Tagged: Wolverine

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.


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.

Done Playing: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Xbox 360)

For real promo for the game's initial release

Arguably one of the more playable movie tie-ins so far, X-Men Origins: Wolverine serves as a companion piece to 2009’s Summer blockbuster flick of the same name. With scrappy Hugh Jackman and the oddly-cast Liev Schreiber in tow the game outpaces its cinematic cousin on every level; violence, running time, comic book cameos, gore, angst, blood, and convoluted plots for revenge and quadruple-crossed backstabs. Did I mention that it’s violent too?

Peculiarly M-rated next to the movie’s tame PG-13 content, Wolverine is a dead ringer for Tomonobu Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden in both its bloodletting and its tough love. Challenging even on the easiest setting, it takes hours of perilous brawling with machete-wielding jungle mutants and gun-toting henchmen before you have access to Logan’s full complement of abilities and things start to even out. The game plays pretty standard with weak and strong attacks, a grab, power moves restricted by a Fury meter and a few dodge/counter abilities. It’s the game’s violence and speed combined with Mortal Kombat approved death-arenas that help you really feel like the classic, unstoppable Wolverine.

Once I got the hang of things I could routinely pull off a string of improvised kills almost without thinking about it. A four-hit combo sends an enemy (and Wolverine) airborne where a throw smashes them back to the ground with enough force that they bounce up. I grab them by the foot and pummel their body into the ground before doing a “rising upper” move to launch them skyward once again and then — after a slow-mo power punch — across the room and, almost magically, onto some deadly spike or into a painful contraption. All this is accompanied by the highest quality viscera; sprays of blood, dismembered limbs, floppy ragdoll physics. Logan himself is a technical triumph with layers of flesh, muscle and Adamantium-coated bones peeking through and regenerating in real-time as he takes (and avoids) damage.

As empowering as clearing out room after room of mutants, robots, and elite troopers is, the game hits some low points repeatedly. Platform jumping, ledge shimmying, and rope climbing break up the good stuff frequently. It’s no different than any other game only Logan moves so slowly in these sections that it’s hard to accept that he wouldn’t just flip out and cut a hole in a wall instead of courteously scaling up and around it. Raven also throws in more than a few puzzles and while they’re simple find-the-key or move-that-thing-to-make-a-platform diversions it seems way too level headed for Weapon X.

That other stuff is a bummer, it’s kinda boring, and sometimes you’ll jump wrong and have to climb back up but what bugs me the most is the level design.The “optimization of 3D space” was novel at first — one path eventually leading you over and around the same area later in the level — but it happens with almost every space you enter. Some “arenas” you’ll criss-cross once or twice while other spaces you’ll see repeatedly from three or four different angles. It feels cheap, like one of Activision’s fun-crushing tactics to make the most game out of the least amount of geometry. This constant criss-crossing is what adds hours onto your total play time and it’s usually the slow-going platforming/puzzle solving tedium, not the fun slicey-slicey stuff.

I’d say by about hour 7/12 that I put into the initial playthrough I was ready for it to be over. With the confusing ping-ponging from “a not too distant future” and “a mission in Africa several years earlier” finally sorted out I thought I was done. Suddenly I’m riding The Blob around a grocery store, chasing Gambit through a Louisiana casino palace, abusing half-finished Sentinels, and — WTF!? — more flashbacks to Africa?! By the time I reached the legit climax I was underwhelmed, expecting it to just keep going. When the credits started to roll it was a total shoulder-shrugger.

Once back to the title screen, however, I found myself immediately checking for un-achieved Achievements and diving back into specific Chapters. The combat is definitely the best part and the slow evolution of your abilities (and their satisfyingly violent animations) provides more reward than the guest shots or plotlines. I still haven’t seen the movie but I can’t imagine it being much more entertaining than this so if the film let you down don’t write this off just because it shares some source material; it’s another perfect long-weekend rental.