If you are old enough to remember videogames from the 90s, you are
For me, it is Tekken 3.
And considering the treasure trove that was the decade known as the 90s, many would have their own pick that they get back to. There is no denying that older games have this charm that keeps pulling us back towards them. This feeling isn’t left to the kids who grew up in the 90s though and is common across most individuals who have videogames as part of their lives.
But the simplicity in the games made in the 90s is something that is unmatched in the games made in the late 2000s and after. Especially the games from the arcade scene, which had a simple design that tests the skill of the player while being loads of fun, and being executed flawlessly. Some of the popular ones are Street Fighter, Metal Slug, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs etc.
But there was another popular beat ‘em up in the arcade scene, one that would accommodate up to six players simultaneously, and yet worked like a charm. And, believe it or not, was a licensed title. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and find why X-Men arcade was as good as it was.
Big franchise license may not have had the best history with videogames, but X-Men arcade was certainly not part of that history. The game stuck firmly to its comic book source material right from the art style to the character design. Looking back from a time where every iteration of a story or universe has to be re-invented and redesigned to keep it ‘relevant’, it is so refreshing to see how unapologetically faithful it is to the then-popular version of the X-Men and how well creators made the setting work for a 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up.
There is something so endearing about this game that gets you every time you boot it up. Nintendo truly outdid themselves with their formula of keeping things simple and charming with super Mario world. Watching Yoshi hatch out of that egg, and to ride him while having him gobble up enemies and spitfire is vintage gaming gold.
The X-Men brand alone could have had kids clamouring over the game with their coins, but the game was a mechanically sound, solid experience that would have worked even without the X-Men name, should the creators have chosen to come up with their own story and characters.
But the brand has been put to great use, nonetheless. Although the basic gameplay is more or less the same, the six playable characters have their own abilities and quirks, which is unique enough from one another to feel different, but evenly balanced at the same so one character does not stand out as a favourite.
In the pursuit of making the character more human, the illustration of Magneto in the movies post-2000 has been somewhat soft. But he is the big baddy in a universe full of powerful mutants and X-Men Arcade shows how villainous Magneto is.
And the game doesn’t’ stop there.
It goes deep into the lore of series, uses elements from it as part of the game, and all of this works to its advantage. You are beating up sentinels from the get-go and then introduced to foes that those familiar with the comic books will be glad to shred (as Wolverine). And this smart approach can be found throughout the game.
While the game stuck to many of the genre tropes, there were some notable innovations which were subtle yet made a difference. Characters couldn’t run in this game, which meant that enemies could not be avoided just by running around the map. Enemies did not have health bars. You are just left in the open to study each type of enemy and how much of a beating they could take. This meant you had to think about when to use that special power that comes at the cost of your health.
Even bosses were no exception to this rule. Aside from them glowing in different colours once they reach a certain amount of health (which also varied from one Boss to another), there was no knowing how much the bad guy can endure. The in-game animations were top-notch for its time, and the games art created with utmost passion. The story, the characters and the dialogues, all ooze with the delightful cheesiness that can be found only in a product from the 90s.
Of course, none of this mattered when you were a kid who was just fascinated with videogames and X-Men, but looking back at this game today, you can’t help but admire how much of passion and hard work has been poured into this game. X-Men arcade is something that could have only been possible in its time and it may be a relic today, but a priceless one, nonetheless
And that is the magic that old games bring to the experience. It is not just nostalgia, but the very apparent and obvious love that goes into making them, that creates this magic. The same can be said about most games made until the end of the PS2 era until the convenience of an online console was exorbitantly exploited by big corporations.
We are now entering the 9th generation of consoles and soon, the games that graced us during the PS2 era (the golden age for videogames for me personally) would have been from three console generations ago, and for me that qualifies as retro.
There is just so much goodness up until that point that they need to be discussed and discuss we will. Stick with Ixie gaming for more retro love. I’ll see you soon with another gem from the past.