mlkjr.jpgprofessorx.jpgToday, we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, a man who has dedicated his life to equality between people of all races. In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-men, a comic book about a team of superheroes dedicated to equality between human and mutant. Even though the cast was all Caucasian at the time, the book explored race relations in a profoundly brilliant manner without the material being heavy handed. Over time, the team’s roster would expand to include heroes from many different backgrounds, from the Jewish Kitty Pryde and the African Storm to the Native American Mirage. Throughout their 40+ year history, the X-men have seen many ups and downs, both in and out of comics, and video gaming is no different. What better way is there to celebrate Dr King’s dream than to have a look back at the interactive adventures of Xavier’s finest? In the first part of this two part special, we’ll take a look at some of the earliest games starring the children of the atom. The second part, coming later this week, will feature the Marvel vs Capcom games as well as Activision’s X-men titles.

xmennes.jpgThe first batch of games wasn’t all that good. Acclaim’s NES X-men game in particular pretty much exemplified everything that was wrong with licensed games at the time. You had your choice of Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Iceman, or rather pixelated blobs that sort of resembled them. You fought against The White Queen, Sabertooth, Magneto, Juggernaut, and Boomerang (yeah, you read that right), or at least various pixelated messes that were supposed to represent them. It was either 1 player or 2 player co-op. In a precursor to X-men legends (Oh, who am I kidding? It should be a federal crime to mention this game in the same breath as XML.), if playing as 1 player, then you were forced to pick a 2nd character which would be controlled by the AI. Thank god you can switch between them at anytime, because the AI controlling the second player was more retarded than an allied commander in Dynasty Warriors. If left to their own devices, the CPU X-man would be killed within seconds, and that’s when they aren’t getting themselves stuck behind blocks and holding you back.

This was a by-the-numbers way of how not to do an X-men game. The mazes were confusing, forcing players to search out keys. After defeating the boss, you had to make your way all the way back out while chasing him or her through the right path before the timer reaches zero, otherwise you must repeat the stage, minus the two X-men you used. Worse yet, after clearing the four main stages, you needed to use a code to access the final level. Three X-men can shoot projectiles, while the other three must punch. Of course punching means you have to get so close to the enemy and time it right, or you’ll often take damage in the process. Besides Cyclops’s optic blast, none of the X-men’s powers are utilized in a way that makes sense. Storm can’t fly, Wolverine can’t heal, Nightcrawler can’t teleport, and Iceman’s blasts can’t freeze enemies. In a plus, this was released before the X-men gained any kind of mainstream popularity. Thus, very few people cared about the game enough to question (among other things) why Magneto recruited a C-list Spider-man villain (who isn’t even a mutant) to battle the X-men. Acclaim followed this up with a Wolverine solo game. It was a bit better than X-men, but that wasn’t saying much. Despite cameos from Psylocke, Havok, and Jubilee, this didn’t do much to separate itself from other NES platformers.

xmen2.jpgGames on the PC didn’t fare much better. After Paragon released X-Men: Madness in Murderworld, a side scrolling action game which pitted the X-men against Arcade, the company followed it up with X-Men 2: Fall of the Mutants. Inspired by the storyline of the same name, Uatu the Watcher appears in the game to help players find the answer to a burning question plaguing all of Marvel fandom. Who else has been replaced by a Skrull agent? No! What happens to the baby at the end of Messiah Complex? No! What happened to the Peter Parker and Mary Jane’s baby? Nope! Who was the true mastermind behind the Civil War? Heck no! Evidently, people wanted to know what would have happened if a different team of X-men took on the Adversary! Yup, that’s right! Marvel fans have tossed and turned themselves to sleep asking themselves that very question. Apparently this team of X-men, regardless of who they were, would be forced to travel through big nondescript mazes searching for members of Freedom Force (Mystique’s version of the brotherhood that was forced to serve the government), battle enemies such as barbarians and dinosaurs, and basically suffer through one of the worst RPG interfaces since Hylide on the NES. For $10 people could order a scenario editor from the company, although since few people have even heard of the Internet back then, there were few ways to distribute your created scenarios besides finding people with copies of the game, and I seriously doubt that very many people played this game long enough to want to design mods for it. On a plus side, this is the first and only X-men game to feature a playable Phoenix (Rachael Summers), Shadowcat, Longshot, and Archangel. This game is classified as abandonware, meaning that while it isn’t supported anymore (usually because either the company that made it no longer exists, or it no longer supports the platform the game was released originally on), the rights haven’t entered into free domain, so it’s still illegal to download it. Not that you’d want to play it anyway. Trust me.

xmenarcade.gifThankfully, the quality of X-men games was quickly improving. Konami released an arcade beat-em-up in the tradition of it’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Simpsons beat em ups. Taking control of either Wolverine, Dazzler, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Colossus, or Storm, you battled Magneto and his henchmen as you attempted to rescue Kitty Pryde and Professor X from his forces. The game usually supports 4 players, but if you were really lucky you could find a 6-player cabinet, which used two monitors to show an extended view of the action. The game is second only to the X-men Legends games when it comes to multiplayer X-men action involving more than two players. This game deserves an Xbox Live Arcade/Playstation Store/Wii Virtual Console re-release which it sadly may not receive because of licensing issues. Meanwhile Acclaim teamed up the X-men with Spider-man in Arcade’s revenge, which was a pretty solid game even if it was a bit hard. You can read more about it in my Spider-man special.

segaxmen.jpgAs the X-men grew in popularity in the early 90s thanks in no small part to the cartoon series, the Interactive games improved in their presentation, and incorporated designs from the Jim Lee Blue/Gold strike force era of the comics. In Sega’s X-men game for the Genesis, 1 or 2 players took control of either Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, or Gambit as they attempted to rescue Professor X from Magneto. However, they must first fight off a computer virus which has infected the Danger Room, transporting the X-men to simulations of familiar locales such as the Savage Land, Mojo World, and a Shi’ar battleship. Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, Iceman, and Archangel could be summoned at various points to give their assistance. The sprites and backgrounds were large and detailed, the gameplay was fluid, and game made good use of the X-men universe. However in one serious flaw, the game attempted to break the fourth wall by requiring players to reset the game to access the final level. This confused many players, and made the game impossible to complete if playing on Nomad. A sequel was released in 1995. Loosely inspired by the Phalanx Covenant Crossover, X-men 2: Clone Wars pitted the X-men against their most dangerous foes in an attempt to stop the Phalanx from taking over the Earth. It boasted the largest cast of X-men at the time, including Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Gambit, Beast, and even Magneto (after he was unlocked in the third level). This game featured an even greater variety of levels and enemies, and this time, there was no ‘reset trick’ needed to access the final level. Along with three decent but forgettable Game Gear games, Sega had planned to release a third Genesis game, X-Women: Sinister Virus, but it was canceled Most likely due to the 16-bit era slowly fading at the time.

cotaxmen.jpgAlong with Sega, Capcom also assisted in ushering a golden age of interactive X-men entertainment. Capcom gained a license for quite a few Marvel properties, so not only did we get games based on the X-men, we also got games featuring the Punisher, Spider-man, Captain America, and the Hulk. The first of which, X-men: Children of the Atom was not only a standout X-men game, it also either introduced or improved several gameplay mechanics that are common in 2-d fighting games. It was the first game to feature a multi-level super gauge (previous Capcom and SNK fighting games only featured a one level gauge), which granted your fighter new attacks. Future Capcom fighters such as Marvel Super Heroes, the Street Fighter Alpha series, and Darkstalkers 3 would use more simplified versions of this gauge. It featured super jumps, in which players could scale higher into the air to either escape their enemy or pull off a vicious aerial assault. As with most Capcom fighters, there wasn’t much of a story. Magneto threatens the earth, and the X-men (Cyclops, Wolverine, Psylocke, Colossus, Iceman, and Storm) hold a tournament to determine who gets to face him. Somehow, some of their most vicious enemies (Spiral, Omega Red, A Sentinel, and Silver Samurai) get mixed up in the scheme. Juggernaut and Magneto were the bosses. The game featured some cool graphical effects, such as 2d scrolling backgrounds. The Danger room changed it’s look every few seconds, Magneto’s Asteroid M zipped around orbit, and the bridge in Colossus’s stage broke away only for the fight to continue along the river, as a Sentinel loomed in the background. Even though the game utilized Capcom’s standard 6-button control scheme, although it’s a lot more hyperactive than Street Fighter. Regular attacks shot projectiles, super attacks took up an entire screen, and even the simplest combos piled on huge amounts of damage. This game also featured the first roots of the Marvel vs Capcom games, as Akuma was selectable as a hidden character. It received a sequel of sorts, Marvel Super Heroes, which was inspired by the Infinity War storyline.

mutantapocalypse.JPGCapcom also showed love to the Super Nintendo as well. In 1994’s Mutant Apocalypse, Professor X sends the X-men on a mission to stop Apocalypse and his schemes involving Genosha’s captive mutants. Playing as either Cyclops, Gambit, Wolverine, Psylocke, and Beast, players will take on villains such as The Brood, the Acolytes, and Tusk. Although the game was a side-scroller, it played more like a beat-em-up, and the mutant’s powers were activated by combinations of the control pad and buttons, ala Street Fighter. The first level was split up into five parts, with each X-man having to make it through his or her own stage. If one X-man lost all their lives, the game was over. This made the first part of the game a bit difficult, but after that, the game was enjoyable, even if it was a bit on the easy side. Marvel Super heroes: War of the Gems, released a few years later, was patterned in a similar fashion. Playing as either Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man, or the Hulk, you faced off against cosmic villains like Thanos, the Magus, Nebula, and Dr. Doom. Like the arcade fighting game, this game also took inspiration from the Infinity Gauntlet Trilogy.

For those of you who own Quake, you can head over to the Zero Gravity website and download Ravages of Apocalypse, a total version for Quake. Playing as a cyborg created by Magneto, you face off against Apocalypse and his X-men clones. It was originally released as a commercial product, but it flopped due to its low quality. It also didn’t make much sense to charge for what was essentially a Quake mod when there were better ones available for free.

That’s all for this segment of the X-men special. Be back here for part 2 later this week. In the meantime, check out the articles for X-Men vs Street Fighter and Mutant Apocalypse that I wrote up for and feel free to discuss these games on our forum.