Tagged: X-Men

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.

Marvel Games Retrospective 1: Marvel’s X-Men

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.

Cyclops, with his mouth open wide.

The title screen for Marvel’s X-Men, which features this lovely portrait of Cyclops.

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!

Mxmen_002

At least they let you practice! And they don’t call it the Danger Room. Just practice.

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.

Mxmen_003

The visuals of the game basically look as if the game had glitched up, and everyone in the art department just threw up their arms and went with it.

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.

Mxmen_005

The “Battle Inside Of A Living Starship,” which aims to be gross with all of its living pustules and intestines and whatnot.

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.