HISTORY OF X-MEN IN GAMING – PART ONE

Image result for X-MEN CARTOON

The X-Men made their first grand appearance on comic book stands way back in September 1963, and since then they’ve taken over the world by storm with some of the most significant characters and stories that the industry has ever witnessed.

It spawned successful action figure lines, several animated cartoon series and even a huge movie franchise that has led to box-office hits and unfortunately some of the worst superhero offerings that the genre has ever known. Here’s looking at you, Wolverine.

They’ve had it all, but for a long time, they’ve also made numerous appearances in the video game business. From arcade machines to mobile phones, the mutants have made an impact in the gaming industry. Due to my love of the uncanny mutants, I decided to tackle the long and arduous task of analysing and briefly reviewing almost every X-Men video game ever created.

I must be mad, right? Perhaps, but I’ve had the pleasure of growing up amongst some of these X-Men titles, and we’ve had quite the veritable cornucopia of mutants in video games. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the X-Men’s first ever foray into the strange and unique world of video games, with The Uncanny X-Men, on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

THE UNCANNY X-MEN – NES

It was the summer of 1989 when the X-Men first appeared on our tiny CRT television sets, and their first outing was rough. Released in the same year when the animated series pilot aired (Pryde of the X-Men), Uncanny X-Men was a multiplayer game that was published by LJN. A well-known American toy manufacturer and game publisher, LJN had produced several lines of Thundercats and WWF action figures and playsets.

Strangely enough, there is no record of the development team behind the game. Presumably, it was developed in Japan and then shipped to American audiences only. The title screen showcases several different playable characters, but that’s where the excitement begins and ends. Unfortunately, as it turns out, The Uncanny X-Men game is utter garbage.

The level design in the game is non-existent, and the game is slow and downright clunky. Enemies consist of floating blocks, robotic caterpillars and mysterious little orbs. The sprites naturally fit for a game developed in 1989, but then there’s no excuse for Cyclops resembling the Mad Titan, Thanos.

If you had no friends back in 1989, the game assists you with an AI character, which does nothing to help the player. I guess you can’t complain too much, because back then the concept of AI in video games was stuck in the Savage Land, but this adds to the misery of playing the game.

Perhaps this was just a pure cash grab for the upcoming mutant phenomenon, as this game is just a miserable reminder of how some licensed games were back then. Do not waste any time tracking down the first ever X-Men game. It’s mind-numbingly boring, and your ears will be pained by the horrible screeching sound of Cyclops’ optic blasts, too. You don’t need that in your life.

X-MEN: MADNESS IN MURDERWORLD

From the second gamers load up X-Men: Madness in Murderworld, they’re treated to a sweet little title screen and carnival music! Yes, it appears that some more care was taken with this Commodore 64 and DOS video game, which was developed and published by Paragon Software way back in 1989.

Recurring comic book villain Arcade (imagine Jigsaw – but a bit nicer) takes centre stage in the game, as he’s somehow miraculously managed to kidnap the leader of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier! It’s up the player to use their wits and expertise to save good ol’ Chuck, with the small team of Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops and…Dazzler!

Madness in Murderworld is a side-scrolling, awkward little video game which is extremely unforgiving. If gamers aren’t up to the task, losing a life means permanently losing a vital member of the X-Men! Of course, they would probably turn up again in the comics after dying, but this isn’t the point here. It’s life or death.

Combat in Murderworld isn’t fun, not even in the slightest. Engaging with an enemy is a headache, as players can only select specific mutant abilities by pausing the game. I was immediately thrown against a mutant-killing robotic Sentinel, and let’s say; it was a sad day for the mutants. The control panel for the game is a mess, and players will fumble over them continuously.

There are many different areas that the X-Men have to traverse through to find Charles Xavier, and in all honesty, at least there’s some sort of narrative here. There’s a decent enough range of characters to use, but it’s just too difficult and awkward to play. Paragon Software must have seen some success with the game though, as they attempted to improve on this formula with a sequel exactly one year later…

X-MEN II: THE FALL OF THE MUTANTS

The second game from Paragon Studios, Fall of the Mutants, was released in 1990 and was loosely based on the comic book story of the same name, by Chris Claremont. This time around, they had dramatically increased the roster, including Rogue, Psylocke, Havok and even Longshot, amongst others.

The game begins with an introduction from Uatu the Watcher, who was always synonymous with significant events in the Marvel comic book universe. After his brief introduction, Uatu lets you pick five different mutants for the game, and three different areas to choose from. You can visit Dallas, the Ice Age and the Galleria where you can fight the likes of dinosaurs, demons and…the Viet Cong.

Your end goal? To rescue Storm and the man with the cheapest mutant ability, in the history of the X-Men, Forge. No seriously, he can make machines with his mutant gene because of comic book logic.

Fall of the Mutants allows for gamers to explore a top-down map, where mutants can utilise their powers to get through obstacles, and also get handpicked for certain fights. The fight sequences are similar to the previous game in the series, but this time around, it’s a little more fluid. The backgrounds have a bit more detail for them, which is also welcome.

Again, for the nineties, it wasn’t that terrible a game. It’s a definite improvement on Murderworld, and Paragon Studios paved the way for some of the most popular franchises we play today, such as X-Com and Civilisation, which was brought forth by the acquisition from developers and publisher MicroProse. However, nothing had compared to the next X-Men game, which ended up emptying the wallets of comic book readers in arcades all over the world.

 

X-Men First Class. Review

Since Brett Ratner’s abysmal X3, and the god-awful Wolverine: Origins, X-Men fans have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths.  When FOX had mentioned the sheer possibility of a sequel to the popular series, everyone was left with a certain disinterest for a film focused on the beginning of the X-Men.  It’s understandable, really.  This news did come from the same studio which butchered many, many mutants during its tenure after Bryan Singer’s departure.

However, names began dropping and things started to seem promising.  Matthew Vaughn was attached as the director, and his previous work has been critically acclaimed.  He managed to pull off a magical universe perfectly with Stardust, and he even shocked and impressed everyone with the great Kick-Ass.  The screenwriter was announced as Jane Goldman, who has been responsible for the great stories that were also directed by Vaughn.  This was all well and good, but who were the mutants going to be? Who were the specific actors who would get to play the homo-superior heroes and villains?

Well, we finally discovered the specific roster of mutants which would be portrayed in X-Men: First Class.  It was a strange line-up of students.  A few characters didn’t seem to fit well within the continuity of the films, such as Alex Summers’ inclusion to the X-Men in a film set around the 60s.  In the comics, he’s actually Scott Summers’ brother – but this was Vaughn’s project, so when James McAvoy was announced as Xavier, fans soon managed to forget about some of the glaring inconsistencies.  However, when news of Michael Fassbender playing Magneto stormed the net, the anticipation swept in.  Names began dropping, such as January Jones and Kevin Bacon.  FOX weren’t messing around.  This seemed like a promising cast.

The shooting schedule seemed to be troublesome and incredibly short.  The promotional posters were possibly the worst designs ever used for marketing a film.  FOX kept dropping trailers left, right and centre.  It didn’t even seem like Marvel themselves were promoting the film, either.  Was this going to be yet another Wolverine: Origins, or would this be the return to form, maintaining the charm and excellence of Singer’s films?

Well, surprise surprise.  X-Men: First Class manages to entertain flawlessly throughout.  The premise seemed dodgy, but it strangely pays off brilliantly.  The film’s narrative never seems too shallow or short.  Whilst Jane Goldman has reportedly complained about the lack of character development for the promising students which was cut from her script, it doesn’t appear to lack any elements which affect the film.

The first sequence will be remembered by many as being told briefly in Singer’s film, as a young Erik Lensherr is manipulated within the confines of a WWII concentration camp.  It’s a harrowing set of events, which leads up to Fassbender’s unforgettable portrayal of Magneto, the master of magnetism.  Set on a path of destruction and revenge, fans of the X-Men will be pleasured to death by insane set pieces and special effects, showcasing Erik’s powerful mutant ability.

James McAvoy also manages to pull off a convincing Charles Xavier, with the same wit and charm which made him so likeable in Atonement.  Unlike his future nemesis, Xavier is more interested in downing pints and chatting up women than using his telepathic abilities to help others. When the CIA gets wind of the Hellfire Club’s intended world domination, he is recruited as a powerful force to fight against Sebastian Shaw and his mutant gang.  You can definitely see this young Charles becoming the great Professor X with time.  His chemistry with Fassbender is one that shall be written and developed in many, many fan-fictions.

Kevin Bacon plays a great Sebastian Shaw, who after watching the film; you’d begin to wonder why his character is so criminally underused in comics now.  With the ability to absorb energy, he easily becomes the most interesting and dangerous villain for the X-Men yet.  He’s suave, sophisticated, he also has a nice submarine to boot and he manages to occupy himself with Emma Frost.  He’s got it all.

A few reviewers have criticised January Jones’ acting as the White Queen, Emma Frost.  Whilst her acting talents were not completely used to their full capacity, she still managed to come off as a great Emma Frost.  She’s ice cold, devious and she easily manages the skimpiest super villain costume of all time.  Many reviewers may just compare her acting here to her role in Mad Men – but these are two entirely different properties.  You can only be so convincing when being a diamond skinned, telepath with only a few rags attached to you.

The minor characters managed to impress, also.  Nicholas Hoult, known for his work on popular E4 drama Skins, was perhaps the best mutant other than the main characters.  It’s great to witness his transformation from the oddly limbed mutant, to the blue Beast fans love today.  Hoult manages to portray an intelligent, loveable and enigmatic Beast.  They managed to handle Banshee perfectly and whilst most don’t consider the Irish mutant’s power to be handy, they might just change their mind after his powerful display throughout the film.

A few characters were forgettable, such as Riptide and Moira but that’s to be expected.  This isn’t to say they’re bad characters, but their parts just weren’t as interesting as the others.  However, the character of Angel was by far the worst part about the film.  Bringing nothing but a flimsy power and wooden acting, we could’ve done without. Watch out for Darwin too, whose powers and character stand out from amongst the crowd.

A lot happens throughout the film, but thankfully it manages to never lose its pacing, letting viewers take in all the information and action easily without losing any interest in the story.  There is one thing that the film never seems to make you forget, that this isn’t necessarily a kid-friendly film.  Take the harrowing scenes of WWII for example, which is completely subtitled for the first ten minutes of the film; ending in a climactic event which eventually turns Erik down a murderous path.  Sure, this is essentially a story of growing up – as the students mature, evolving their powers and harnessing them properly.  There’s slightly underlying morals about puberty but this is also more importantly, a tale of friendship and loss.  The story of Erik and Charles is portrayed brilliantly through the film, as slight hints in their behaviour lead towards the inevitable fall out.  When it happens though, the film ends with a satisfying bang.

X-Men: First Class is definitely a welcome back to the form, and it’s great to see such effort go into the great storylines which preceded its theatrical release.  The action never falters throughout, with intense scenes which showcases the capabilities of these powers brilliantly.  There’s little to no romance subplot throughout the film, apart from Raven Darkholme’s attraction to the young Xavier but this is never developed, thankfully enough.  Fassbender will definitely be remembered for his perfect portrayal of the troubled, conflicted leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants.  Here’s to the next academic year.