X-Men offers nostalgic arcade fun alongside a few small annoyances
For those of us who grew up around the arcade scene of the early nineties, Konami beat’em ups will always hold a special place in our hearts. While more competitive gamers would line up around the block to get their turn on the latest Street Fighter variation, those of us who were looking for a more co-operative experience turned our heads towards games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons. But if you were a comic book nerd and an arcade rat like I was, there was no way you could say no to X-Men.
With gorgeous visuals (for the time), a great cast of characters, and challenging gameplay, few would dispute the footprint it left in the history of arcade machines – especially in terms of games based on comic book licenses. Now this game has been ported to the iOS platform, and the transition is mostly a success.
Utilizing an on-screen directional pad and a trio of buttons, the game controls like a dream. Not once in our experience did we find ourselves missing a button in the heat of battle or accidentally jumping when we meant to attack. And if the default layout isn’t to your liking for whatever reason, the developers have seen fit to let you customize their layout however you see fit.
Players will brawl their way across seven distinct levels as they attempt to free Charles Xavier, their mentor, from the evil clutches of the villainous Magneto – and they’ll be battling all sorts of enemies and major series villains along the way. From Blob to the White Queen, every great element of classic X-Men is there.
On the flipside, there are some elements of the game that are wildly inconsistent with X-Men mythos – sometimes comically so. The Sentinel’s you’ll fight in the game (normally hulking giant robots that can dwarf a house) are no taller than the average gas station attendant. Likewise, the thought that Magneto – a character obsessed with the rights of mutants – would use the evil mutant-hunting Sentinels as his primary means of foot soldier is downright laughable. Still – these are complaints that are nearly 20 years to late to really bring up, and if anything just add to the kitsch appeal of the experience.
In terms of two-dimensional pixel art, arcade games like this have always been an example of the best of the best and X-Men is no exception. This game looks as good on the iPhone as it did back in ’92, and that’s saying a lot.
The most important element with beat’em up games of this nature, though, is co-operative play. The iOS build of X-Men has that covered, but not as perfectly as one might have hoped. Supporting four players over WiFi is good, but we would have liked to have seen support for six just like the deluxe version of the arcade original. Online play would have been a nice bonus too. Still, the most important element of the group experience is how well it plays, and X-Men has its ups and downs.
In our experience with a second player, we found that X-Men didn’t run quite as smoothly as it did in a single player game. It was still playable, but every few seconds it would feel like the game was skipping a few frames of animation. Stranger yet, sometimes we’d hear audio from one device or not the other. When Blob first appeared and declared “Nothing can move the blob!” only one player heard it. Inconsistencies like this weren’t common, but they were still definitely there.
Oh – and when one player drops out of the game? That’s it. Game over. The game doesn’t simply leave you in to finish it up solo like you could have in the arcade.
For all that’s good about X-Men, there are a few issues that really got under our skin. In terms of presentation, you’re forced to make a sacrifice in one direction or another. If you want to play the game in its original 4:3 presentation, you’ll find that the controls will always display darkly – there’s no way to make them more translucent so that you can see what’s happening underneath the on screen buttons. This really puts a crimp in the display – especially when 4:3 offers such a smaller screen to begin with.
If you choose 16:9 you’ll get more translucent buttons, but you’re doing so at the expense of clarity. The full screen presentation simply stretches the 4:3 image, ruining the gorgeous pixel presentation while giving everything a slightly stretched and fuzzy look. There’s simply no excuse for it – especially when you realize that the old six player version of the X-Men arcade cabinet used two screens. Why they couldn’t have simply adjusted the presentation so that the right side of the screen could should a little of what would have been on the original cabinet’s screen #2 is completely beyond me.
The biggest frustration, though, has to be the inability to switch characters once you’ve started the game. In the arcades, switching to another player after dying was as simple as popping in a fresh quarter and hitting start on another character before the timer ran out. X-Men on the iPhone offers nothing of the sort. Once you start a game with Dazzler, it expects you to finish that game with Dazzler. There’s something of a work around to this – you can always let the timer run out, go back to the main screen, and start a new game at the beginning of the last level – but it just seems needlessly complicated when a real solution should have been included from the get go.
It’s also hard to ignore the fact there are simply better beat’em ups on the market. X-Men might arguably be the best on the iPhone, and will be fondly remembered as a highlight in its day, but recent years have seen a fantastic re-emergence of this type of game on home consoles, with releases like Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World upping the ante drastically. If your only experience with beat’em ups stems from recent releases such as these, the stripped down nature of earlier games like X-Men may fail to impress.
Still, for those of us who are old enough to remember the days of quarter-munching arcade classics, X-Men does a great job of scratching our itch for nostalgia. There are some issues we’d like to see addressed, but none of them should be considered significant enough to stop you from making a purchas. If you have fond memories of taking down Juggernaut with a *snikt* of your claws, you’ll be more than satisfied with what Konami’s latest release lets you put in your pocket.