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X-Men (NES) artwork

X-Men (NES) review


"WELCOME TO DIE"


You know what kind of game X-Men on NES should've been? A side-scrolling platformer. Spare me your complaints about how that move would've been predictable or cliche. Imagine an 8-bit side scroller where you switch between a few different Marvel mutants, each with their own power, strengths and weaknesses. Yeah, I realize such a title would just be Little Samson with comic book trappings, but hell, that doesn't sound bad at all. Even if this hypothetical game turned out to be mediocre, it would've been a major step up from what we got instead: a buggy, broken, unplayable collection of puzzling design choices foisted upon us by the notorious LJN.

Case in point, the fact that this is a top-down co-op action title...

I at no point thumbed through an X-Men comic and imagined Professor X's students running around wrecked city streets in a Zelda-esque perspective while goofy robots and God-knows-what ambled toward them. Yet, that's what we got: Cyclops and company against angry-eyed snakes, clawless crabs, murderous butterflies, chubby men in gimp suits who bop up and down, cartoony mice, disembodied sets of teeth logged in the ground... Pretty much any wacky thing you can think of that has nothing to do with any Marvel IP found its way into this product.

Meanwhile, you get your pick of six featured X-Men: the aforementioned leader, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Nightcralwer and Iceman. Of those superheroes, three of them rely strictly on melee, while the others fire projectiles. This is helpful to keep in mind, because those who don't possess long-range attacks (i.e. Wolverine, Colossus and Nightcrawler) are completely useless. Not only are they slow, but their attacks leave them vulnerable to constant collision damage.

And that's not the hell of it, either. Enemies bump you backwards any time they slam into you, and you get no invincibility frames. So they just keep body-checking you indefinitely, or worse, pushing you into their group of friends, where you will be passed around like a joint until you explode. In other words, short-range characters are nothing more than sitting ducks.

Honestly, that works out just fine, because at the beginning of each level you need to select two characters: one to control and one to kill off. Since it could be considered a felony to enlist one of your friends to play with you, you're pretty much stuck with the computer controlling your partner about as effectively as a drunk toddler. While you're off acclimating yourself with the somewhat stiff control response and somehow managing to kill things with eye lasers, your AI-operated buddy runs around aimless, kicking at the empty air in front of him. Occasionally, he gets stuck at the bottom of the screen, where he runs back and forth randomly attacking adversaries that aren't there. When that happens, you won't be able to progress because both players need to advance in order to press onward. So basically, the sooner your friend pushes up daisies, the better.

Sure, you could press "select" and assume control of your confused ally, but 1) bothering to do so is a waste of time, as you'll end up switching back and forth throughout the entire game, and 2) your long-range partner might end up dead instead, a victim of faulty AI. Trust me, just let Logan, Piotr or Kurt perish. I know it'll break your heart, but you've got to rip that Band-Aid off eventually. No, you won't get them back in level two. Dead mutants remain that way for good.

You might think this experience is only going to improve once your pal expires, but that would be a foolish assumption. Each level is a convoluted maze brimming with indestructible traps and dead ends. Some of these obstacles, like walls that materialize out of nowhere, instantly kill you if you're not careful. Sadly, such life-saving measures don't come easily, because foes crawl out of every crevice to knock you backward into hazards all the time.

There is no intellectual process when you advance through each stage, either. You wander, destroy things and hunt for staircases or teleporters that take you to other areas that might allow you to progress further. More often than not, you'll end up meandering aimlessly without finding any sort of objective, not realizing that one enemy somewhere amidst all this madness holds a key. Once you locate that item, you're free to roam onto the next smattering of arbitrary rooms and obstacle courses, repeating the process afresh.

Unless, of course, you get stuck in a piece of environment and killed, which is not an uncommon event. If that doesn't inspire you to quit, nothing will.

After countless attempts and gallons of your sanity, you might get lucky and encounter a boss that almost resembles the supervillains from the books. For instance, Boomerang shows up, looking like Mega Man from the US cover art of his debut game, apparently tossing cooked spaghetti noodles at you. Later on, you also cross paths with a burly, naked man that I assume is Sabretooth. As with your expendable partners, bosses mosey about randomly, shooting at arbitrary points on the map. These battles should be the climax of any section of the campaign, even in a terrible, janky piece like this. Unfortunately, they're inadvertently comical and horribly underwhelming, and not even somewhat worth slogging through broken mechanics and slapdash level design to experience.

Eventually, though, you have to step off of this train wreck. No matter how much you dig X-Men, no amount of love, respect or casual appreciation is worth forcing yourself to suffer through miles of tedious mazes, broken AI and abysmal combat. You have to wonder why LJN didn't go a safer route when developing this title, and program either a platformer or a brawler instead of a top-down action release. Maybe they were just trying to think outside the box because those genres were too crowded, and that's admirable. After all, games in over-represented categories tend to be forgotten as the years pass. X-Men took a different approach, and it will be remembered for years to come, much like a traumatic nightmare...

0.5/5

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Featured community review by JoeTheDestroyer (April 30, 2020)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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