It’s a sad, sad thing that arcades are fading away into obscurity. Fortunately there are a few places that still hold on to these old gems, but most of us would have to take a vacation to visit them. I think some malls still have arcade sections, but what you’ll find there is a shadow of what the arcades used to be. There were certain cabinets that you looked at with a kind of awe because of what they were. Dragon’s Lair used real animation and sound and looked amazing even if it was incredibly difficult to play. Another awe inspiring machine was the X-men cabinet. Some people only got the smaller version, but our local arcade had the huge 6 player double monitor monstrosity. I didn’t even know who the X-men were the first time I saw it, but I desperately wanted to play it. The animated intro called out to you.
I don’t think I ever played this game with more than maybe 3 or 4 players at a time. My brother and I would play together, and maybe some other kids would join in. Like any arcade game, the difficulty was extreme in the hopes that you would keep plugging in your quarters over and over again. The more people you had, the better you did. Alone I’m sure I couldn’t get past Pyro, the first boss, if I even got that far. I do recall reaching Juggernaut though in a group.
There’s not much to say about the game play beyond the fact that it is your standard beat ‘em up. Lots of enemies on the screen, you have two basic attacks, you can jump, and you also have a “mutant power” special move that helps eliminate a lot of enemies at once. I know back then I had no strategy what so ever, I was just mashing buttons and hoping for the best. Probably used up my mutant powers too quickly.
The story is a very basic one. Magneto has kidnapped the professor and Kitty Pryde, you have to go rescue them. I don’t know how Magneto got his hands on so many multi-colored sentinels, but as the “master of magnet” (as the game calls him) it makes enough sense. The other characters are mostly based on those which made up the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the Pryde of the X-men cartoon. The X-men characters are also based on the team there. I have no idea where the giant King Tut-like bosses are supposed to come from. Some of the strangeness for me was that it seemed like Marvel had given Konami drawings without descriptions. In the dialogue, the professor refers to what is obviously the Savage Land as “Island M” yet he calls the final stage “Magneto’s asteroid base” rather than Asteroid M.
Late last year the game was released for download on Xbox Live and PSN. I was extremely excited and bought it the first day it was out. For a beat ‘em up, this is still a strong game – the controls respond the way they should. I have the occasional problem where I think I’m standing in front of the enemy, but apparently I’m slightly off on the vertical plane and I end up hitting nothing until I jiggle the character up and down to find the magic contact spot. It’s a minor annoyance but not nearly as frustrating as it can be in similar games. I’ve played on the normal and expert difficulty, but given the state of the game it doesn't really matter. You’re not pumping quarters into a machine anymore, you’re just hitting X to continue. How many times you die is irrelevant, you’ll just get up to punch and kick some more until you reach the end of the game. There's also not a huge difference between the American and Japanese version, though I think some Japanese levels have energy power ups available.
As such, the play can get boring, repetitive, and tedious. The bosses especially knock you down a lot, slowing down the process. If you play the American version of the game, defeating Magneto will show the credits, and then immediately dump you right back at the first level to start all over again. I honestly couldn’t tell if the difficulty was any harder the second time around or not.
This new version of the game also allows you to play with 6 players, either locally or online. Local play works really well, but online play is, in my experience, full of lag. It gets worse the more people you have playing at once. While there’s something kind of neat about playing with all the characters at the same time, especially with the knowledge that the people controlling them could be from anywhere in the world, I find it not particularly worth it unless you have specific friends you really want to play with.
If you have strong feelings of nostalgia for this game, it’s worth picking up. If you really love beat ‘em ups, it’s worth your time. Anyone else should probably just experience a demo or get it on the cheap.