks like a slow paced zoo sim that requires you to pet, feed and manage your animals. Look, I’m just here to powerslide around Africa… at least that’s all that I remembered about the arcade original.

The machine we found at our resort was in the streamlined stand-up cabinet which made managing the brake and gas pedals a little tricky and uncomfortable for me. Nevertheless I was happy to dive in and rediscover what set Jambo! apart from the rest. “It’s like car fishing,” Katy and I agreed. Jambo! Safari takes the race-the-clock design of Crazy Taxi and mixes it with Sega Bass Fishing of all things.

After you rope an animal you have to manage a tension meter to wear them down until you can finally line up a second shot to net them. If it weren’t for the timer it would be painfully easy but as the seconds tick away you push to be faster which brings out the game’s hilarious shenanigans. Grappling a large animal or powersliding too sharply can send your jeep barreling into comical spins. As animals elude you they’ll throw up a mocking emote while the broken English text chides you.

Some of the “Final Research” missions are coin-gobblingly sleazy if you aren’t ready for them but overall it was a surprise and a treat to play again after nearly 17 years. Check out the 2-part video above for an overview of the machine that we found and a few brief rounds with this unsung Sega classic.

Pinball at Disney World in 2017 isn’t so Magical

I found the one thing that's completely not magical at Walt Disney World: the pinball.

I found the one thing that’s completely not magical at Walt Disney World: the pinball. For starters, the parks are practically devoid of arcades now. The shop attached to Space Mountain that once had a small assortment of machines is now 100% merchandise. With Pizza Planet at Hollywood Studios being transformed into PizzeRizzo there are even fewer places to find some games at the parks, not to mention pinball.

Our home-away-from-home this time was Port Orleans French Quarter whose tiny, misshapen arcade had one pinball machine, TRON Legacy. We were killing some time waiting for our bus back to the airport so I finally gave it a shot. Almost immediately my ball got wedged in one of the side lanes and the machine had to go through its auto-shaking routine three times before it was finally released. Also, any time “Shoot Again” was active it would return multiple balls so I usually had 2 or 3 in play at once.

Earlier in the trip we stopped over at Port Orleans Riverside, a much larger resort that’s basically attached to French Quarter and shares similar Louisianian theming. Their arcade was three times the size of French Quarter’s and had 4 Stern tables lined up in the back for what amounted to $0.25 per play. The first one I played was Indiana Jones and I knew it was going to be a catastrophic game as soon as my credit activated the table.

The right flipper was not only super weak but it would constantly get lodged in place. Only the ball hitting it would cause it to drop back down. Making any specific shot from the right hand side was more impossible than usual for me. Somehow I still managed to get a multiball which resulted in a satisfying explosion of chrome balls from the Ark of the Covenant. Similar to TRON though, all of the balls were returned after multiball ended for the remainder of my game. Trying to get a ball back into play with 6 of them stacked up was kind of more fun than the table itself.

Sega's Jambo! Safari was a great surprise at Port Orleans Riverside

I didn’t get to check for pinball at any other resorts on this trip but after these experiences it would probably have end with more disappointment. “Ramshackle” is the word I’d use to describe the pinball at Disney World’s resorts. As entertaining as the janky behavior was I would have preferred to fail at pinball on my own terms. The highlight of the trip as far as gaming was concerned definitely goes to Sega’s Jambo! Safari which I haven’t played in … *does the math* … wow, over 15 years! I’ve got some video of it that I’ll hopefully have posted later this week.

A Few Thoughts on Nintendo Switch Cases and Configurations

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The backs of Nintendo Switch cases are going to be so very, very busy. With the freedom to “play it your way” comes the need to inform consumers of all their options. The ‘Number of players’ and ‘supported controllers’ icons are commonplace but now we’ll have three more just to depict the various console configurations. Alongside the boilerplate safety notices and tri-lingual game descriptions it should make for an awfully garish sight. No wonder the front of the box is so simple in comparison.

The above image isn’t from the back of a box though, it’s from Fast RMX’s website so the final iconography could be more succinct. Nevertheless, all that information has to be present and will eat up even more space on boxes for marketers to tell you anything about the actual game. It’s not a big deal as there’s a whole internet out there to explain what a game is like but with most news on the Switch these days, this little tidbit raise more questions.

012017-switchicons2

It’s been taken for granted that all games would support all three Switch configurations (TV, Tabletop and Handheld modes) but could some games simply refuse to work on the go? With the alleged performance drop when the Switch is undocked could some games run so poorly that Nintendo would require them to disable on-the-go play?

If there’s a performance edge to be gained by prohibiting undocked play then at least a few studios will use it. If that gamble pays off — or if demand just isn’t there for portable play thanks to the battery life —  I could see the majority of Switch games going “TV Mode” exclusive. It’s just a thought, I’m sure there are details out there already in subreddits and forums but I wanted to throw it out there in the crazy chance that I’m onto something.