Mention the words "X-Men" and "video game" in the same breath these days, and most people immediately think of Capcom and its fighting games. While the mighty Marvel vs. Capcom 3 can trace its heritage all the way back to 1994's X-Men: Children of the Atom, that wasn't the first X-Men arcade incarnation to wow the teens of the '90s. No, that honor goes to Konami's X-Men.
Released in 1992, X-Men was an impressive sight back in the day. Street Fighter II: Champion Edition may have ruled the roost that year with its balanced gameplay, and Mortal Kombat attracted players with its unadulterated gore, but X-Men managed to draw crowds through the sheer size of its cabinet. Consisting of two monitors set side-by-side in a widescreen display (with no visible seam due to some mirror trickery), the game supported up to six simultaneous players and was nearly double the size of a standard arcade machine. The Blob would have been proud.
Visually, the game boasted sprite artwork that was based on the then-current "X-Men" animated series and used limited voice clips for all of the main characters. Sure, it looks dated by today's standards, but back then, it was state of the art.
For the PSN and XBLA ports, Konami wisely decided to keep the original game rather than update it. Due to the fact that the game was designed with a widescreen display, it fits nicely on today's HDTVs. This is in contrast to many other classic arcade games, which must be "pillarboxed" when displayed on a current television.
Gameplay in X-Men is straightforward. You choose one of six heroes (Colossus, Cyclops, Dazzler, Nightcrawler, Storm or Wolverine) and then get to work beating up on the minions of Magneto. Controls consist of a simple attack, jump and mutant power. The mutant power is a super attack that does massive damage at the cost of health or a power ball. Which one it drains first depends on which version of the game you're playing: American or Japanese.
What's that? Two versions of the game? Yes, you read correctly. Since Backbone is emulating the original arcade game with these ports, it took the time to include both the American and Japanese ROM sets. The two versions play similarly, though there are a few tweaks to the rules, making the Japanese variant a bit easier than its American counterpart. Most notably, in the Japanese version, mutant power moves consume power balls before they consume health and defeated enemies occasionally drop energy pills. In the American version, mutant power moves consume health first (they only consume power balls when you are extremely low on health), and enemies never, ever drop energy pills.
In addition to swapping between the two regional ROM sets, players can also select between the full six-player game with its widescreen display or a four-player version with a square screen display. Unless you're stuck gaming on an old tube TV, chances are good that you'll want to stick with the six-player version.
Playing through X-Men by yourself can be challenging, assuming you limit the number of continues. If you're lacking self-control, the game quickly becomes nothing more than an exercise in patience and button-mashing. After all, you can just spam the mutant power button, die, continue and repeat. Those who play properly (i.e., actually attempt to limit the number of times you die) can see how their skills rank against others on the leaderboards.
Where X-Men shines the brightest is in its six-player glory. On an Xbox 360, you're not going to manage more than four players locally (the last two will have to join via Xbox Live), but with a full complement, the game is a blast. The on-screen action can be colorful and chaotic, while the player commentary is a hoot. This is a game to play with a group of your best buds when you just want to have fun without a whole lot of thought.
Half of the appeal of X-Men: The Arcade Game is nostalgia, but the other half is still a genuinely fun experience. No, it's not as flashy or deep as any current-generation game, but there's still something to be said for taking control of Wolverine in his bright yellow spandex and mindlessly ripping through hordes of evil robot minions. If you're a solo player, you might want to pass, but if you regularly play with a group, especially a local one, then it's worth checking out.
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