"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!”"
X-Men: The Arcade Game could not possibly be a more dated game, one that has no hope of satisfying 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”. 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. Beat em ups are inherently repetitive and this is exactly 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!
Community review by JANUS2 (December 23, 2010)
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