If you’re anything like me, the constant talk of Streets of Rage lately has had you hankering for some more good old fashioned couch coop beat’em up goodness. I recently saw James Marsden in holiday fluff-piece ‘Hop’, which reminded me of how much they screwed him over with a terrible incarnation of Cyclops in the X-Men movies. Then I watched the Madhouse anime and loved seeing Wolverine saying something snidely to Cyclops before being shot in the face for it. And that was the exact moment I remembered this game existed;
X-Men on the Genesis was an alright if incredibly awkward platform-action game, featuring four playable characters battling their way through a variety of stages. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was kind of neat to be playing an action game starring your favourite super heroes, even if their powers were limited by a ridiculous meter, leaving them to just punch or kick if you’ve been too liberal with your use of optic blasts.
There is however almost no reason to ever replay it as in 1995 the sequel was released, which improved on the original game in every way. To start with it looks great, with large detailed sprites for the main characters and the enemies. It also leaves a pretty astounding first impression, as the moment you push the power button on the console you’re immediately dropped into the first stage of the game. You go from turning on the Genesis to playing a randomly chosen super hero fighting tanks in the Siberian Tundra. It’s a fast punch that you’re really not expecting, and it absolutely sets the tone for the rest of the game. Once you finish the first stage you’re given the opening titles, fitted with the strangely haunting tones of Cerebro and the character select screen.
There are now six playable characters you can choose from between you and a friend; Wolverine, Cyclops, Gambit and Nightcrawler return, along with the addition of Beast and Psylocke. In the third stage you’ll have to battle an incredibly cool incarnation of Magneto, and his appearance in this game is made all the more sweeter as he’ll actually be unlocked as a playable character after beating him, knocking the total to seven.
What’s even better about this roster is that they are free to use their powers without restraint. There’s no longer any power meter at all, and letting you use them whenever you want is easily the smartest change they could’ve made. It’s a tough game, and using each X-Men power to its fullest is key to surviving. If you manage to max your health-bar, you’ll even earn a stronger power for as long as you remain topped up.
Each of the characters is a blast to play as, although naturally everyone has their favourite. They aren’t always as useful as each other in any situation, but I wouldn’t say you’d be entirely screwed if you picked a mismatched X-Men. Mostly because you’ll die anyway. A lot. It’s a lengthy game, but it’s still ferociously hard at points.
One stage for instance has you fighting through a Sentinel base, and should you manage to reach the end, you’ll have to fight the Sentinel Core, a legitimately terrifying boss remeniscent of the MCP from Tron. If you kill it, congratulations! You now have 134 seconds to escape before the base blows up with you in it, only now the base is filled with flaming jets and other self-destruction related death traps, which means you can’t actually take the same route you did to get in in order to escape. And that’s only the 2nd level.
There are level skips and 99 lives cheats if you find yourself really irritated, and it’s worth using them if the alternative is that you don’t get to see the rest of the game because it’s a real joy to play-through with a buddy. When you’re playing really detailed depictions of Psylocke and Wolverine, fighting it out in a complex battle with Apocalypse that’s exactly what it feels like. For a relatively simple game it really nails what players would want from an X-Men game, and incredibly it hasn’t been matched since. I’m still waiting on a Lego X-Men game, and yet the best we’ve had in recent memory was just a re-release of the old arcade game.
There are some issues, like the collision detection sometimes feels a little off, giving the game a bit of a Strider feel, no more-so than when Wolverine is climbing the walls of course. The soundtrack is also a little moody, and nowhere near as dynamic as I’d like from an X-Men. What’s important is there though in spades, and any platforming-actioner fan will find a lot to like about this game.
The Strider resemblances in places are almost…UNCANNY. Ahem. B+