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X-Men: The Arcade Game (Xbox 360) artwork

X-Men: The Arcade Game (Xbox 360) review


"X-Men: The Arcade Game could not possibly be a more dated game, one that has no hope of satisfying the modern gaming expectations that have evolved in the eighteen years since its original release. How could it when it’s little more than a humble beat ‘em up? This is a genre that modern video game journalists insist on patronising with phrases that have become all too familiar: repetitive, nostalgic, archaic, antiquated, retro, simple, “old school”. If you’re lucky they might throw in “fu..."



X-Men: The Arcade Game could not possibly be a more dated game, one that has no hope of satisfying the modern gaming expectations that have evolved in the eighteen years since its original release. How could it when it’s little more than a humble beat ‘em up? This is a genre that modern video game journalists insist on patronising with phrases that have become all too familiar: repetitive, nostalgic, archaic, antiquated, retro, simple, “old school”. If you’re lucky they might throw in “fun”, although any positive adjective is bound to be accompanied by a remark about it being too short, simple and repetitive, as if the modern requirement for complicated twenty hour epics is somehow going to improve the quality of these beat ‘em ups. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the twenty minutes of terrific, intense six-player brawling contained in this “dated” adventure over a modern epic any day.

It all begins on the mean streets of The City. You and up to five other X-Men will fight Sentinels against a backdrop of ruined buildings before the action moves inside The Factory, where fire-spewing machines provide additional hazards. After this comes the wild and treacherous “Jungle”. Prehistoric creatures leap out of the darkness to ambush you on the rocky pathways, but there’s no suggestion that this has anything to do with the Savage Land. This seems like a strange oversight, but it doesn’t seriously detract from the action. After this comes The Cave, which is followed, in quite obvious fashion, by a level called “Outside the Cave”. Towards the end of the adventure the plot heats up as the White Queen welcomes you to die and the heroes all travel to Asteroid M for the final showdown with the Master of Magnetism himself.

I won’t waste too many words describing these settings – you should know what to expect from a level called “The Cave”. X-Men delivers the archetypal beat ‘em up settings with competence. It’s perhaps not the most creative approach, but remember that these locations are archetypes for a reason. Mind you, although the city may as well be called Metro City and the jungle could slot right into Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, the action itself has been torn right out of the pages of the X-Men comics. With six X-Men on the screen at once, the fighting is more frenzied and chaotic than in any other beat em up I’ve played. In order to provide a realistic challenge for a team of six mutant heroes, the game literally throws super villains at you by the dozen. In one stage Master Mold rises up above the mountain path you’re on before an army of mutated freaks climb out from between his jaws. Deal with these monsters and an army of Sentinels materialises from nowhere. Overcome this and more Sentinels descend from the skies carrying massive lumps of rubble. The whole adventure is one endless, violent gauntlet of palette-swapping Sentinels. These brutes are supported by a few bone-crushing cameos from the series’ most famous super villains. Marvel nerds rejoice.

You have a modest selection of basic attacks to deal with these villainous threats. Each X-Man can string together a brief punching combo, perform a couple of jumping attacks and sometimes even grapple enemies. Although everyone uses the same basic attacks, each X-Man is animated in a slightly different way. Wolverine slashes away wildly with his unsheathed adamantium claws, while Cyclops performs a more rigid punch and kick combo. Colossus’s grapple attack involves him smashing the heads of enemies, whereas Dazzler chucks them over her shoulder. Nightcrawler’s airborne attacks see him leaping and drop-kicking across stages with agility that isn’t quite matched by any of the other X-Men. The differences are subtle, but they’re there and they’re tangible enough that you won’t mind selecting another character when someone else has chosen your favourite.

At this point in the review I had intended to write some about the “balance” of the game. I was going to tell you about the shoddy implementation of mutant powers (using each character’s special attack actually depletes your health). I could have also complained about the way that bosses power through your attacks without regard for the precious combo you’re right in the middle of executing! I might have also ridiculed the online play, which has been deeply affected by the presence of unlimited continues. You aren’t punished for dying, which means that a sizable majority of players will waltz through the levels performing their hero’s mutant attack over and over and over without any concern about the number of lives they’re losing. Certainly, it seems that there are flaws, but are they that severe?

I can honestly say that my enjoyment of the game has not been seriously diminished by players abusing mutant powers. I actually like seeing Cyclops obliterate Sentinels with his optic blasts and Storm unleashing a tornado to knock over a line of drones. Mutant powers are what the X-Men is about! If someone is happy to lose health to take out enemies then what do I care? The mutant attacks aren’t so devastating that they’ll kill every foe so you’ll still have enemies to fight, plus leaderboards do count the number of deaths so you can see exactly how people have amassed their scores. If it really bothers you that much, go on GameFAQs and find a party of like-minded individuals to play with or simply host your own match and kick abusers out. One of the great things about online play is that matches work on a “drop in and out” format. You can start a game by yourself and people can join and leave throughout the adventure, which means that you don’t have to waste time waiting for six people to join only to have three drop out at the end of the first level. In many ways, this mechanic makes X-Men quite a “casual” experience, as you can drop in, brawl through a stage with five others and then drop out again as you see fit without feeling obliged to play until the end.

People are quick to judge beat ‘em ups as “short, simple and repetitive.” These labels are all true, but for me and many others they’re virtues not flaws. X-Men is so simple that you can drop in and out of online games without worrying about where you are in the story or what attacks you have or haven’t unlocked. Just punch and kick! The adventure may be short, but this allows it to deliver breathless, intense action that never lets up for longer than a few seconds. Equally, beat em ups are inherently repetitive – this is why people enjoy them! I can say with complete honesty that there was never a point where I thought to myself, “man, I wish they’d break all this hardcore super hero violence up with a couple of quick time events!” I can see X-Men’s faults – its insistence on regulating the use of mutant powers and its cheapness – but they don’t detract from my enjoyment of the title. For me, X-Men: The Arcade Game captures the spirit of the X-Men comics, delivering mass brawls that are brutal, energetic and utterly mad. Juggernaut probably will damage you unfairly, but that’s how it should be! This is not a beat ‘em up where you can worry about a one-credit finish. If you get knocked down, get back up and exact revenge by performing your mutant power so you die in a blaze of glory!

Rating: 8/10

JANUS2's avatar
Community review by JANUS2 (December 23, 2010)

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Leroux posted December 23, 2010:

MONEY QUOTE!

I can say with complete honesty that there was never a point where I thought to myself, “man, I wish they’d break all this hardcore super hero violence up with a couple of quick time events!”

This beat 'em up review gets my fullest endorsement.
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radicaldreamer posted December 24, 2010:

I can't say I'm too happy that this review was written as a retort to mine, but as far as the game is concerned I'll just say that "intense" is the absolute last word I would use to describe it.
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JANUS2 posted December 24, 2010:

I did write this review as a response to the review on Gameroni. I'm sorry if I offended you, although most of my comments are about how people treat beat 'em ups generally, rather than in any specific review.

All I wanted to do was voice another view of the game. I personally don't feel that my review undermines yours because from the feedback you got it's pretty clear that most people are going to agree with you and that my opinions are probably only going to resonate with a handful of beat 'em up fans (people like Leroux). I can definitely see why people would dislike X-Men and I feel I'm pretty honest about its flaws. However, I and many others do enjoy the game, and I just wanted to explain why that is and how it's not just about nostalgia or whatever.
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radicaldreamer posted December 24, 2010:

I mean, if your review just happened to have counterpoints to mine then I probably wouldn't even have said anything. But since the first sentence was lifted verbatim from mine it was pretty obvious.

My view wasn't just that the game is old, but that Xbox Live is already a poor venue for it and that its entry into this venue was poorly handled. Unlimited continues and being able to just spam mutant powers are actually pretty big. Since these types of games are almost always short, simple and repetitive, what value they do have usually comes from the challenge they offer and the fact that virtually no one (except for certified weekend warriors) will beat them on their first few tries.

In 1992 I played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Manhattan Project with my next-door neighbor. The game was hard for us, so we had to try hard and work together in order to get as far as we could. Each time we played the game, we made it just a little further because we had learned a little more from our last attempt. X-Men Arcade on Xbox Live doesn't really offer a comparable experience.
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JANUS2 posted December 24, 2010:

It doesn't offer a comparable experience and many will see unlimited continues as a fatal flaw, but my intention was to show that there is another view, that there are people who are enjoying X-Men. I would hope that people read your review and my review, as well as spaceworlder's and leroux's, to determine whether they're the sort of person who is going to enjoy the game or not, rather than judge it on the basis of one opinion.

My intention with the opening sentence was to highlight the fact that there are different ways of viewing the same game/argument, but on reading it again it does seem unnecessarily confrontational so I will look into changing it.
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asherdeus posted December 24, 2010:

I love X-Men in the arcade and I love it over Xbox Live. It isn't perfect and they could have done a lot more, but I gotta side with Janus on this one. The game is just plain fun, even if people do abuse the mutant powers.
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Leroux posted December 24, 2010:

Bob,

I thought your review on Gameroni was narrow-minded in that it seemed to both immediately distance itself from the intended audience for the game and act dismissive of the entire genre as a whole. That's not going to convince guys like Janus and I -- just spark retort reviews -- and frankly if Janus didn't write this, I probably would have.

It is really easy to write the "all you do is kick and punch, quarter munching deaths" beat 'em up review. Too too easy, and I've read too many. Frankly, that's really the bulk of what I pulled from your review. There are valid points upon reread, I know, but those are easily overlooked in your taking of X-Men to task for a genre you clearly have no interest in.

If EmP reviewed Madden and instead levied complaints like "why do they pass the ball with their hands" you wouldn't expect football fans to have much respect for the review, even if Brits find it logical. If you review a beat 'em up and complain the entire catalog is "short, simple and repetitive" you've already lost your very audience, and there is no returning from that point. If you complain that arcade games do not fit your idea of the "habitat" console games must adapt to, I must caution that perhaps you should avoid games with THE ARCADE GAME in their very title.

I didn't like your review because although people that don't like beat 'em ups, or don't like them anymore, will obviously agree, people that do will get very little value from it, or no more than they could have gotten from most any negative take on the genre.
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EmP posted December 24, 2010:

I've not read the offending review, nor am I likely to, but I will offer the following insight linked to Leroux's previous example.

Two of the worst reviews on this site are penned by Draqq and Jason, two reviewers who pen very high quality stuff 99% of the time. In this case, they try to review a soccer game and the result is appaling. The moral: Review something you're not cut out to do, and you'll be shown up, no matter how good you usually are. Though I am confident in doing a good job with sports reviews after tackling soccer, cricket, wrestling and the like, I'd go nowhere near NFL or baseball. I'm wholly ignorant on the subjects, and I'm not going to pretend to be an informed source. I'll just look like a prat.

I have read Janus' review and agree with it fully. There's a reason X-Men is the next game on my download list after RQuake.
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Masters posted December 24, 2010:

You'll also want to stay away from hockey, Emp, the real man's sport.
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zigfried posted December 24, 2010:

Regarding continues:

Arcade games become very, very different if you try to beat them on one credit (or at least limit yourself to three, if you're not very good at such things) as opposed to using infinite continues. These games are not designed with infinite continues in mind -- unless someone has lots of money, in which case the machine is more than willing to take their coin over and over and over again.

The only possible way to evaluate such a game's design with any degree of sense is if you're playing it on one credit (or three, for players who kind of suck). If the player is actually concerned about conserving their lives, then they will seek out tactics and strategies that actually beat opponents, instead of simply winning through attrition.

When played in such an environment, good beat 'em ups reveal themselves to be repetitive only in concept, but not in execution -- because the player must constantly think about how they are fighting. Just try playing Final Fight with either the "abuse health-diminishing super attacks" or "kick and punch, that's all" mentality and see how far you get on one credit. Not very far, I'd wager.

Keep trying and you'll eventually realize that you've memorized all the enemy attack patterns and vary your play style depending on what combination of opponents is on the screen.

Abusing continues appears to be analogous to playing an FPS that has too many checkpoints, which sometimes happens (Prey being the ridiculous extreme) -- it's very easy to abandon restraint, forget about weapon choice and cover zones, and simply blow through people, die, blow through more people, die, blow through more people, YOU WIN!!!

The difference is that it's possible to restrain your own use of continues and impossible to prevent a game from initiating checkpoints. Sure, players can choose to restart from the beginning of the level in an FPS . . . unfortunately, console games tend to have really long levels filled with a bunch of "scenic" stuff that is boring to sit through the second time (such as stretches of walking in Halo: Reach that seemed cool/beautiful until I sat through them again). A good arcade game is pure action and worth playing repeatedly.

So why do ports of arcade games even include infinite continues? When people purchase a product for home use, they want to be the arcade operator. Even expert players like to screw around on occasion and start stealing all their buddies' food for no reason other than to be mean.

In X-Men's case, if people are really playing to master and (attempt to) enjoy the game, then complaints about "being repetitive" and "mutant power abuse" disappear. At that point, the game's real issues become apparent. It's hard to control what the goofball on the other end of the internet is going to do, though. He won't care as much as a friend would if you turn your back and walk away.

//Zig
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EmP posted December 24, 2010:

Jokes on you -- I played two years ice hockey.

Learn something new everyday.
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Masters posted December 24, 2010:

English ice hockey? Don't be daft.
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radicaldreamer posted December 24, 2010:

Leroux, my review takes the position that X-Men Arcade does not exist in a vacuum and that this re-release has extremely different socio-structural circumstances that is affecting how will it is being received. It also takes the position that the "intended" audience is not the actual audience. You think everyone who is downloading this game is a die-hard beatemup fan or that they even played the original? I'm willing to bet that far less than half of them fall into that category, though that's not to say that those who don't aren't enjoying the game. The actual audience X-Men is serving are people who are simply looking for a game, rather than a very specific interest, and I think those people might find some value in my review.

Is it also inaccurate to say that I have no interest in the genre as a whole. Unsurprisingly my expectations have just actually changed a bit since 1992. I look at it as a dated genre because it is, and this is not an unreasonable view, nor does it mean I have no interest in it. I won't claim to have your level of interest, but I have played several of these games, just without unlimited continues and for less than $10 (yeah, sometimes zero). If they released TMNT: The Manhattan Project I might react a little more favorably towards that because nostalgia would actually be a factor, but that still wouldn't save it from some of the criticisms I had toward X-Men Arcade if it were released in a similar manner.

Finally, the bottom line of my review is not just to assess X-Men Arcade as a game, but as a $10 product. This is how well it stacks up as a $10 product: not very good. There are indie games on live going for $3 with more to offer. As a consumer who spent money that I actually earned because I now work for a living, I was pretty unsatisfied with my purchase.
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hmd posted December 24, 2010:

Frankly, I'm still shocked that those Gameroni reviews were serious and not some weird gimmick I was too dim to pick up on.
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hmd posted December 24, 2010:

Taken from both XBox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Network:

"Experience the classic 1992 X-Men arcade game right in the comfort of your own home! Choose from some of your favorite classic X-Men characters including: Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, or Dazzler. Fight your way through hundreds of Sentinels and battle classic super villains such as Pyro, The Blob, Wendigo, Nimrod, The White Queen, Juggernaut, Mystique and the Master of Magnetism himself, Magneto!"

I'd say people who downloaded this game knew exactly what they were getting themselves into, here.
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Leroux posted December 24, 2010:

Let's say I am reviewing pencil sharpeners. There are electric sharpeners, and there are hand crank.

I decide to review a hand crank pencil sharpener and my suggestion is that in this socio-structural circumstance it is better to purchase an electric pencil sharpener. That's helpful to the broad audience and probably true.

I would guess though, more than likely, a person is looking into hand-crank pencil sharpeners for a particular reason, more than just "looking for a pencil sharpener", and would find a review with such broad complaints unhelpful. He would say, I want a hand-crank pencil sharpener, yet the focus of this particular review tells me little because it is an indictment of ALL hand-crank pencil sharpeners. Next. There are people just "looking for games" that may find this helpful, but by that reasoning EmP's theoretical Madden review is just as helpful.

I want to know about how this game stacks up against other beat 'em ups, against the original arcade game, and how it stands measured against what it attempts to do, ideally, besides the broad opinion (which certainly has its place as well, but does not necessarily trump those expectations). What if I want a hand crank? And this is not addressed really, at least not before your broad critiques of this genre you claim to have interest in take hold, a genre you are constantly referring to as "repetitive" and "dated" and "not intense" throughout the topic and your review, so apologies but it's still a genre I suspect you have interest in to the extent an electric man would like a hand crank sharpener if it also sucked his dick.

So I'm not saying the review is without merit, but it is exactly the sort of review that one almost should expect a retort concerning because it skips particular target audiences over in seeking broad appeal while showing the product in a negative light.
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radicaldreamer posted December 24, 2010:

Except my review is not just an indictment of all beatemups, so now I'm telling you that your comments are without merit, since you're essentially telling me that all beatemups have unlimited continues, that learning the game and being challenged are NOT part of their essential value, and that they can all be completed in a single playthrough on everyone's very first try. Is it just about the martial arts and the flashy colors for you? So apologies, but the tone you've taken now suggests that you're at the point of "I'm just angry and wanna rage about it."
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Leroux posted December 24, 2010:

"There are valid points upon reread, I know, but those are easily overlooked in your taking of X-Men to task for a genre you clearly have no interest in."

What I'm saying is that the broad stance, which is present from the beginning of the review, obscures those above complaints which would have value in any beat 'em up review.

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radicaldreamer posted December 24, 2010:

Well it's good that you have your mind made up and that you'll stop reading once you realize that I don't think similarly. The broad stance is where I'm coming from and the only way I could change that is by spending the next month or two absorbing the history of the genre.

I know what this is like because I have an interest in competitive fighting games, but gaming sites review them from that broad stance, making every single fighting game review ever written by a major press outlet completely useless to me. But I can't force my stance on them, partially because of the specialized knowledge and expertise it requires, and also because that specialized knowledge and expertise isn't required to like or dislike the game. If I want to know if a fighting game is good or not from my perspective, I just have ask people I trust who happen to share it.

Neither the broad perspective, the narrow perspective, nor aperspectivity (I realize I'm making this word up) are ideal. Multiple perspectives are the answer.

Lastly, I'm going to remind you that genre interest isn't an all-or-nothing/black-and-white thing. I've already made a point of saying that I have my own childhood memories, and I've emulated several titles even beyond my childhood. Beatemups just haven't stood the test of time well at all precisely because of some of their common traits, which is partly why they don't really exist as a modern genre. Godhand, a game I like very much, was the logical evolution of the genre into 3D -- still about beating people from game beginning to end, but deepened considerably, and even harder. Too bad it was only a sleeper hit, if even.
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zigfried posted December 24, 2010:

Neither the broad perspective, the narrow perspective, nor aperspectivity (I realize I'm making this word up) are ideal. Multiple perspectives are the answer.

About perspective...

Writers often talk about choosing the appropriate perspective for their audience, but there's really only one perspective that matters: their natural feelings. Anything else is posing (professionals are paid to pose, which is part of the problem). If you're concerned about the audience's thoughts, the perspective that really matters is how the reader feels.

Reader is aperspective: They have money to burn and are looking to know if the game is good. The review's approach is irrelevant; they're just looking for the YAY or NAY. The writer's actual expertise is irrelevant as long as he sounds trustworthy. It's all about charisma.

Reader is broad perspective: They already think this beat 'em up looks cool. They want to know whether they should buy this, or whether they should buy some other beat 'em up instead. Experts are best-suited to answering that question. Criticisms of the genre aren't useful because the reader is already interested in the game. When reading a non-expert review, these uneducated readers are likely to misinterpret genre complaints as game complaints.

Reader is narrow perspective: They won't even listen to the review unless you're an expert. Criticisms of the genre invite indignation and retort.

For the writer, the importance of expertise is obvious. The question isn't about perspective, but about how the expert should go about describing the game's contents -- has he captured what really makes the game tick? If it's a port, how does it compare to the original? How much mechanical description is too much? Will the intended reader understand his jargon?

Reviews by non-experts perpetuate myths such as "beat 'em ups are repetitive because you keep tapping X to punch and kick people". That's nonsense. For example, people spend way more time mindlessly tapping X when playing an RPG. Inappropriate repetition isn't about the physical action being performed, but about the absence of escalating challenge.

Anyways, I didn't find RD's review to be offensive -- it's obvious he put a lot of thought into it -- but his criticisms do invite retort because many of them sound like they apply to the genre instead of this specific game.

//Zig
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honestgamer posted December 24, 2010:

I think zigfried put it well, so I'll jump off in a new direction...

When I read the review, I could tell that it wasn't a game that I will feel comfortable spending $10 on because while I do like the genre more than a lot of people, I have no particular attachment to the title in question and it seems unlikely that it is a genre definer in the way that someone like leroux has made something like, say... Cadillacs & Dinosaurs sound like something that is some of the best the genre has to offer.

I could tell from the review that the brawling action did nothing particularly special from radicaldreamer's perspective, and that it feels like a typical brawler of the time period. The license doesn't mean a whole lot to me (sacrilige!) and in fact is associated in my mind with another X-Men game that sucked, plus I tried playing through TMNT and other classic games in this vein and they were enjoyable but not $10 material in my opinion.

So I came through the review knowing everything that I need to know to make a purchase decision. I consider it a generally effective review that was well-written. In looking at the review now, I can also see why people who love the genre bristle at the review's content. It just didn't elicit that reaction in me, and I bet that many people considering a purchase of the game would, if they downloaded and played the game, agree with the conclusion that Andrew reached.

Since my review wasn't the one receiving the rebuttal, I have to say that personally I'm happy to see reviews inspiring people to chime in with reviews of their own (or at least to see it happen the one time). I wish we'd see that sort of thing more often, frankly. The sort of discussion that we're seeing now, though not entirely friendly, I think shows that there are still some interesting things worth talking about.

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