Ever since Giant Bomb did that Quick Look of Boulder Dash: 30th Anniversary I’ve been feeling the feels for the Atari PC and NES versions that my sister and I used to play. It’s taken way longer than I planned but I finally finished a new videOST series for the game’s soundtrack and recorded a little session with the game full of stories and memories. I also managed to finish the game without an excessive amount of cheating. It’s the first time I can remember ever seeing (and hearing) the ending!
This is a first in a series where I reminisce on Marvel games that I have played throughout the years, and maybe even a few that I just recently had a chance to encounter all over again. This installment features my first Marvel game, and the most notorious of them all: Marvel’s X-Men, produced by LJN Games.
As one of the few human beings on earth actually spent the time to defeat this monstrosity of a game, I felt that I should at least give a few words upon how utterly and irredeemably bad this game is. I have to admit that when I first heard about the game, I was very excited as a child. Uncanny X-Men was one of my favorite comic books at the time, and so I couldn’t think of anything better than to play a game that let me be one of the X-Men. What I didn’t anticipate, however, was a strange isometric maze game with some slight shooting elements and a completely laughable melee combat system. Have you ever felt the need to hump your enemies as a superhero? Well, this is your perfect opportunity to do so!
There are many flaws in this game and paramount above them is the design. They chose to go isometric instead of just making a simple platform for God knows what reason, yet whoever designed and programmed this game wasn’t competent enough to create an isometric style game. (And I know– some people will say, “but the game is supposed to be top down!” Not with the skewed angles it’s not!) The game is completely geared towards whoever can shoot the most. Cyclops can shoot, Iceman can shoot, and Storm can shoot, but the remaining X-Men that are in the game have no capability to do that whatsoever. In order to attack the enemies, Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler have no choice but to punch the enemies which of course does not look like punching, looks more like the aforementioned humping motion. It’s partly due to completely to technical limitation, but also because you know, why bother making a better game? You have all this money from licensing from Marvel, why bother make anything actually good? It’s worse if you realize that there are three frames of walking animation and only two frames of fighting for the melee fighters.
So, to the disappointment of children like me everywhere, this game turned out to be horrifically terrible. The enemies are for the most part blocks, snakes, and circles, the bosses are both hard and easy to beat, there are too many places where there are walking hazards, and the fact that they try to force two players in a one player game while the AI is almost nonexistent is too ridiculous for words. I would say that it’s unplayable, but somehow, someway, when I was a kid, I beat the game.
The way you realize you beat the game is to press start and select a lot. Because the game is full screen, and no one wanted to mess with that, the health, item, and score markers are all on the pause screen. It proves more frustrating with the knowledge that the health evaporates quickly, and that keys and disks have to be collected. Select is also an important button because the player switches between characters this way; and while that is not bad in itself, the scripting for the second character is rudimentary and awful (don’t call it AI; there’s no intelligence whatsoever).
On top of all of that, there’s a certain trick that you have to use in order to beat the game. The last level is not immediately accessible. Not only do you have to beat the four previous chapters, but you have to pay attention to the red text whenever you actually beat a level, and you don’t even get the red text all the time. If you look on the label of the cartridge itself (which is impossible if you’re just playing the ROM of the game) you find out that the method in order to get the last level is printed at the bottom of the copyright.
So with full knowledge of all the limitations, controls, and secret button combinations in mind, and me somehow, someway, having beaten the all the previous levels of the game at some point, I actually had beaten the game about a year after owning it. There is more curveball, after beating Magneto –which is a task about as easy as beating any of the other bosses– a timebomb which forces you to run to the start of the game as quickly as possible. The best way to beat the game is to use Nightcrawler (since his teleport is essentially no clipping mode), hump Magneto to death, and then run through every single obstacle you can, collecting every single health item you can in order to do that, and then reach the beginning of the level all over again without the time running out. It’s not an easy feat, mostly due to the fact that the game is so bad, but for some miraculous reason, I was able to do that a couple of times. Of course I was also able to beat the game as Wolverine, but my memories are hazy as to how I was able to do that. And here is the first mention of the fact that it is utterly ridiculous of an idea to beat Magneto with Wolverine.
Now, in the later years, there’s been quite a few Marvel games that have successfully used that isometric perspective. Two of them have even been X-Men games. But this game, either through laziness or incompetence, is only worth the footnote of being one of the first console games to feature the X-Men. These days, it’s pretty much only worth to play the game for 30 seconds to realize how bad it is, and then put it down forever, and realizing that the Konami X-Men game was released around the same time. This is not me bashing on the NES, but rather bashing the abilities of LJN programmers, or Acclaim as they actually were, that didn’t really put any effort into making the game enjoyable for kids who wanted to play as their favorite X-Men.
But, the past is the past, it’s not really worth being bitter about how bad this game was. There were actually worse games out there, and like I said, I was able to beat it more than once. So for what it was worth, at least it existed.
Last night I disassembled what I think might be my childhood NES. Much more yellow than I remember, my Dad was still holding onto it and a box of controllers, RF cables and power bricks. I picked it up from him a few months ago but it wasn’t until I set up the new Capture Cart™ this past weekend that I finally decided to see if the thing worked.
It didn’t. I got a series of colorful screens from Super Mario Bros. 2 and Batman looked mostly fine except for a weird ghost layer of pixels, like the image was being partially duplicated. It looked awesome, but not right. So I took to Instagram with a video of Batman and got the suggestion to clean the pins. Then I… wait, which pins? The cartridge? That’s not the problem…
A quick Google search led me to Dan Mahlendorf’s guide on refurbishing an NES. For as many mods and tributes to the NES that I’ve seen over the years I’ve never opened one up and looked around inside. Not surprisingly it’s pretty simple inside, had a few abandoned cobwebs in the corners and was loaded with screws. Screws on the case, screws on the RF shield, screws on the cartridge housing.
Finally I was down to the pin connector which I needed to remove by bending the circuit board ever so gently enough to slide it off. As the guide says, it was a little tricky but I got it off, cleaned it out and started examining the pins. They all look to be at the same height and are still springy but one of them on the left side is maybe missing a prong. I did what I could to bend the rest of it back up, struggled for a while getting the connector back onto the circuit board and dashed upstairs to see if it helped.
It did. Super Mario Bros. 2 works fine now but maybe glitches out hard one out of a dozen times? I only saw it once but it was a glorious moment when Peach hit a Shy Guy and the game world around their sprites deteriorated into a colorful, noisy Hell. I imagine it has destroyed everything they thought they knew about their world but it’s a bonus for me getting to watch the NES circuit bend itself at random.
And now I’ve got an NES that works so I could justify buying some games. I’m only interested in collecting complete packages but the next time I’m at the shops I might pick up some cheap cartridges.