I remember the first time I encountered the 6-player X-Men arcade. It was 1993, and I had just discovered that the local university had an arcade parlor in the basement level. I was already quite fond of the 4-player version, which was the only one I thought existed. So when I saw this beast of an arcade…
You have to understand, in the early ’90s there was no such thing as a widescreen unless a projector was involved, and flatscreen monitors didn’t exist. And yet here was a widescreen arcade cabinet (using two regular 4:3 monitors hidden in the cabinet, synched up using mirrors — high tech!), with six player simultaneous play to boot. I can’t even put into words just what an amazing sight it was, and still is. It’s a cabinet you really need to experience in person in order to comprehend.
When I first heard about classic arcades being ported over to this generation’s consoles, there was only one arcade brawler I really wanted to see. More than TMNT, more than Final Fight, more than The Simpsons. No arcade would be more perfect for online play, because the 6-player experience just couldn’t be easily replicated with MAME. And on top of that, it was already widescreen. I’m surprised only that it took this long.
The X-Men arcade was released in 1992, but it’s story begins in 1989. That year, a pilot was worked up for a potential X-Men animated series, by the same animators and voice talent who brought you G.I. Joe and Transformers.
That the network ultimately got cold feet due to the concept not fitting their desired formula is both a crime, and a blessing. A crime because the animation was far superior to the eventual 1992 FOX animated series. The writing wasn’t as strong as in the later series, but for a Saturday morning cartoon it wasn’t bad, either.
The only major strike against the 1989 pilot was the network’s decision that Wolverine should be Australian instead of Canadian, because Crocodile Dundee was really popular at the time. Perhaps the idea of Wolverine’s calling people “bub” being forever replaced with “dingo” is enough for us to be glad it didn’t take off. Though it would’ve made the accent a little easier for Australian born Hugh Jackman.
It’s possible that while the pilot was in production, there was already a great deal of interesting in the licensing rights in various areas. I mean, this is a new animated series by the people who brought you G.I. Joe and Transformers, based on the highest selling comics of the ’80s (regularly outselling Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman).
Naturally, Konami would be just the people to do an arcade game based on it, having previously done the arcades for G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Simpsons. Thus we get an arcade featuring this line-up that is unique to the pilot, made up of X-Men that in the comics never all served together on the team at the same time.
What makes the line-up particularly unique and easy to spot is that Cyclops, Storm, and Colossus are wearing uniforms they hadn’t sported since the beginning of the decade, while Wolverine and Dazzler wear their then-current duds (Nightcrawler, at that point, had still yet to change to a new outfit). And Kitty Pryde was inexplicably given red hair.
Keen-eyed observers may notice that the first wave of X-Men action figures released in 1991 appears to be nearly the same line-up, replacing Dazzler with Archangel (common wisdom at the time was not to release two female figures in the same wave, because who wants to play with those?). While Storm and Cyclops look different from how they appear in the pilot, they’re oddly wearing outfits that they only wore up until 1989 in the comics.
I think it’s highly likely that upon hearing the animated series wasn’t going to happen, the arcade (and action figures) were put on hold…only to be rushed out a few years later to coincide with the release of the FOX series that became such a hit. At least, this is the only logical explanation I can figure for why an arcade based on a failed 1989 pilot would be released in 1992.
(Incidentally, there was also a game for the PC featuring the same line-up, entitled X-Men: Madness In Murderworld, that did make it out in 1989.)
The X-Men arcade is one of the great early ’90s Beat ‘Em Ups. The 4-player version was solid, but the 6-player version is where it really shined, with its wide screen and the ability to have more people playing simultaneously than any other Beat ‘Em Up. You were also able to kick enemies while they were down, rather than have to wait for them to get back up to finish them off, which was relatively new at the time.
Not all of the characters featured have mutant abilities that translate well to a game of this type, so some liberties are taken. Colossus doesn’t actually emit a blast field when he metals up, but he does here for the purpose of having a ranged attack. Likewise, Wolverine has a special slash attack that manages to hit enemies on the other side of the screen. It doesn’t entirely make sense, but it kind of works within the strange logic of an early ’90s Beat ‘Em Up.
Even if the mutant abilities aren’t entirely accurate, the way they’re implemented in the framework of a coin arcade was pretty ingenious. Your meter displayed glowing balls that represented how many uses of your power you had available. However, instead of not being able to use it at all when you were out, using it thereafter would simply use up several bars of your life meter. So if you had the quarters to burn, you could essentially buy yourself the ability to spam your mutant power (while making the arcade owner very happy).
But I suppose the real question is: does the game still hold up? It depends. Classic games as a rule generally don’t stand up as well next to modern games. They require keeping in mind the era the game came from, in order to have a real appreciation for them (hence my little history lesson). If you’re a fan of classic Beat ‘Em Ups, you will like this game. If you’re a fan of the X-Men, you will like this game. If you’re a fan of both, you will love this game. If you’ve never really been much of a fan of either, this game is going to be a tough sell for you.
Being a fan of both classic Beat ‘Em Ups and the X-Men, all the developers had to do to make me happy was give me an accurate port of the game. You’d practically have to go out of your way making all sorts of changes to screw up something like this (like Turtles In Time Reshelled not even giving you the option to play the original).
Thankfully, they didn’t screw it up. But I was a little worried at first. Upon loading the game up, I was greeted with the familiar Attract Mode intro. Only, at the end of the intro when I was expecting to see this:
Instead, I was confronted with this:
They essentially put the pixel art of the characters through a Photoshop filter — or to be more technical, Illustrator’s Livetrace filter — and the result looks just plain tacky. It instantly made the game feel cheap. And for what purpose? I’m assuming they wanted vector art that they could resize to fill the screen better, but the entire rest of the game is in letterboxed ultra-widescreen, so what’s the point? And where did Dazzler’s nose go?
The eyesores extend to the menus, which have been populated by numerous character headshots unceremoniously jammed through a filter. I understand, they needed to fill the space, and for reasons unknown opted not to use any of the cabinet art. But I see no excuse for also replacing the character select images with more horrendous filter images.
Compare with the original:
There’s no reason for this. They could’ve even just taken the pixel art and stuck them in the boxes on the new select screen, and I would’ve been fine with that. It’s almost like the developers are completely unaware that the primary audience for this release are people who likely also bought Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and that we like pixel art. Hand-drawn art would’ve been good too, but anything is better than this cheap-looking filter art. This was a big misstep on their part.
Thankfully, once you start the actual game you no longer have to look at that garbage. The headshots still show up next to your life meter, but are so small you can barely see them anyways.
I also wasn’t a fan of them using a background to fill the empty top and bottom areas on the screen, because I actually prefer the game looking like an epic letterboxed ultra-widescreen movie, but thankfully you can turn that option off. There’s also an option on by default, I believe, that attempts to “smooth” the graphics, but all it really does is add a subtle blur filter, and this can be turned off as well.
Now that I’ve addressed all the bad, let’s talk about the good. The best thing about this port that there is drop-in/drop-out online co-op (still my only complaint about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), and it works just like it should.
There is also local co-op, though you won’t be able to play with more than four people locally on Xbox360. But that’s okay, because you can take your local group online to fill the other spots. And let’s face it, while it’s a perfectly alright game if played solo, the more players you have the screen the more fun you’re going to have. It gets particularly chaotic with six people and a screen full of enemies, and mutant powers flying everywhere.
Also, as far as which version of the game you want to play, you have options! Want to play the 4:3 ratio 4-player versions to see how it’s different from the widescreen 6-player one? You can. There are also different difficulty modes, of course, though I’m not yet sure in what way they change the gameplay.
Plus, there’s the surprise addition of the Japanese version 4-player and 6-player arcades, which differ from the US version in more than just the text displayed on the screen. Here you’ll find levels that appear familiar, but are laid out a differently, with different patterns of enemies. Enemies also drop power-ups in this version, either health or an additional use of your mutant power.
Not that power-ups seem incredibly valuable to you when there are no quarters involved. A factor that modifies the gameplay dynamic of all the modes a great deal, actually. You reach a certain point where you realize that with unlimited lives, you have no reason to not continually spam your mutant power, die, and spam all over again. Not that this makes the game any less fun, in my opinion, but it does change the way the game is played.
The extra modes give the game a little more replay value than your average Beat ‘Em Up port, a genre that admittedly tends to lack much in the way of replay value. And even after you’ve played through all the modes, it can be a fun game to load up when you have a group of friends over who haven’t played it since the old days. A welcome (or required?) addition to anyone’s XBLA or PSN collection.