“Xavier and his X-men wanted us to build bridges between man and mutant! But we can fly and swim and leap! We will have no need for bridges!”
-Magneto, X-Men #146
One of the arcades I frequented as a pre-teen was a place called Tilt. Tucked away between a fast-food joint serving gyros and the restrooms, it was a place full of purple lights and a kind of haze as I recall, though I don’t think you were allowed to smoke in there. It was probably the mist of steam rising from the bodies tightly packed in its corridors cooling off in the AC after coming in from the hot Hawaii summertime. I used to spend hours in that arcade till I ran out of money and resorted to scrounging about under the machines and wires looking for lose tokens. Got kicked out once or twice for that.
Whenever a new game was introduced to the pack, it was a main event. The older teenagers would swamp it, lining up their quarters to reserve their spots for the new fighters: Street Fighter, Children of the Atom, Darkstalkers, Samurai Showdown, Marvel vs Capcom, or Primal Rage, depending on the year. The younger wimps and waifs would have to wait until the hype died down and retreat back to grubbing for tokens off of their tired aunts and grandmothers. But imagine my joy when I walked in one day to find this bad boy sitting there with not one, not two, but six joysticks mounted on the front of its cabinet?
Colorful yellow and red letters labeled the game X-Men, but I recognized it from the characters emblazoned on its flanks. They were some of my favorites from contemporary cartoons. Three kids were already on it, but there was room for one more. I deposited my $5, grabbed my tokens, pushed one into the slot and took my place alongside Wolverine, Cyclops and Storm as Nightcrawler and made one of the best arcade memories I’ve ever had.
X-Men is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up developed by Konami and based on the mutant superhero team published by Marvel comics. It was later re-released in HD on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in 2010, which got me that moment of “Hey! I remember this game!” The HD version boasts smoothed graphics, three difficulty modes, online play, Japanese and English subtitles, and scoreboards with the capacity for six players at once. Fast paced gameplay and tons of on-screen enemies make for a high-tension race to not get stuck with Dazzler as your character.
Actually you can choose from six of Marvel’s most popular X-Men: visually-challenged Cyclops, bad-boy Wolverine (everyone’s first choice), weather forecaster Storm… uh… Dazzler (hrm?), Nightcrawler… the blue guy, and Colossus, that one big, silver guy from Deadpool. Nerd slap your way through intimidating and memorable enemies worthy of the X-Men like… walls, stationary turrets, rocks, flowers, bees, and scores of shoddily-recolored Sentinels. And beyond that grande burrito of pizazz, there are the bosses who await you at the end of each level with names ripped straight out of the comics like the iconic Magneto… and Juggernaut, and Sabertooth, and… Wendigo (sp?)… and Egyptian mummies, and another giant robot… and the guy with the flamethrowers on level one, and… the Blob? Guess it wasn’t Stan Lee’s best day. Ugh… too bad this isn’t a Batman game.
In addition to the standard punching, kicking and flying kicks, each playable character has their own special mutant power: Cyclops can fire his optic blasts. Wolverine slashes the air and creates a shockwave. Storm summons a cyclone. Dazzler (who’s that?) throws a big pink fireball. Colossus releases an energy aura. Nightcrawler uses his teleportation to… uh knock people down, I guess? Okay, so teleportation would be pretty useless otherwise.
This is mostly a pretty standard slug-fest with a lot of satisfying features, like the X-Men themselves (if you can remember that theme song from the animated series, you’re awesome). The big appeal is the number of playable characters that can jump in simultaneously whereas most brawlers from the era could only field one to four at once. The punching noises are also pretty gratifying and you can even kick the enemies when they fall over on the ground. Yay for being a superhero.
The 8-Bit Review
Having the two screens in the original arcade cabinet and then later the widescreen for the HD release really makes this an in-your-face experience. The candied colors and detailed sprites and environments make the visuals really pop. There’s quite a bit of animation on the characters and they never seem stiff. The visuals also line up really well with the action that’s going on and they sync fine with the noises of explosions and characters getting hit or dying.
The soundtrack is pretty average, typical for the early 90’s with heavy bass and techno sounds borrowed from the previous decade. It’s like it knows it’s a kid’s game and doesn’t care. The voice acting is atrocious with a tv game show announcer kind of timbre to it. It’s in no way helped by the laughable translation.
Yes. Give that man an Oscar for his delivery.
It’s tight. It’s quick and responsive. It’s X-Men. It’s also nothing particularly special or groundbreaking. Next.
The six-player simultaneous play meant no matter how crowded the game got in the arcades you could still jump in and join the fun. It’s fairly easy to die too so that makes you’re turn come up even quicker.
Three primary colored buttons on the original meant you could pick up the game easily. Grandparents ask “Which button is kick?” Here, it’s laid out grandpa-friendly. Oh, and the buttons are Superman’s colors. Better get on that, DC lawyers. Add it to your overflowing case file on Marvel plagiarism.
Because the game is so short and so accessible but also so visually splendid and fun, X-Men is an easy choice to come back to for any kid who had some time to kill. Or if you happen to have six friends over at once (good luck with that, nerds) you can grab your controllers and get a quick game going until somebody gets bored. The HD re-release comes with trophy support, so there’s that, too, but once the punching and kicking gets old, you’ll be reaching for something else.
It’s not the most innovative title there ever was. You punch. But, it rocks what its got.
My Personal Grade: 6/10
X-Men is a fun game from a time when arcades were cool places to be, before they started requiring memberships just to play games with bill slots instead of quarter slots. Unfortunately it’s no longer available on the PSN, so you might have to be a little more creative if you want to play it. Glad I bought my digital copy when I did.
Aggregated Score: 6.6