Growing up in the late ’80s to mid ’90s, cartoons were the best. Cartoons really hit their prime during that time as well. Whether it was G.I. Joe, ThunderCats, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Duck Tales or Mighty Max, cartoons were as important to me as video games. One of my favorite cartoon shows was X-Men: The Animated Series. It just recently turned 25 years old. Wow. How time flies. Since Avengers: Infinity War came out recently and I just reviewed Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems, I can’t think of a better time to share my favorite episode from the X-Men Animated Series than now. It touches on some pretty deep topics that you just didn’t see being broached back in the day. It flew over my head as a kid but when I saw this episode later in my 20’s, it completely resonated with me. Let’s see… it’s got:
The danger of being ignorant
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Accepting others who are different from us
Man’s struggle with whether or not there is a greater power
Originally aired nearly 23 years ago on May 13, 1995, RVGFanatic proudly presents…
“I know, she say. Let’s take a trip, she say. It’d be fun, she say. Huh! Some fun.”
“After what we’ve been through lately, I figured we could use some time off.”
“This is sitting around drinking hot cocoa and getting funny looks from rich folk.”
“Come on, a demon? You must be kidding!”
“I heard it on the train. The whole town thinks they’ve been under attack by some dark creature for months. Must be some local yokel superstition.”
“TELL ME MORE.”
“I’ll make it up to you. We’ll fly to Monte Carlo. We eat nice, lie on the beach…”
“Man doesn’t break a sweat against Apocalypse or Magneto. So WHAT nails him? A pine tree. Wait… OH CRAP.”
“Please, do not worry. This is home to twenty members of our order. We minister to many ski accident victims.”
“Brother Reinhard. Please show our guests to the visitor accommodations.”
“Brother, is it wise to have strangers around at this terrible time? They’re not the usual travelers!”
“Those in need are always welcome, Brother Reinhard. Please have faith in our mission.”
“Yeah. Therefore, would you be kind enough to accept something more appropriate to wear during your stay?”
“Don’t wanna make the natives restless…”
“You should take care where you walk. Some doors on the upper levels open into thin air. The abbey was heavily damaged during the war.”
“So, Johann, besides praying and ministering, what do you boys do all day?”
“Our mission is to give shelter and comfort to all travelers. And, of course, to offer a place to renew one’s relationship with the Lord.”
“Being close to Heaven didn’t help us this afternoon, Father.”
“Are you sure, sir? Have you lost your faith? What is it that you seek?”
“Action. F’rinstance, I hear ya got a demon hanging around here.”
“You mean down in the town, in Neuherzl. Yes. An odd rumor, isn’t it? Personally, I have never myself met a demon…”
“Brother in the ecclesiastical sense — a member of our monastery.”
“I’m sorry I startled you, Fräulein. I did not know you could fly.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t know you could do whatever that was you did.”
“Teleportation. I think of a place I’d rather be, look to it, and I am there.”
“Gambit rather be in Monte Carlo. Think you can work that out?”
“But, aren’t you the demon we heard about?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. Like yourselves, I am a mutant. But unlike most mutants, my condition was obvious from the moment I was born.”
“The villagers drove my mother away… for bearing such a freak.”
“I never even knew her name. She could be anyone, really…”
“Instead I was found by a family of traveling performers. I became Nightcrawler, the star attraction of their little circus. For their freakish world, I was perfect!”
“But when the spotlight went out, I was still an outcast. Shunned and hated.”
“No, he’s right. Though all people are flawed and all struggle with the capacity for sin, none likes to be reminded of our shared human weakness. My appearance does not make it easy.”
“It did once. But then I found peace by devoting my life to God. He directed me to this place, where they value the character of my heart, not my appearance.”
“No, my friend. God does not give up on any of His children, be it human or mutant. He is there for us in our times of joy, and to help us when we are in pain… if we let Him.”
“Don’t give me that easy answer garbage! I’ve tried! Don’t ya think I want that!! I don’t need a sermon from some circus boy preacher.”
“Fine. Now Gambit got a question. If you’re not the guy who tried to put me out for good, who was?”
“All people of Neuherzl! I can no longer allow such sacrilege! The beast you seek is there! In the monastery!”
“Are you mad? Those are men of God!”
“We are alike, you and I, angry at the world, and ourselves. My pain drove me to seek God. Yours drove you away.”
“Our ability to understand God’s purpose is limited, but we take comfort in the fact His love is limitless.”
“Yet despite it all, people of every faith believe there is a God who loves them.”
“Would it hurt so much to see the world through different eyes?”
“Brother! There is a mob headed up the road from Neuherzl. They must have discovered you are here.”
“Neuherzl is isolated. The people know nothing about mutants. Perhaps I am here to help open their hearts. I must leave so no one will be hurt.”
“Remember, Logan. Those people aren’t bad. They’re just scared. Be careful.”
“Careful? Fifty against two?!”
“I will surrender. It is the only way to prevent anyone else getting hurt.”
“I disagree. Brother Reinhard understands his tragic mistake and has repented.”
“The townspeople no longer look at me with fear in their hearts.”
“The foundation God has built in our hearts can never be ruined.”
“I don’t know. Those quiet little monks were starting to grow on me.”
“Face it, chére, those monks kid themselves. We on our own in this world. Life is random. Deal you a full house, or a busted flush.”
“I will give thanks to you, oh Lord. For though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. I will trust and not be afraid.”
I love how this episode centers around Logan’s struggle with faith in something larger than himself. TV shows back in the ’90s rarely touched upon such issues, much less cartoons. Nightcrawler’s pure faith, if not admirable and inspirational, is certainly understandable. Len Uhley, who wrote this landmark episode, didn’t shove religion down the viewer’s throat. Instead, he presented it in a way that more or less left it up to the individual to decipher. It didn’t beat you over the head but the message was just strong enough to make you think about things that perhaps may be outside of one’s comfort zone. Very few cartoon episodes have ever made me reflect on my own life and views as much as Nightcrawler did. Is there really a God who exists and cares for us all? Can we find true peace from God’s word? That’s up to each individual person. Nightcrawler did a great job of broaching the subject. Personally, I’m a believer. I became a Christian at 25 back in 2009. I got into it pretty hardcore, but I’m pretty casual nowadays with my faith. It’s more of a private thing these days for me, and that’s how I like to keep it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my favorite faith-related story. Several summers ago, I organized a volunteering gig with some friends of mine. It was a foot washing and feeding event for the homeless. It was a humbling experience. I’ll never forget the first man whose feet I washed. He told me right off the bat, pardon the pun, that his name is Bruce Wayne and that he’s THE Batman. Naturally, part of me thought he was crazy. But as the foot washing went on, “Bruce” shared childhood stories of his father with me, his 29 years in the truck driving business, and shared his dreams growing up. Didn’t take long for me to realize he’s just like anyone else. At the end he thanked me for the foot washing and left.
Not three minutes later, he walked back in to show me his identification card. SON OF A BITCH. Sure enough, there it was, clear as day. Name: BRUCE WAYNE. He wasn’t kidding, he really was Bruce Wayne. He gave me a grin and I returned the gesture as we nodded before he walked out. Later I spoke with the coordinator and she explained to me Bruce is a regular and how his Batman persona is his own personal way of coping with being homeless. Wow. It’s a little bit deeper than just “Oh, this dude’s a crazy homeless guy.” The experience reminded me not to be so quick judging others. Walk a mile in their shoes — or wash their feet — before you decide what their story is.
Len Uhley reflects fondly on his Nightcrawler episode here.
Avengers: Infinity War opened this past weekend (April 27, 2018) and grossed a whopping 640.9 million over its first weekend. Infinity War now holds claim to the biggest opening weekend in cinematic history, toppling The Fate of the Furious’ 541.9 million opening weekend by nearly 100 million. It also scored the biggest opening weekend in North America with 258.2 million, beating out the 248 million grossed by Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s crazy to think it was 10 years ago that the Marvel cinematic universe began with the epochal Iron Man (May 2, 2008). 10 years later, MCU kills it yet again with Avengers: Infinity War. Some people are sick of Marvel movies but as long as they’re this good, keep ‘em coming I say! The latest film centers around Thanos’ quest to acquire the six Infinity Gems. What a perfect time, then, to review Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. Capcom’s second to last North American SNES release (Street Fighter Alpha 2 being their last), Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems is a curious and worthy follow-up to X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse.
MY FIRST EXPOSURE TO MARVEL
If you were a child of the early ’90s, chances were you somehow got mixed up in the superhero subculture. It was simply a sign of the times. From trading cards to cartoons to toys to video games, superheroes and super villains dominated the scene. My brother, our friends and I used to hang out at this card shop, Triple Play. It was right next to the local library and a mom and pop rental shop. What a great time to be a kid! We spent much of our childhood down at the card shop buying the latest in the Marvel ’91 series and trading them. When we weren’t busy trading or buying Marvel ’91, we played the Street Fighter II arcade cab right in the store. It was a splendid time to be growing up in suburban America.
My favorite thing about the Marvel ’91 cards? Hands down the enticing stats on the back of the cards. This is where my obsession with numbers and ratings probably first developed, and a large reason (EGM is another factor) as to why I personally like to rate video games. To me numbers have always been a fun snapshot at things. I remember Fin Fang Foom’s stats were off the charts. He had something nuts like three 7’s.
X MARKS THE SPOT, FINALLY
Back in the ’90s, superhero games were hit or miss. They were more of a miss on home consoles. It wasn’t until X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse that I felt things were starting to head in the right direction. I remember there was quite a bit of hype behind it. Seeing it grace the cover of the biggest EGM issue of all time definitely got our hopes up. Maybe we’ll finally get the X-Men game we always wanted…
And although it has its shortcomings, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse was a solid action game that was pretty fun to play. It wasn’t quite the epic superhero game we were all hoping for, but it was an admirable effort.
ROUND TWO FINAL ROUND, FIGHT!
Exactly two years later, EGM issue #89 arrived in my mailbox. This was a bittersweet issue for me. It highlighted 16-Bit’s “last hurrah” so to speak.
I can’t tell you how many times I read that article. Flashback to December of 1996. Although my brother and I still had our SNES, we were almost exclusively playing our PlayStation and N64. However, I never forgot all the great memories my dear old friend, the SNES, gave me over the years. So EGM’s article hit way too close to home. 1996 was indeed going to be 16-Bit’s last gasp and last “big” Christmas season.
I loved the whole presentation of it. The yellow background, the nice big title dramatically declaring 16-BIT’S LAST STAND… but the best part was the last batch of 16-bit titles EGM featured. In particular, one title really stood out and caught my eye…
My eyes popped when I saw Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. It looked absolutely badass. The fact that Capcom was behind it was all I needed to know!
Yet despite all my interest and curiosity, I actually never got to play this game back in the ’90s. High school soon came calling in the late ’90s and I sort of fell out of gaming for a while there. Fast forward to January 2006, I experienced one crazy SNES comeback for the ages. It was a chance at gaming redemption. Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems was high on my list of SNES games I always wanted to play but never did.
I bought a mint copy at a local flea market on Saturday, February 25, 2006. I’ll never forget firing up War of the Gems later that same night. It was like finally meeting up with that ship that sailed by so many moons ago…
I chose the Incredible Hulk first and had one hell of a Saturday night smashing bad guys left and right. It’s not the greatest game but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless.
THE STORY GOES…
Whoever collects all six Infinity Gems will become omnipotent and virtually unstoppable. Adam Warlock has enlisted the services of the Marvel Super Heroes to bring them back home safely.
Falling from the heavens above, the six Infinity Gems have been scattered throughout the world. Procuring them before they fall into the wrong hands is of the utmost importance. You’ll traverse many different places, from the Amazon River in South America to the frozen tundra in Alaska to the Boston Aquarium.
Capcom’s intros from that era always stood out, and this is yet another solid example. The world’s mightiest superheroes have assembled on your SNES — it’s time to wreck some shit up!
Wolverine gets intense like only he can. I’m hyped!
HOLDING OUT FOR A HERO
Standing 6’2″ and weighing 220 pounds, Captain America is the symbol of patriotism personified. Balanced in speed and power, Cap attacks with his trusty shield and charging shoulder tackles.
Standing 6’1″ and weighing 225 pounds, Iron Man is a bit on the slow side due to the nature of his suit (which puts him at 6’6″ and 425 pounds). However, he compensates for his lack of speed with the power and flight game. Able to double jump and briefly fly, Iron Man is the most versatile superhero in the game.
Standing 5’10” and weighing 167 pounds, Spider-Man is the fastest of the lot. But he’s also the weakest. Use his web slinging prowess to take out the trash. He can also cling to walls and climb to new areas that some of the others are unable to reach.
Standing 5’3″ and weighing 195 pounds (300 with Adamantium skeleton), Wolverine is a vicious and balanced fighter. He’s not as fast as Spider-Man or as strong as Captain America, but he’s stronger than Spider-Man and faster than Captain America. He plays exactly like how he did in X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, and that’s fine by me!
Standing 7’6″ and weighing over half a ton, the Incredible Hulk is the bruiser of the group. He’s also the slowest. But when you just want to smash the crap out of everything, it’s hard to go wrong with Hulk.
Select your superhero and pick any of the four initial stages. Unlike X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, any hero can be used on any level. It gives the game a little more replay value when the levels don’t force you to use a certain character. But some characters are more suited to certain levels than others. For example, Iron Man does really well at the Boston Aquarium. Sorry Cap — take a backseat!
Always one to make, pardon the pun, a splashy entrance, Iron Man flies in on his jet boosters. It isn’t long before the glass shatters and the whole place becomes Waterworld.
Repulsor Beam does well to break down barriers. Even better, use his flying headbutt attack for multiple hits.
Deliver a sweet three hit combo in mid-air. Then battle the evil version of Vision.
Remember to keep an eye on your air gauge. Turn Tony Stark into Ryu with a nice Rising Uppercut.
Hawkeye you traitor you! Not really, that’s just his evil clone.
GODDAMN that was close…
Question: what’s worse than fighting one evil version of Iron Man? Fighting two of course. Scale the platforms for some fun cat and mouse play. Iron Man’s double jump works really well here.
Infinity Gem #1 secured! It’s on to the next…
Spider-Man swings into the Amazon like only he can.
Spider-Man’s ability to cling to walls and scale them makes him quite versatile. The boss of this stage is an evil version of Wolverine.
Beware the spikes. Landing on them will cause extra damage. Sadly, falling into the spikes doesn’t hurt the boss. Use Spidey’s swinging attacks to keep Wolvie on his toes.
Captain America slings his shield to perfection. Shoulder tackle Hawkeye before he even gets off a shot.
Versatile is Cap’s shield. Send it downward or upward to knock off unsuspecting fools. Some of the levels have barriers as seen here. Wolverine and Spider-Man are too weak to break them so they must scale up. Captain America and Hulk can’t jump high enough to access the upper area so they must smash through. Iron Man has the strength to bust through or double jump up. No wonder I like Iron Man the best.
Halfway through this stage, a group of evil Pucks serve as sort of a mid-boss. They can be very tough as they flank you like ants on sugar.
Where’s the Incredible Hulk when you need him?! Evil Sasquatch comes bursting out of the frozen wall like he was shot out of a cannon. Don’t get too close unless you like being dinner.
Nobody slashes up the competition quite like ol’ Wolvie. Unfortunately, he’s too weak (what?!) to bust through that thick wall there, or scale your way up.
Reminiscent, much? All his greatest hits from X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse is back.
Scaling Dr. Doom’s castle can be hazardous to your health. Speaking of the good doctor, watch out for his deadly energy beams. Thankfully, Wolverine is so short that they fly right over his head!
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Doom declares this isn’t the last you will see of him (and he’s right). After beating the first four stages, we learn Magus is holding one of the Infinity Gems on a giant orbiting battleship. Time to send the Hulk!
Shanghaied in Space?! “HULK SMASH!!!”
Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla? Forget that, it’s Hulk vs. Evil Hulk! Hulk smashes walls like no one else.
Another mid-boss battle ensues. Hulk doing what he does best!
Position yourself on the edge so that the lasers just barely miss hitting you. Bash and repeat. Your reward is a classic SNES style explosion.
Nothing’s better than grabbing a goon and chucking him across the screen, taking out the entire crowd. As strong as Hulk is though, he’s not invincible. Don’t just stand there taking energy beams… even if it looks super cool.
Standing between you and the next Infinity Gem is the double tough Magus. He moves so fast (guess which Gem he has) that you can actually see his shadow trail. What a lovely visual touch!
Scoundrel! That Magus is a sneaky little bitch. Hulk be like “DAFUQ.”
Uppercut him into the air and follow up with a pulverizing double axe handle. So damn satisfying.
Defeating Magus opens up the next set of stages to conquer. You’ll face off with the likes of Black Heart and even the evil version of Thing.
Special cameos abound, as seen here with Doctor Strange. And as he promised earlier, Dr. Doom returns for a final battle.
Nebula! Nice to see her in the game, especially considering how popular she has become since Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos is the final big bad.
Thanos vs. Hulk is a WrestleMania worthy main event. But the Hulk is the better man mutant on this night, and the Infinity Gems are now in safe hands.
Congratulations to our mighty superheroes! Nice shot there of the crew.
Helpful items can be acquired during your quest. For example, if you die on a stage then that character you were using is no longer available. However, you’re able to revive him and regain his services with the usage of the revival power-up.
In addition, you can incorporate the various Infinity Gems to increase your powers. The Time Gem doubles your speed (give it to Hulk). The Power Gem increases your power (Spider-Man, who can strike up to six times, becomes quite the wrecking ball with it equipped). It’s fun to mix and match as you see fit. This versatility adds to the gameplay and gives it a leg up on X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse.
There’s also a Training Room where you can fight random enemies 1 on 1. It’s too bad there wasn’t a 2 player option here. Granted, the moves are fairly limited being a beat ‘em up platformer, but this would have made for a nice bonus mode.
Remember fantasizing as a kid about what would happen if the Hulk and Thing ever came to blows? Sure, you could read the various comic books in which they clashed, but there’s something cool about deciding the outcome yourself in video game form.
Capcom should have spent a little more time on this. With a proper 2 player mode, War of the Gems would trulybe a gem.
THE ARCADE GAME
Capcom released Marvel Super Heroes in arcades back in October of 1995. Such a port to the SNES would have been impossible, combined with the fact that by 1996 the SNES was no longer a viable machine.
Marvel Super Heroes was loud, brash and in your face. Along with X-Men: Children of the Atom, these two games were the prototype for what would later become Capcom’s notoriously over the top VS. series.
A Super Nintendo port of this game in 1996 would have been doomed to fail, both due to the late release in the system’s lifespan and how butchered and watered down it would have been.
Instead Capcom gave the remaining loyal SNES fans Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. Instead of being a 1-on-1 fighting game, it was a single plane beat ‘em up with some platforming elements integrated. As such, it worked fine for what it is. Capcom threw us a bone, and if nothing else, it’s a curious entry in Capcom’s longstanding SNES catalog.
In an alternate reality, it would have been interesting to see what this game would play like had Capcom gone the traditional Street Fighter II route instead. You already have Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man and Hulk. Magus, Blackheart, Nebula, Dr. Doom and Thanos makes the roster a nice round number of 10. Give each of them a handful of special moves and it could have been a solid fighting game exclusive to the SNES. There’s a part of me that wishes Capcom had done that. But I’m also fine with what we got because what we got is a solid game in its own right.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Because it came out so late in the SNES’ lifespan, War of the Gems came and went with very little fanfare. It was not reviewed by either EGM or GameFan, and Super Play closed its doors a few months before the game could even come out. From my online travels around various gaming boards for the past 15+ years, more people seem to like it than not. Some prefer Mutant Apocalypse. Some prefer War of the Gems. Both games are worth playing (and owning). But for the record, I like War of the Gems better.
It’s always nice to at long last knock a childhood curiosity off your to-play list. I liked War of the Gems a lot when I first played it over 12 years ago, and I still like it now. From its curiously late release to its amazing sprite work, there’s just something about this game that I really dig. Not to mention the five superheroes that made the cut (Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine and Hulk) are my top five superheroes of all time. They all look great (though poor Cap looks a bit funky) and their special powers puts you right in their shoes. I like that you can select the order of stages to tackle as well as the ability to pick any hero for any level. It was an improvement from Mutant Apocalypse which had predetermined stages for its roster. Also, the addition of the Infinity Gems is a game changer. Hulk too slow for your liking? Equip his big ass with the Time Gem and speed is no longer an issue. Spider-Man too weak? Give him the Power Gem and watch Hulk grow green (er… greener) with envy. It’s fun to experiment and definitely increases the game’s longevity.
The visuals are top-notch. They’re big, beefy and intricately detailed. Coming out so late, you would expect nothing less from Capcom, and they sure didn’t disappoint. It gets you in the proper ass-kicking mood. Unfortunately, the sound is nowhere as high in quality. Landing blows doesn’t sound as impactful as I would have liked, and the music isn’t anything to write home about. Another blemish is that the game plays a bit slowly due to the massive sprites, which may turn off some hardcore action aficionados but I personally did not mind. Also, the levels are short and the enemies can feel rather sparse. It’s definitely not an A+ effort by Capcom, but I never got the feeling that it was just a cheap attempt at a cash grab. The game is also on the short and easy side, but that may be viewed more as a positive than a negative depending on one’s perspective.
But one thing’s for sure, at least from where I sit, and that’s this: I had an absolute blast playing through War of the Gems. And I find myself revisiting it randomly throughout the years. For me it never gets old slicing up bad guys with Wolverine’s claws, or blasting bastards to Kingdom Come with Iron Man’s proton beams. Could Capcom have done more? Sure. But War of the Gems, while it may fall short of being a true gem, is still one hell of a swashbuckling time. It definitely left me wanting more, and is worthy of a spot in your Super Nintendo collection. Besides, let’s face it, at the end of a long hard day at work, sometimes you just wanna be the Hulk and smash shit up.