Ah, 1992; what a year it was. Pardon me while I wax nostalgic for a year that served up a host of delights. From the riots in LA over the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King beating, to the eruption of a bloody war in the Balkans, to the opening of EuroDisney, 1992 seemed to be one crushing tragedy after another. I mean, it was a year in which our own President literally vomited on another world leader.
What I'm trying to say is, thank goodness for X-Men Arcade. Konami's side-scrolling brawler invaded arcades that otherwise terrible year, hitting just as that type of games, popularized by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Golden Axe, were giving way to 1-on-1 fighters like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. Since neighborhood arcades are largely a thing of the past, fans have had to play these games using emulators and ROMs. Now Backbone Entertainment is serving up a straight port of the game for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
X-Men Arcade has an old school charm that you just don't see much in today's gaming catalog, where things like features and graphics are considered as, if not more, important than fun. Two identical attacks, one super power, a jump, and an eight-direction run are the only tools at your disposal as you lead your favorite X-Men against Sentinels of a variety of different colors. Up to four local players (or six online) battle their way through these minions, take on a succession of mini-bosses from the comics before the final showdown with Magneto.
The action, which was captivating at the time, feels simple and uncomplicated amid today's games. Whether that counts for or against the game depends entirely on your point of view. I don't want to judge it too harshly, because it is fun, but gamers who expect anything other than a straight button-masher where enemies and allies just gather together in big, punchy clumps are going to be disappointed. Even the mini-bosses, like The Blob or The White Queen, are really just standard enemies with more hit points and stronger attacks.
I'm glad the developers resisted the urge to "update" the game to make it more appealing to today's audiences. Even if it limits the game's audience, it respects the intentions of the designers and helps to preserve an important piece of gaming history. The graphics, the writing, the gameplay, and the sound will definitely resonate with anyone who, like me, spent a lot of time in arcades during the late 80s and early 90s. While it doesn't quite hit the "all your base are belong to us" level of Engrish, the translations in this game are almost worth the price of admission. Magneto's "Welcome to Die!" is an instant classic, and his taunts of "X-Chicken" are hilariously confusing.
My final criticism may seem too subjective, but there's something about the arcade experience that's just missing here, at least for me. Playing online with unlimited "Continues" distances you not only from the other players, but also from the consequences of dying. The quarter was a tangible, measurable cost for each life and was as much a part of the game as anything happening on screen. I don't want to sound mystical about this, but the cost of each attempt added some pressure that's just missing in the console version. Without that pressure, the experience is an interesting diversion, but not nearly as compelling as it was back in 1992.
Bottom Line: This is old school side-scrolling beat-em-up. As such, it's a bit of an anachronism. If you can get into the spirit of it, it's fun, but it's not as compelling as it was in the arcades.
Recommendation: It's a ten-dollar trip down memory lane. I've seen worse deals, but the replay value is too low for it to be attractive to gamers who aren't already nostalgic for it.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.
Game: X-Men Arcade
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: December 14, 2010 (PSN), December 15, 2010 (XBLA)
Platform: XBLA, PSN
Available from: Xbox Live, PlayStation Network
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