X-Men: The Arcade Game – theme vs mechanics

X-Men is one of the most popular beat-em-up games to have ever existed in the arcade. It helps that the game featured one of the most well known comic book teams and was often housed in arcade cabinets allowing 6-player simultaneous gameplay, but a bad game wouldn’t have managed to muster the staying power this game had. Actually, I should say has, as the game continued on in the minds of players who encountered it in the early 90’s. When perfect translations of arcade games starting finding their way onto home consoles, X-Men was one of the ones people were most eager to see.

In revisiting it on the Playstation 3, I found myself transported back to a more simple time in video game history. While each of the six characters – Cyclops, Wolverine, Dazzler, Storm, Colossus and Nightcrawler – were individuated by design, animation and the effect of his or her power, every character played almost exactly the same way. The point of the game, for the most part, was to clear the screen of enemies and move to the right. There was a story to follow, sure, but it’s not one that needed to be followed. Save Kitty Pryde and Charles Xavier from Magneto and other characters were comically made blatantly evil. Sometimes it seems like the game lampshades just how evil it made the characters, although this is made worse by the horrible translation. Magneto spouts some very infamous lines, but none more than, “X-Men, welcome to die!”

In retrospect, that’s pretty polite.

What never came to mind when I was younger was the poor implementation of the mutant powers. For people who read the comics or followed any of the cartoons, it’s understood that the abilities were quite natural and a part of each character. In very rare cases were there blatantly adverse effects involved. However, the game has each use of a mutant’s ability reducing the character’s energy until the ability can no longer be used. In other words, Cyclops, whose power is always active but not really noticed until he opens his visor, dies a little bit every time he pushes a button (or activates the lift gate with his mind, depending on where in the comics timeline the game takes place).

It’s understandable as a play mechanic. The most powerful attacks should be stifled somehow. But the home console version offers the players unlimited credits, so what you see are players who do nothing but use the mutant abilities, die, continue and then repeat. It’s pretty funny to see players basically penalized for playing the characters as the characters should be played – if you can call dying with unlimited continues a penalty at all.

It surprises me that Konami didn’t offer the option to make the game more challenging or offer any updates beyond upgrading the graphics to HD. No doubt, the players who played the game would be much more familiar with the roster of characters from the 90’s X-Men animated series, so switching out Dazzler for Jubilee would not be a big deal. Taking Cyclops out of the cowl and putting Wolverine into the yellow and blue outfit would be nice, too.

Not that any of that matters. When it comes to fun, which is all an arcade game ever really needs to be, making the mechanics coherent with the theme is nonessential. For hardcore comic fans, it would be nice to see Cyclops effortlessly shooting sentinels to pieces while Wolverine runs through baddies and Dazzler converts the background music into energy blasts…but instead we have a game that is merely fun and offers countless hours of entertainment.

Author: Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

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