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.