Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
I finally got around to looking up photos from the new X-Men: Apocalypse movie FOX is doing and it reminded me of a time one of the X-Men’s major advisories looked absolutely mediocre. X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse came out in 1994, after I had suffered through the atrocity of The Uncanny X-Men (1989) on the NES, and thought that superhero games had reached their pinnacle with X-Men (1992) for the arcade. That makes sense because these mutant heroes have had some pretty horrible and genuinely great titles, but I wanted to go back and see exactly where this particular selection fell on the scale. Would it hold up or disappoint?
X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse is a side-scroller with heavy beat-’em-up and platforming elements that blend together for one action-packed adventure. The game takes heavily from the comics and the 90s animated series (which I am watching again while writing this review) and sees many of the members of the group’s classic Blue Team starring in this title. There is a decent sized story to the game that is told through text and a few scenes with Professor Xavier between all the fighting. It is unnecessarily convoluted though, throwing in some random classic X-Men enemies and has Magneto as the end villain of the game rather than the titular and pictured genocidal mutant Apocalypse.
You are given the option to select which character you want to play, each having their own different stage in the beginning, something few other games of the era can boast. Cyclops, Gambit, Wolverine, Psylocke, and Beast are all playable here with each having their own distinctive move sets. I love that each of the characters feels different enough, while having their own strengths and weaknesses. Psylocke is the most versatile with an array of moves that allow her to attack from anywhere and stay mobile,while Cyclops and Gambit have the best range attacks, and Beast and Wolverine are the best at traversing difficult areas of their stages.
Each character has a set of normal attacks but also some mutant powers that are done by performing Street Fighter-esque commands (like the hadoken for Cyclops optic blast) which costs the player nothing. I’m so used to games taking away a small bit of life or some sort of energy for that, that this was quite comforting. Everyone’s mutant powers are represented well, though there is the noticeable absence of Wolverine’s healing factor. Perhaps Capcom left it out because it would have made him too overpowered for the game, just like he is in the comics.
The visual presentation was always awesome to me, though some people like to complain about how Psylocke looks. Not only do all of the X-Men models look good and the energy attacks standout, but the enemies (designs and attacks) switch after the first part of the game, giving some variety to what the player is hitting. The stages themselves can blend together a bit after a while, but there is some nice detail and the colors work well together. All of this is quite the step up from the 1993 X-Men game on the Sega Genesis (not saying the SNES is better, but in this case…).The sound was better also though, because the stage music helped to fit the tone the game was going for and it was never too repetitive. I enjoy the music a lot, but that is no surprise, as the composer, Setsuo Yamamoto, is the same man who worked on the Mega Man X soundtrack (the best soundtrack on the SNES). The sound effects themselves were also very satisfying when hitting enemies or executing a special, which makes taking on a group of enemies just a little more fun when it sounds like skulls are actually cracking.
The thing that most people like to comment on when it comes to this game is its difficulty. X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse is challenging, a tad unforgiving in some places—like forgetting to run after Psylocke’s mid-boss fight—but a little practice will go a long way, especially after figuring out which character’s moves feel the most comfortable. The main issue is that there are a limited number of lives and once one character runs out of them–that’s it. This leads to a GAME OVER screen and a chance to start the whole thing all over. There are also not a lot of health power-ups to be found, small red X life containers, and there are extra lives, represented by blue X tiles, that require three per life, but those are quite annoying to get without memorizing the levels. To add to this, some of the enemy AI can be unpredictable and are capable of doing a lot of damage, meaning it is best not to be caught slipping while on Genosha.
The harsh difficulty is a bit of a lie though, as some practice and knowing the boss attacks will make the game much easier. However, there is a password system, but it only comes into play after the first set of five missions is finished, meaning it is useless to anyone having trouble early on. This is also the first password system I remember using the portrait system instead of standard numbers or letters, which made it feel special at the time. I tried many random passwords just using my favorite characters. If that isn’t enough there is a training mode which makes the special abilities able to be done with a single button instead of a series of moves, but this mode does not progress past the first set of missions, so there should be no reason to stay there too long.
I like this game a lot. There are some amazingly fun beat ‘em up elements, but this is a title where the replay value goes down the better the player gets. It can be quite a short playthrough once someone has learned the mechanics and bosses. Playing through this again made me realize that there are a few blemishes I did not notice in my youth. Enemies do use some cheap beat ‘em up tactics, the game doesn’t utilize its bosses well, and it can be frustrating in parts. This was an ambitious game for the time though and I remember thinking the only thing that could make it better was a multiplayer option. I am realizing now though that this may be a nostalgia title for some, but it remains a solid game for X-Men and beat ‘em up enthusiasts. It isn’t much of a gamble ranging anywhere from $12-$16, but I have not seen it out in the wild as much lately.
I also have to say that an updated version of this or a re-release on the virtual consoles if possible would be awesome, even though Marvel and Capcom were having trouble with their licensing agreement last I read. Those who don’t mind a challenge should give this one a shot.