The first X-Men video game for the Sega Genesis came out in 1993, when I was 11. While I didn’t have a Genesis myself at the time, I had at least a couple friends who did and I spent many an afternoon following school holed up in one of their basements or living rooms mooching off their sweet, sweet consoles.
By 1996 or so, I did get a Genesis to call my own. I played it on and off for many years, even bringing it along to college with me—Sonic the Hedgehog 3 got me through finals my sophomore year as I’d just play, write a paper, play, study for a test, play, sleep a few hours, play, and maybe eat once in awhile if the steady diet of gold rings and knowledge wasn’t doing it.
Since most of my friends at least watched the X-Men cartoon even if they weren’t comics-reading full-fledged nerds like me, they had the X-Men game. When I got a Genesis, I think I either bought the game or got it from one of my buddies who had no more use for it.
I present this preface to illustrate that I have been playing the Sega Genesis X-Men game for roughly 18 years now and I have still never come anywhere close to beating it.
I braved an electrical storm and pumped about 30 pounds worth of quarters into the X-Men Arcade Game to beat Magneto’s ass. I rented and polished off X-Men 2: Clone Wars, the sequel to the Genesis game, which would in theory, be tougher, but no.
Let me speak first to the virtues of this game.
The graphics are rad. They were awesome in 1993, and I daresay almost two decades later in the world of 3-D and polygons are whatever they still rock. It looked like the comics I was reading at the time, as if they’d pulled Jim Lee and Andy Kubert’s energy and dumped them into my TV with all the crackle and sexiness therein.
There are a crap load of characters in this game, and given that the X-Men has always been a franchise at its best—in my opinion—when it’s filled to brimming with personas, I dug that. To start, you can play as Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit or Nightcrawler and can rotate between the four. You also get assists from Storm, Iceman, Rogue, Archangel and Jean Grey. You get to fight Juggernaut, Deathbird, Apocalypse, Ahab and Magneto, to name a few. The levels take you everywhere from Mojoworld to Excalibur’s Lighthouse; it really is a full X-Men experience.
Also, the music was bad ass, both to my 11-year-old ears and in a nostalgic sense looking back. Fletcher Beasley (thanks, Wikipedia) rocked it with a hard-edged techno beat that felt right for the X-Men.
Ok, now to bitch about how impossible this game was/is/will forever be.
Your mutant powers are, on the whole, terrible, or rather your ability to use them is. Wolverine has his claws and an incredibly slow moving healing factor that does you no good against anybody tougher than a generic Savage Land tribesman. Cyclops’ optic blast is so tiny it looks like you are firing the puck from Pong at your opponents. In order for Gambit to actually throw a playing card, you need to execute some elaborate button-pushing sequence more appropriate for Street Fighter or it just hovers in front of you like a pink bug zapper. Nightcrawler teleports into walls. To make matters worse, you have a power bar right next to your life bar, so you have a limited amount of uses of your crappy mutant abilities. You will be longing for Colossus’ angry yell energy spark or even Dazzler’s dainty light grenades by the end of level one.
Remember those guest star assists I mentioned earlier? It’s virtually impossible to beat bosses without them, but also almost as tough to figure out how to execute them. Unless you time it perfectly, Rogue will fly in and punch the air rather than the guy you’re fighting. Archangel is a little better/more frustrating in the sense that he will shoot wing darts at the air three times as opposed to just once. My natural inclination to want to use Iceman after my excitement over seeing him in a video game tends to make me forget he’s only there to make ice bridges and thus useless unless there’s a long jump I want to avoid (in other words, I gave Juggernaut a lot of ice bridges to run across and kill me from). Storm is really the only surefire helper, as she fries everybody on the screen, so of course the enemies tend to flee a second after you’ve called her. And since you burn through these assists the minute you use them and can’t get them back until you die, you better use them right the first time out the gate or memorize them for next time after you’ve sacrificed Nightcrawler to get all your power back.
Also, you can’t die from falling down into pits because Jean Grey comes and retrieves you, though it does cost you a little bit of life each time; this might seem like it’s a kindness, but really it just means if you’re stuck and want to start over without hitting reset, it’s death by a thousand paper cuts rather than being able to run yourself through with a sword.
It’s also hard to jump; really, really hard. Wolverine is short, so he can’t jump. Cyclops is lanky, so he can’t jump. Gambit has a trench coat, so, you know, wind resistance. In theory, being able to jump should be one of Nightcrawler’s chief assets, so instead they have him do some flip thing in the air that, again, makes jumping virtually impossible; also, he does a ridiculous dropkick.
The bosses are incredibly difficult. Juggernaut just runs back and forth, but being unstoppable, you can’t do much to him unless you hit him in the head at the exact right time or use all your assists to get past him (guess which one I did). Deathbird jumps away to the other side of the screen any time you make contact, and, again, you can’t jump too well. Apocalypse can create an impenetrable barrier around himself at a moment’s notice that drains half your life. I hear you get to fight Ahab, Mojo, Magneto and maybe a Sentinel as well, but I wouldn’t know.
Finally, you only get one life with each character, though you are able to swap them out at will, so you can have four guys die in rapid succession rather than be allowed the dignity of just accepting that you can’t get past the Shi’Ar airlock once and putting in Tecmo Bowl. There are, of course, no continues or saves.
To sum it up: I was able to grow up and get a job at the company that makes X-Men before I was able to beat this X-Men video game.
If anybody has beaten the game, I’d love to hear your stories. I’d also love to borrow your Sega Genesis, as my sister’s pet rabbit bit a hole in the plug to mine.