HISTORY OF X-MEN IN GAMING – PART ONE

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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.

 

Iron Man 3 – The Review

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In 2008, Robert Downey Jr. surprised cinemagoers around the world with his perfect portrayal of Tony Stark, in Marvel Studios first major motion picture, Iron Man. Directed by Jon Favreau, the movie was injected with wit, humour and some quintessential comic book action. The film was a huge success – both critically and financially – and it later paved the way for one of the most ambitious movie projects of all time, The Avengers. Fast-forward a year later, and after the box-office smash which was The Avengers, Tony Stark returns to cinemas in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3.

Tony Stark now finds himself in his workshop most nights, in a total state of disrepair after the traumatic events which occurred months earlier in NYC. He is constantly overworking, fixated on building new suits and worried about the very existence of new threatening life-forms. The world as he knows it has been shaken up, but the iron Avenger has yet to face his deadliest enemy to date; the Mandarin.

Regarded as a deadly terrorist and the leader of the Ten Rings, the Mandarin threatens the very safety of the American public. After a very personal attack against Stark, the Iron Man suit is utilised once more to thwart this new mysterious opposition. It is Stark’s most dangerous journey yet, as he comes across the likes of the sinister corporation A.I.M., rival scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and ‘botanist’ Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall).

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The plot of Iron Man 3 lends itself to a mix of storylines that have previously appeared in the comic books, such as Warren Ellis’ renowned Extremis arc, and Matt Fraction’s first arc in The Invincible Iron Man. Of course, as this is Shane Black’s movie, the film is typically set around Christmas. All of the original cast members from the second movie return, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau and Don Cheadle.

The idea of a third Iron Man film without Jon Favreau seemed like a daunting one, but Shane Black is the perfect director for Tony Stark’s fourth outing. The director is recognised for his ingenious action-movie scriptwriting (Lethal Weapon), and he has previously worked with Robert Downey Jr. on the criminally unappreciated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Marvel loosened the reins of their most profitable character this time round, and that clearly shows. This is Shane Black’s film, and it’s an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

The screenplay was written by both Drew Pearce and Shane Black, who have managed to create a script with the perfect mix of action, drama and quick-witted humour. Moviegoers will be quoting the film for months to come, which is partly due to Black’s trademark comedy. Whilst the various trailers and countless TV spots suggested a much darker tone for Iron Man 3, it still maintains the light-hearted comedic tone of the two previous films. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark, and he’s utilised to a greater extent than ever before due to the script. The snappy one-liners are excellently suited for Downey Jr., whose deliverance will leave audiences laughing throughout.

Some of the set-pieces in Iron Man 3 are grandiose in scale, and a whole bunch of scenes will whet the appetites of even the die-hard Iron Man fans. One particular moment may upset some fans, but it effectively works to the film’s advantage. Nonetheless, the film is rife with plenty of astounding scenes, which are sure to agape jaws across theatres. The ‘barrel of monkeys’ scene in particular, is a tremendous scene and is handled beautifully.

Thankfully, this isn’t Avengers 1.5, which was a concern for many. Iron Man 3 is its own movie, which Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige had promised in the past. One of the true successes of Iron Man 3 is that you won’t be left desiring the appearance of a fellow Avenger. The main characters each have their own respective roles in this movie, and they are fleshed out and moulded well into the storyline.

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Ben Kingsley’s role as the Mandarin was greatly anticipated since the news reports confirmed his part, and luckily Kingsley delivers the goods here. He’s an unforgettable villain in the franchise, who will be a major talking point after the film. Guy Pearce’s performance as Killian is also a strong one, with more screen time than many had assumed.

Stark’s close friend James Rhodes also has a more substantial role this time round, as Don Cheadle’s character is finally fleshed out. The exchanges between Rhodes and Stark have a true ‘buddy cop’ feel to them, which is all thanks to Shane Black’s previous experience. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is finally an important factor this time round, as it  actually feels like she’s Stark’s love interest.

Yet again in a Marvel movie, the CGI is flawless. All of the action sequences have seamless CGI, but as is the case with 3D conversion nowadays, the 3D is just not necessary. Ten minutes into the film and you’ll surely forget it’s even in 3D. Marvel need to stop applying useless post-converted 3D into their films, but unfortunately it provides more money for them.

The score is nothing remarkable, but it still accentuates some of the drama and action throughout. The opening number in the film however is truly a strange, yet hilarious way to begin such a movie.

The finale is an explosive hot-mess, which is a relief. The previous Iron Man movies unfortunately suffer from weak third acts, but Iron Man 3 wraps up the storyline nicely with some pleasant surprises, and an ending which could potentially wrap up Tony Stark’s story completely. The fight scenes are lengthy and choreographed well, and it thankfully differentiates itself from the previous uninspired bouts in the Iron Man franchise.

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The after-credits sequence is not to be ruined, but it may not be the material that fans are clamouring for. Nonetheless, it’s still nice of Marvel to continue this trend of post-credits sequences and it’s definitely worth sticking around for.

Iron Man 3 is undoubtedly the best film in the series and it could be regarded as the best Marvel movie to date. Whilst that’s a bold statement to make, Shane Black has managed to create a perfect superhero film for fans and cinemagoers alike. It is equipped with a genius script, some terrific action and Downey Jr.’s best performance of Tony Stark so far. It’s a smart blockbuster, with great spectacle.

Upon writing the review, it appears that even before Iron Man 3‘s American release, it is breaking box-office records. Having been shown in 79% of foreign markets, Iron Man 3 has already grossed an impressive $198 million, which has already surpassed The Avengers‘ $185 million start. It’s set to be one of the biggest summer blockbusters yet.

Is this to be the last Iron Man movie with Robert Downey Jr? It just might be, and whilst the talented actor may return for the second Avengers movie, he has at least left us with this remarkable fourth outing as the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.