We were a Nintendo household when I was growing up, and the only game that made me wish I had a Sega Genesis was the X-men game (and its eventual sequel). No such luck for me, and for whatever reason I never saw the original NES X-men game at any of the rental stores. Given how horrible it was, that’s for the best. The moment I heard about this SNES game however, I had to have it. It was one of the few games we owned rather than rented. I was still young and naive enough that I knew nothing about the torture the LJN label held, and I just wanted a chance to play my favorite characters in video game form.
The game starts with you playing as Spidey, finding out that Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit, and Storm have all been kidnapped. For no apparent reason, you’re tasked with going about the level and collecting these flashing red light alarms. You have to collect them in a special order, as one gets activated only after the preceding one has been collected. Your spider sense is somewhat helpful in telling you where you need to go. It makes this really ultra annoying static noise as you get close, and an arrow will appear in the corner telling you which general direction to head in. You can climb walls, swing on your web, and also shoot webbing at enemies. I’m pretty sure we had an issue of Nintendo Power which showed me where all the alarms were and what order to get them in. After playing this game again with a decade long gap, I still remembered where to collect all of them, and I got the hang of Spidey’s controls really quickly. They’re surprisingly intuitive and well done.
Once you finish that stage, you can now select any of the characters mentioned above. They all have two stages you must finish before moving on. I was never able to do this. Spidey’s stages are full of construction beams and robots and require similar skills to the entry level stage. You beat the Shocker half way through the first level, and at the end of it you’ll find N’astirh . The second stage is similar, with Rhino and Carnage at the end. I could never beat Rhino. I thought you were maybe supposed to drop something on him, but according to a walkthrough you're supposed to swing through him. Since it's not an actual attack anywhere else in the game, I'm not sure how you're supposed to figure that out on your own.
Storm’s stages are swimming levels. Her life meter is air bubbles, and will be replenished the moment you touch the surface of the water. There are also bubbles coming out of pockets in the ground for the few times you can’t quite reach the surface. You blow these special machines scattered throughout the level up one by one using lightning bolts to make the water levels rise until you can reach the exit. It’s a bit like the first Spidey level in that order can make a huge difference. The first stage is extremely easy, but I’ve never beaten the second. It has just occurred to me that using lightning bolts in water should be a highly deadly situation. I can't say Storm is immune to it, because there are areas in the level where you can get shocked. I guess she's immune to her own electricity, but not any generated by outside sources?
Wolverine’s levels are circus/toy themed. You will hear an extremely annoying clown laughing at you for most of the stage. Your claws are retractable and when you keep them in, your healing factor is activated. So basically your strategy is to pop out your claws to break through walls or kill things then immediately pop them back in. Kind of defeats the whole purpose of playing as Wolverine. The boss for the first stage is Apocalypse. The second stage has Juggernaut chasing you and you have to keep ahead of him. I know I got to the second stage, I don’t remember if I ever beat it. These stages are fairly standard platforming fare, where in you just memorize where you need to go and when and you can do okay.
Cyclops’s stages are in a mine shaft, and the tracks are electrified. You’re supposed to collect gems. This stage is a joke and I could never get very far in the first one at all. I suppose you are once again supposed to memorize the obstacles, but the proper sequence of where to go is not obvious and you will be frustrated and run out of lives long before you discover it. Similarly, Gambit’s stages have a huge spiked ball following him and he just runs. It’s damn near impossible. According to Wikipedia there’s some infinite lives glitch in Gambit’s first stage, but I never found it because I probably never survived long enough to get to that point. The ball moves too fast, and there are too many other enemies flying at you. Each time you get hit by the little enemies you freeze momentarily, therefore bringing the ball incredibly close to you.
I only recently found out there are more stages after this one before the boss. According to the walkthrough I found "a drunken circus monkey" could beat these later levels. Since there is no password system for this game, I can't confirm that. They are followed by a boss fight that includes a robot clown and "white guys with guns." I'm assuming that means multiple versions of Arcade, who is the main villain for the game.
As you can tell, the game is extremely uneven in terms of design, control, and difficulty. I get the feeling that different teams developed the different character stages. It had a lot of replay value for me back then because it was X-men and that was all I needed. These days, attempting to play it is just an exercise in frustration, with the exception of maybe the Spider-man and Wolverine stages.
If you'd like to learn about the absolutely awful NES X-men and Wolverine games, as well as the Sega Genesis games I mentioned at the beginning, the Angry Video Game Nerd is happy to tell you all about them using as many expletives as possible.