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X-Men (Arcade) artwork

X-Men (Arcade) review


"Witness earthen bridges over lava fields lined with flame throwing hazards and enormous wasps that spew out a skull carved into a jungle cliff. Shotgun-toting Bonebreaker miniatures rove the inside of Magneto’s lair while stone statues carrying massive scythes animate deep in a ruin. While the dialog detracts from the production value – Magneto’s famous “Welcome to Die!” as he blasts apart a waterfall-side ledge just one egregious example – it is just as likely you find it kitschy as a fault. From crackling lightning in the backdrops to memorable scenes battling a crazed Nimrod as Kitty cowers bound behind an electromagnetic force field, the details go a long way in establishing the comic’s atmosphere."



Despite the popularity of the franchise – peaking as Marvel’s best selling comic in the early 1980s – the X-Men, a rotating line-up of mutant do-gooders given safe haven by leader Charles Xavier, gave hesitance as the comic expanded into other mediums. The NES game, The Uncanny X-Men, bombed under developer LJN in 1989, the same year the first attempt at an animated series exclusive to the universe, Pryde of the X-Men, was shunned after its pilot episode. We know better today, but at the time there was much reason to think Stan Lee’s creation might lack the crossover appeal of Spiderman or The Hulk. It is distressing to think of growing up without my mutant pals.

Nonetheless that pilot episode ran in syndication during the Marvel Action Universe hour, and must have captured the interest of developer Konami, who built its side-scrolling beat ‘em up around the characters and plot of said pilot. Meanwhile X-Men: The Animated Series, a second attempt and one of the most captivating cartoons of my childhood, debuted on the FOX Kids Saturday morning line-up for its first of five seasons, with brilliant production and larger than life heroes and villains bringing the vivacious series to life. The X-Men had leapt from the comic book pages and directly into the childhood memories of the seven-to-twelve age group, 1992 marking a wildly successful year for the franchise.

The appeal of the series may be its extravagance – whole teams of superheroes, ridiculously powerful supervillains, larger than life showdowns of mutant power versus mutant power against the backdrop of a world wary of both sides – and extravagance is a wonderful recipe for arcade success. Some X-Men cabinets were two-player. That’s modest. More often, they were four-player, right in line with the established norm. But for a lucky few, there was absolute awesomeness. There were six joysticks. There were eighteen buttons. There were separate quarter slots for each of the six playable characters and a doublewide monitor – no more would your character be punching henchmen lurking off-screen. If you ever played the six-man version, side by side with other players, the rest of the cabinets faded into the background that day. Those memories are as irreplaceable as sugar-fueled Saturday mornings spent watching Wolverine and Gambit and Rogue. No emulation can capture those days (although a prospective Playstation Network rerelease hopes).

Along for the adventure is the mutant sextet from Pryde, starring Colossus, Cyclops, Dazzler, Nightcrawler, Storm and Wolverine. The Master of Magnetism, Magneto, joined by a memorable cast of Marvel villains, has world-ending plans the X-Men must thwart, the story unfolding along the way as Professor Xavier and youthful member Kitty Pryde are kidnapped mid-game while the heroes are preoccupied protecting a city from Pyro and The Blob. The path to an inevitable confrontation ensues from there, through jungles and caves and asteroid bases, battling hundreds of armored henchmen (especially in six-player, where they approach in startling waves of up to a dozen).

With so much action populating the screen, X-Men is sometimes unrefined when it comes to avoiding quarter-munching deaths. There’s going to be cheap instances where no action from the player will avert damage amongst circling hoards and hectic melees, and powerful bosses like Blob and Juggernaut will power through attacks. But the trade-off is necessary to accommodate the six-player scheme, keeping all active and challenged and playing a necessary role. If the game weren’t “cheap” in some regard, the six-man onslaught provided by our heroes would be overwhelming for the enemy; if one talented gamer could effectively combat every obstacle, imagine six working in unison. Imagine being in that midst, having to hustle to be the one to wreak carnage, making the forces of evil seem not very forceful at all.

That doesn’t sound half as fun as X-Men, where Cyclops falls down, gets back up, and unleashes an optic blast from his eyes at a rocket launcher-armed droid’s chest. And to call it cheap even feels false – the acclaimed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of the arcade, from the same developer Konami, has an almost identical engine with similar pacing and tactics. Bring a few more quarters than you would for Final Fight. The most awesome boss gauntlet in the arcade (and usually such gauntlets are dreaded) where the heroes will fight all of the previous villains in a manic six-on-three showdown, one vanquished foe replaced by another, is worth the price.

You’ll punish Pyro – spry characters like Dazzler and Storm can leap his fiery breath and counter with a well-timed jump-kick. Colossus will pummel The Blob, pounding on the plopped down ogre when he loses his footing. Wendigo’s vicious claws can be countered by Wolverine, but Nightcrawler’s stout stance is better to avoid his slashing grasp. Nimrod, The White Queen, Juggernaut and Mystique, the shapeshifter under the disguise of Magneto, line the remaining path to the showdown with the archvillain. It is a ferocious stretch for the challenge it offers, but above all unforgettably fun, living out battles once strictly seen on the comic book pages. This isn’t one last grab for quarters – this is strictly fan service.

Witness earthen bridges over lava fields lined with flame throwing hazards and enormous wasps that spew out of a skull carved into a jungle cliff. Shotgun-toting Bonebreaker miniatures rove the inside of Magneto’s lair while stone statues carrying massive scythes animate deep in a ruin. While the dialog detracts from the production value – Magneto’s famous “Welcome to Die!” as he blasts apart a waterfall-side ledge just one egregious example – it is just as likely you find it kitschy as a fault. From crackling lightning in the backdrops to memorable scenes battling a crazed Nimrod as Kitty cowers bound behind an electromagnetic force field, the details go a long way in establishing the comic’s atmosphere.

For one in search of the brawler-changing beat ‘em up, X-Men may not impress. Annoying staples such as losing health when executing your mutant melee attacks, already in limited supply, are present here (save them for your last wind, when the health bar can’t go any lower). Worse, the gang will find no bonus weapons or extra health – except for regeneration at level’s end – along the way. If these were city slums of knife-fighters and spandex-wearing mid-bosses, I suspect I’d be less amused.

But this is X-Men, big and bold and an unforgettable arcade cabinet, challenging players – six players! On a doublewide monitor! – to brawl against an unending supply of sententials streaming onto the screen before six-on-one brawls where the baddest of Marvel bosses manage to hold their own. This is the classic comic brought to life, with the same verve that saw us hooked on the show, and a chance to live out the epic scenes once solely depicted on the printed page. If you never played it at the time or rode that wave of X-Men excitement that filled weekend mornings on sunny summer days, I’m not sure you can understand. If you’ve been spoiled by the battles in the Marvel series of fighting games you surely won’t. But for a lucky few X-Men became as synonymous with childhood as kindergarten and learning to ride a bike. And while we normally watched their adventures from the couch, this was one action-packed instance where we could tag along and play as them. And bring five of our friends.

Uncanny.

Rating: 8/10

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Staff review by Winston Wolf (October 24, 2010)

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zigfried posted October 24, 2010:

WELCOME TO GREAT READ!

//Zig

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