Genre: Action Developer: Western Technologies Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
The X-Men. The next step in human evolution. Born with superhuman abilities, trapped in a world they didn’t create, feared, and hated by a prejudiced populace, they fight to bring about peaceful coexistence between humans & mutants. Unfortunately, some of the prejudiced populace seem to have worked at videogame companies, because some of the early attempts interpreting the adventures of Marvel’s Mighty Mutants for the popular videogame consoles really, really sucked. The X-Men and Wolverine games on the NES were horrid, and Acclaim’s attempts led to the mess that was Spider-Man & X-Men. Would this be the end of the license?
Much to the pleasant surprise of X-Men fans & gamers in general, SEGA entered the fray with guns blazing. Luckily for SEGA, everyone else was still fighting with knives. Not only did SEGA’s X-Men come out at the right time, but it was also the right game. Finally, after all that waiting, someone finally got it right. Okay, okay, it wasn’t entirely “right,” but still…
Graphically speaking the game looked great in its time, and it has aged well. SEGA’s X-Men surpassed its predecessors by leaps & bounds. Multiple mighty heroes & villains from Marvel’s magnificent menagerie of characters were finally represented in 16-bit glory. The pixilated characters were faithful to their ink & paper counterparts, and the backgrounds were beautiful, even the ones that were supposed to be ugly. All in all, the visuals wouldn’t be surpassed until a little known company called Capcom decided to take a shot at the franchise. Aside from the butt-ugly title screen, the game featured some of the finest artwork ever seen on the Genesis…when things weren’t moving. The moment the level starts scrolling, things got choppy. Choppy enough to be noticed by people who don’t usually notice things like frame rates.
The audio was nothing stellar either, but it got the job done. The theme song rocked, though the rest of the BGM didn’t. The sound effects, like the sound of buzzing bees, the grunt of people being hit, and Wolverine’s trademark “snikt” were there but… well, they weren’t that memorable. X-Men purists also complained about limitations on the heroes’ mutant abilities; but admittedly, unlimited use of mutant powers would’ve obliterated anything even slightly resembling a difficulty level.
The premise was standard X-Men fare. Magneto infected the X-Men’s danger room computer with a virus, and instead of their usual non-lethal training exercises, members of the suddenly found themselves facing deadly environments & adversaries. They had to stay alive long enough to figure escape their predicament and put an end to Magneto’s plans to destroy them. The player could control one of the four main characters: Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops, or Gambit. Four more characters, Storm, Rogue, Ice-Man and Archangel provided support in the form of called/summoned characters. And last but not least, there was Ms. Jean Grey (or is it Mrs. Jean Grey-Summers?) who came to the heroes aid and pulled their pixelated behinds out of supposedly bottomless pits, at the cost of a little bit of health. In two-player mode, Jean Grey could also be summoned to reunite players that have become separated and could not continue forward. Striving to foil the heroes were Magneto, Apocalypse, Sabretooth, Mojo, and the disproportionately small Juggernaut, along with various familiar and unfamiliar scrubs like Sentinels, Sauron, bees and such.
Gameplay was where this game truly shone. To begin with, the levels were big & non-linear. Not only did you not have to take the same exact route twice, but should you have felt like it, you could explore the level to look for power-ups & whatnot. In fact, exploring became a priority in some of the levels because you had to find switches or keys to unlock doors and/or activate lifts to take you to the next part of the level. Unless you were playing as Nightcrawler, in which case you could simply teleport through the obstacle. The difficulty was a bit on the easy side, and veteran gamers wouldn’t face much of a challenge on even the hardest difficulty setting. But this issue was dealt with, to some extent, depending on who you were playing as. With the aforementioned Nightcrawler, you could take the straight path, teleporting through whatever blocked your path; whereas playing as someone like Cyclops required you to actually go through the levels the old fashioned way.
Whether fellow X-Men were called to help or not also helped add or alleviate difficulty. Summoning Storm results in every enemy onscreen or the boss being hit once. Rogue, to the extent of my knowledge , would seek out and hit one enemy, or boss once. Archangel flew by thrice, attacking with razor-sharp metallic feathers (I think), clearing the screen, and with little bit of practice could be made to hit some of the bosses during all three passes. Ice-Man, on the other hand, created a temporary bridge of ice. He could be effectively used to get across pits that otherwise involve some fancy platform jumping. Ice-Man could also be used to bypass the mid-boss encounter in level one.
SEGA definitely succeeded in bringing Marvel’s Flagship title to the home console. It may not have been the greatest of platformers, but it was enjoyable. It was a little tough but didn’t require Contra-honed skills to beat. There weren’t a lot of stages, but the chance to play as different characters with different abilities added replay value. Granted, each of the levels allowed the player to switch between the “living” characters a limited number of times. Once a character “died,” he would be unavailable until the last level. This little feature basically allowed the player to unofficially modify the difficulty of a specific level. If your character became low on health, you could switch to someone with a full health bar. If your character got stuck, you could switch to Nightcrawler.
Plus and minus points aside, SEGA’s X-Men was a solid platformer. The game may have scrolled choppily, but it played better than a lot of smooth-scrolling games. In this reviewer’s opinion, it was more enjoyable than X-Men 2: The Clone Wars. One of the most endearing factors of the SEGA’s X-Men lies in the game’s ability to offer various “flavors” of the same premise. So if you’re looking for an addition to your action/adventure library, or find it for sale somewhere, pick it up.
SCORE: 8 out of 10