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.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

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Another tired entry into Fox’s mutant money-maker, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse simply reminds us why Marvel Studios formula works so well. After defeating Magneto and squaring off against robotic killing machines, the X-Men now have to unite to defeat the world’s first ever mutant, the deadly Apocalypse.

Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men film stars most of the cast from previous films, but this time round there are some fresh faces thrown into the mix. A young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) all appear as new recruits, along with the arrival of the ancient Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Unfortunately for Fox, their source material for Apocalypse isn’t necessarily strong. First appearing in X-Factor way back in 1986, the imposing adversary received poor treatment in the comic books over the years. Regardless of his strong origins, it wasn’t long before he became a complete joke, and Marvel’s pure product of the 90s, ‘Age of Apocalypse’, didn’t help matters.

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Since his incarnation, Apocalypse has been regarded as the main arch-enemy of the X-Men, despite having some of the weakest storylines in the books. The concept has always been interesting, but the execution lacking. The last attempt to make something out of Apocalypse probably appeared in the animation X-Men Evolution, and the video game, X-Men Legends II.

So, it’s a damn shame to see that such a mishandled character is given to one of the most talented actors of this generation, Oscar Isaac. Renowned for his incredible work in Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year, actor Oscar Isaac is completely wasted as Apocalypse, becoming the weakest villain in the X-Men movies to date.

The problem with X-Men: Apocalypse‘s main antagonist is that he casually strolls into the 80s without any real motivation. Locked away for thousands of years, he awakes from his slumber and demands that the planet belongs to him and his species. With little to no backstory whatsoever, we simply end up not caring what his intentions are. We’ve seen it all before.

Also bearing a striking resemblance to Ivan Ooze, this Apocalypse cheaply gains his Four Horsemen in a mere matter of moments, leaving no room for exposition for any mutant whose name isn’t Magneto. Once his Four Horsemen finally get into action, they’re treated like an afterthought.

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The Four Horsemen in the comics used to be a ruthless group of individuals, and these transformations used to have severe ramifications for some heroes. Angel’s transformation into Archangel, for instance, is an interesting plot point and provides a great dynamic for the team. In X-Men: Apocalypse however, Archangel is essentially a mutant with no real impact or character. Oh, he drinks a lot? Better make him evil.

As a whole, the film essentially suffers from its wafer-thin plot, which relies too heavily on just a small handful of blasé characters. It is unforgivable that Jubilee appears for such a short amount of time, whereas Jennifer Lawrence manages to phone it in as Mystique for the majority of the film.

Looking back at the X-Men franchise, Fox’s handling of Mystique has progressively worsened as the films have been released. For a mutant that was once proud in showing her true identity, it’s a shame to see Mystique disguised as a normal homo-sapien throughout X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Jennifer Lawrence reportedly disliked the make-up process for Mystique, which explains some things, but it doesn’t excuse how lazy her acting is throughout the film, especially during the final act. The Oscar award-winning actress may have that star power to pull people in, but having her as the main focus in this new trilogy lessens the importance of others.

X-Men: Apocalypse pointlessly involves destruction on a massive scale, which would make even Zack Snyder blush. Thousands, if not millions of people die in the wanton destruction caused by Magneto and Apocalypse, but there’s absolutely no weight to it whatsoever. This poorly put together sequence has literally zero ramifications, and it involves some of the most average CGI seen in the genre today.

It’s at this very point in the film, where all care is thrown out of the window. Perhaps cinemagoers have been treated too well by Marvel Studios, but films such as Captain America: Civil War break free from the norm. They help transgress the superhero genre with new storylines and ambitious filmmaking, whereas X-Men: Apocalypse copies the same old formula which has been dished out for 16 long years. Nothing’s new and remarkable here, and that’s why it fails.

We’re at this point now where the superhero film as a whole either fades away or evolves into something else. Marvel Studios have arguably accomplished this transformation by allowing their films to encroach upon other genres, but other films such as Batman vs. Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse do no favours by becoming pure box-office garbage.

Perhaps it is time for Fox to find new blood because Singer has yet to really push the X-Men into the right direction. Deadpool easily managed to find the right balance of action and humour, and it even featured a nice X-Men uniform. Here, the boring and bland leather outfits make yet another appearance, and it’s a telling sign that it’s time to move on.

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However, despite these criticisms, it isn’t the worst entry in the franchise so far, but it’s certainly not far off. There are some great little moments during the film, such as Quicksilver’s phenomenal scene which is accompanied by Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. There’s also one cameo that will appease some fans, but others may be put off it. Either way, it’s a nice inclusion to such a muddled film.

The potential is there in X-Men: Apocalypse, but it is squandered by too many inane decisions and lazy writing. The CGI is some of the worst seen in the franchise to date, and the horrible outfits need to go already. The new additions, such as Quicksilver, show that fresh ideas are desperately needed.

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Oddly enough, there’s a scene in the film where Jean Grey leaves the cinema with her friends, after watching Return of the Jedi. She remarks on how the third film in a trilogy is usually the worst, and despite this being a clear dig towards Brett Ratner’s abysmal X3, Bryan Singer should probably realise that this is by far his worst entry to date.

Despite some strong additions to the film, such as Scott Summers and Jean Grey, X-Men: Apocalypse is a terribly average film. At a time where we should be expecting fresh and exciting filmmaking within the genre, we receive X-Men: Apocalypse instead. The news of yet another X-Men film set in the 90s should be exciting, but quite frankly, it now isn’t.