There are those who would have you believe that Pacman or Mortal Kombat or NFL Blitz or Ms. Pacman is the greatest arcade game of all-time, but these people are crackheads, liars and fools. The one and only true claimant to that prestigious throne is the legendary X-Men arcade game of 1992.
Those who experienced the magic in their youth know what I'm talkin bout (I'd include you kids with your emulators, but seriously, this was something you needed to do live and in color). The truly fortunate knew the X-Men game as that massive construct over in the corner that spread its action across two full-size screens in such a manner that characters went dark if they ran across the middle too fast. You recall getting to one of the six joystick arrays as fast as you could and being sure to have plenty of quarters in tow, lest you lose your spot or have to leave to refill and then come back with only Dazzler available to play as (crammed up in the corner spot where it was nigh impossible to see the action no less). You remember not caring that Sentinels were the same size as you as you dispatched them by the dozen and not asking why the Juggernaut needed some sort of bazooka.
The X-Men arcade game followed Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Dazzler--provided you had at least five friends--as they battled through the streets of (maybe) New York, the Savage Land, multiple high tech bases and elsewhere trying to save Professor X and Kitty Pryde, who had been kidnapped by Magneto. In addition to being able to punch, slash and kick, each character got a special mutant power that you stored and saved for the bosses (or when you were fighting too many lizard dudes and got frustrated). Of course since Wolverine just being able to pop his claws wouldn't be too visually impressive and you didn't want Colossus to be flesh-toned the bulk of the game, Wolvie got "adamantium laser claws" that shot big ass beams while Pete flexed his metal muscles to release a huge energy spark and yell like a constipated grizzly bear.
It was awesome.
Another thing that was awesome was the graphics. It was 1992 and we had just barely gotten our minds wrapped around Super Nintendo, so even for an arcade game, X-Men had and incredibly slick, vibrant look plus wicked G.I. Joe-quality animation sequences. But as killer as the graphics were, the sound was even better, as the boom of this game echoed through the arcade, which rocked since it was ridiculously quotable, whether the Blob was insisting "Nothing stops...the Blob!" or Wendigo was screeching his name time and again as you beat the white fur off him.
I've got two very vivid memories of the X-Men arcade game. The first occured one summer somewhere in the neighborhood of 1993 when I was like 11 and at Camp Frank A. Day. At the end of every July, we would take a trip to the Riverside amusement park (today Six Flags New England) for a day of rides, games and bad food. However, what I would get most excited about, being averse to heights and shitty at getting rings around milk bottles, would be holing up in the big ass arcade and stretching out the $15 they'd give us for the day at the X-Men arcade game. This particular year, I had to have been at the game for hours, alternating characters as I ran to get quarters, but teaming with the same group of seven or eight kids to get all the way to the end. It took us hours, and we barely noticed that a massive thunderstorm had formed around the park, shutting most everything down (that we were in an open air structure and failed to note the massive quantities of rain and huge lightning crashes I like to think speaks to our dedication and nothing else). I was mindful of the time and that I was going to miss the bus back to camp if we didn't clear Asteroid M pretty soon, but as we were on the precipice, the storm surged and knocked out the power of every machine in the arcade. When it rebooted, there we were, crestfallen and back at the opening screen.
I believe it was the next year that my family took a vacation to Disney World and nestled in the tiny game room of our Polynesian-themed resort hotel I located a more modest version of the X-Men arcade game with only one screen and four players. It was rare that there was anybody else around the game outside of occasionally my little sister, so for the most part, I wound up playing the game myself, which I had never really done before. On the smaller screen and able to select your player as opposed to the characters being married to a particular location, I developed a new appreciation for Cyclops, who I had previously stayed away from by virtue of him being the upper left-hand corner guy. His optic blasts were way easier to control than just about any other mutant power and the guy had a mean jumping spin kick for a lanky white dude. All on my own I never made it to far into the deep levels, but I did rack up killer high scores as Cyclops that got erased each night when the place shut down.
It wasn't until college that I made the miraculous discovery that the X-Men arcade game was actually based on an aborted 1989 animated pilot called Pryde of the X-Men. Neelless to say I hopped right on eBay and made that sucker mine; it has been a prized possession for several years now. A whole other post would be required to expound on the virtues of Australian Wolverine calling Toad a "bloody dingo" and creepy child molester Nightcrawler hitting on Kitty Pryde, but some day soon I will find the strength.
Bottom line: my wedding is coming up in about a month and a half and if you can find one of those coin-op suckers, it would not be an inappropriate gift.