X-Men: Apocalypse is coming out in about a month, and the X-Men are my favorite superheroes, so let’s talk X-Men video games.
There are over 25 X-Men games, and I haven’t even played all of them, so ranking them would be a massive undertaking. Instead, let’s remember some of the good, bad, and in between moments in the franchise.
Note: Only games with the name “X-Men” are being considered, so stuff like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Marvel vs. Capcom are not going to be included here. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, and I encourage you to talk about your favorites or least favorites in the comments.
X-Men (Arcade, 1992)
It was a X-Men beat ‘em up that you could play with six people at the same time. Frankly, it is a hard thing to screw up, and thankfully, Konami didn’t.
Konami used to be good. Actually, they used to be incredibly good. Outside of classics like Contra, Castlevania, and Metal Gear, they made a pile of beat ‘em ups in the early nineties, and all of them are great.
This one edges out all of the others for me, but I have no objective reason for feeling that way. It comes down to the fact that I love X-Men. Thus, this game speaks to me more.
This isn’t the most complicated game in the world, but it is fun as hell to play. Beating the hell out of Sentinels with Colossus is satisfying. Having your buddies pick Storm, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler to help you beat the hell out of Sentinels is even more satisfying.
Also, it has this:
I really think Dark Souls should change its marketing slogan to “Welcome to Die”.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (PS2, GC, Xbox, PC, PSP, N-Gage, 2005)
X-Men Legends was a great game, so X-Men Legends II took what was great about it and gave you the ability to play as Magneto. Sold.
Much like the arcade X-Men, it is a simple concept executed to perfection. You or some friends control a team of four X-Men at a time and whoop the asses of every kind of enemy you can imagine.
The game keeps things interesting with some light roleplaying elements. Characters gain experience by defeating foes, thus leveling up and unlocking more powers. There is some strategy to be had by mixing together X-Men that have better ranged powers, tanks, and physical attack damage dealers, but none of that is necessary to enjoy the game. Pick who you like, and then wreck with them.
X-Men Legends II’s roster has the designs of their Ultimate or even Age of Apocalypse counterparts, but the plot is basically an Earth 616 (mainstream Marvel canon) tale. The sheer amount of characters that you fight with, fight against, or encounter in cameos is a joy. You will love this game if you love the X-Men.
X-Men 2: Clone Wars (Genesis, 1995)
In the nineties, almost every popular franchise was made into a platformer or beat ‘em up. X-Men was no exception. There were a ton of them. Even though X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse for SNES is a strong contender for the best X-Men title of its era, I have to give the nod to Clone Wars.
In this one, the X-Men have to stop the Phalanx from taking over the world with clones. On the way, they have to blow up a Sentinel factory, fight and recruit Magneto at Avalon, and fight their way through the Savage Land.
Not only is it one of the best superhero games, but one of the best for the Genesis, period. It is a fun and challenging platformer with seven playable characters that all feel unique. The game is tough, but none of the difficulty feels fake, and smart players will learn that certain X-Men are ideal to beat different situations. For example, Psylocke’s psychic knife doesn’t hurt robots, making her a bad choice for the Sentinel factory. You are better suited using either Gambit or Cyclops. However, the reach on her upwards attack makes her ideal for beating Tusk, one of the later bosses.
As a final note, the soundtrack is incredible, only a step below Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage on the Genesis:
There is a ton of fun to be had here. Check it out.
X-Men vs. Street Fighter (Arcade, Saturn, PSOne, 1996-98)
There are tons of X-Men fighting games, including the later 3D Mutant Academy series. Unfortunately, those games feel dated. This game feels as good today as it did in 1996.
First thing’s first: If you want to play this game, make sure it is the arcade or Saturn version. The PSOne version removes the tag team fighting and had to remove animation frames due to the system’s memory constraints. It might not seem like much, but it is a vastly inferior experience.
This is classic Capcom fighting action. The first time I played this game was in an arcade when I was nine. It was an Experience (caps intentional). Hitting Zangief with Gambit’s signature kinetic cards and then turning him over to Wolverine to get sliced up blew my young mind. The Street Fighter’s special moves were turned up to eleven, with Ryu and Chun Li getting goddamn Kamehamehas and M. Bison’s screen filling Psycho Crusher becoming the new standard.
This is the good stuff. The roster of 17 fighters might be small compared to what would come, but the later Marvel vs. Capcom games are riffing off of what was established here.
X2: Wolverine’s Revenge (PS2, GC, Xbox, GBA, PC, 2003)
It was between this and X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the Wolverine solo game slot, but I want to talk about this one because it is unique for a X-Men video game.
What should have been a cheap cash in on a movie is far more ambitious than it has any right to be. Really, the only tie that this game has to X2 is the title and Hugh Jackman on the cover (Wolverine is actually voiced by Mark Hamill here). Wolverine is wearing his then current comic costume and the story is something out of a Wolverine solo comic.
The game is far from perfect. It is harder than it needs to be and the controls aren’t as tight as you would want. Some of the boss fights ask you to unlearn the kind of combat that the game wanted you to take before, especially the seemingly obligatory Magneto fight. The intro section where you are escaping the Weapon X facility as Wolverine also goes on a lot longer than it needs.
However, this game did a admirable job of putting you in Logan’s shoes, putting him closer to the expert fighter that had a healing factor as a last resort instead of the indestructible madman he had become. The game incentives the use of stealth to take down foes in frankly brutal ways, pushing that Teen rating to the limit. Using Wolverine’s senses to locate and take down foes was a great way to introduce the enhanced senses that are a hallmark of the character, but hadn’t been implemented in video games before.
In many ways, you can see a lot of this title in Batman: Arkham Asylum, which takes a similar approach to combat and exploration and refines it into a masterwork.
X-Men (Genesis, 1993)
This was my first X-Men game, so I have some nostalgia for it. However, it’s sequel and Mutant Apocalypse are better designed, better to look at, and just plain better to play games.
X-Men is an unnecessarily obtuse game to play. Other X-Men games were smart to emphasize the combat and keep the platforming tight and functional. In this one, the platforming takes center stage. The platforming isn’t broken, but the characters move slow. I can’t shake the feeling that they are leisurely strolling through the levels.
The combat is ok, but lacks the power that a superhero game should have. The quickly depleting energy meter actively punishes you for using a character’s powers. You can’t even keep Wolverine’s claws out. The boss fights are repetitive and made overly difficult by spotty hit detection and massive health bars.
There is also the now infamous “restart your console to progress” part. This seems like a cool, meta thing to do in 2016, but it doesn’t work here. There is no real indication on what you should be doing, and the game holds the few clues there are close to the chest. It is novel, but poorly executed, unlike what Kojima would later pull of in Metal Gear Solid.
This is a playable title, but you will have a lot more fun with Mutant Apocalypse or Clone Wars.
Uncanny X-Men (NES, 1989)
LJN. That is all that needs to be said.
If you know anything about LJN, you know that this game was doomed from the start. They were notorious for outsourcing their properties to cheap game developers to be made as quickly as possible. I am sure they made their money, but at what cost?
I am sure by now you have seen the Angry Video Game Nerd episode about this one. I tried it out a couple years back to play the first commercially released X-Men game and out of morbid curiosity. AVGN is not exaggerating this game’s badness. When people say things like “THE DIVISION IS THE WORST GAME EVER MADE” they should be forced to play this to get perspective.
This top down action game is ugly as hell to look at and horrific to play. The characters blend into the muddy backgrounds constantly and look like weird shapes instead of superheroes.
You have to play with two X-Men at all times, even if there isn’t a second player with you. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing. X-Men Legends has you controlling four. But the AI just isn’t up to the task. They get stuck on the walls most of the time, making it impossible to advance.
I didn’t get past the second level, and I never intend to.
X-Men: Destiny (X360, PS3, Wii, DS, 2011)
This is the last game to have “X-Men” in the title as of the time of this writing. (CORRECTION: It is the last console X-Men title. There have been a couple mobile games.)
Hopefully someone else picks up the franchise and makes a good game out of it, because this is a shitty way to go out.
X-Men: Destiny is probably more famous for the lawsuits and drama surrounding developer Silicon Knights than the game itself. If you read the linked story, it becomes apparent that making X-Men: Destiny was a miserable experience. That contempt is palpable in the finished product.
You play as one of three new characters instead of the X-Men you know and love. None of them are interesting from either in gameplay or story. The combat is repetitive. The graphics are dull and uninteresting. The story is every X-Men story ever made delivered with no heart behind it. There is nothing to cling to.
I got about halfway through this one, and then got sad and quit. My experience seems to mirror that of the devs.
X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse (PC, 1997)
I have to end on this one, because it is an incredibly weird game.
If I didn’t have personal experience with it, I wouldn’t believe that it was released commercially.
My mother bought me this, which I was down for, because it is X-Men. But I couldn’t play it, because I didn’t have Quake. This I was 10 at the time and never really played these early shooters. Our family had just gotten a PC.
We couldn’t return it, so she bought me Quake so I could play it. Much to my surprise, I realized that I wouldn’t be playing as X-Men, but shooting down hordes of cyborg X-Men clones.
This could be a cool concept, but the execution is dreadful. The game runs pretty poorly, even on modern machines. Even when it does run right, the graphics are uninteresting to look at. The X-Men clones are faster than you and their signature powers can lay waste to you if you are unprepared. Your weapons never feel good enough to get the job done. And honestly, I didn’t really want to shoot them. I loved the X-Men! Except for Cyclops. Fuck Cyclops.
Oh well. At least I got the original Quake out of the deal.