Yesterday saw the release of the latest X-Men movie: X-Men Apocalypse. As I sat in my seat waiting for the lights to dim and the first trailer to play, I couldn’t help but think back 20+ years to the time Capcom released X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse on the SNES. All in all, I enjoyed the movie but felt it was a bit disappointing. Is that foreshadowing for the game itself? But as always, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Let’s rewind the clock back some shall we…
THE MARVEL SUBCULTURE OF THE ’90S
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 hours of our childhood down at the card shop, buying the newest Marvel ’91 series and trading them. When we weren’t trading or buying them, we played the Street Fighter II arcade cab right in the store. It was just an amazing time to be a young kid.
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. Fun times.
As a kid I remember thinking to myself how badly I wanted to play a really good superhero game, particularly at home. Uncanny X-Men (NES) definitely failed to deliver on that front.
NES Wolverine? Better than Uncanny X-Men, but nope.
NES Silver Surfer? Heavens no.
NES Captain America and the Avengers? Try again.
My wish for a good superhero game came true in 1991 with the arcade quarter muncher, Captain America and the Avengers. I was counting down until the inevitable Super Nintendo port. Unfortunately…
When the port arrived, I nearly cried tears of sadness. It was such a watered down attempt and easily one of the most disappointing arcade ports to ever hit the SNES. My dreams were crushed. But a year later…
The X-Men arcade game is one of the most iconic multiplayer arcade games ever created. When it hit the scene in 1992, it took everyone by storm, pardon the pun. I was eagerly anticipating the SNES translation but alas, it was never meant to be.
Just look at that hulking beast. Six player cabinet. It was truly worthy of the superhero name. My friends and I loved dumping quarters into this machine and we pumped hours into this one like none other. I always used Colossus. That was my guy!
That same year, Halloween 1992 to be precise, the X-Men cartoon hit television screens the world over. And our Saturday mornings would never be the same again. There was only one thing missing: a proper Super Nintendo representation of the X-Men. Finally, two years later, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse was announced for the SNES. Better yet, it was developed by ever reliable firm, Capcom. Surely the Big C wouldn’t let us superhero fanboys down, would they? Surely console owners would finally get a good superhero game? Well, for the most part anyway. Let us delve in, then…
MUTANTS ON A MISSION
Right off the bat you have the choice of using one of five different members from the X-Men force. Each mutant has his or her own unique mission to complete. Each level is designed with that mutant’s abilities well in mind. After you finish off the first five stages, the game allows you to select any mutant to use on the final handful of levels. I like that each mutant has his or her own unique mission to begin with, and I like how Capcom allows you to select them in whichever order you please. It’s very Mega Man-esque. Let’s begin with my favorite of the group…
Wolverine always knew how to make one hell of a dramatic entrance, didn’t he? Things start off hot as the savage mutant comes bursting out of a elevated window. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Each character has a few special moves that are executed via Street Fighter II-esque motions. As expected from a firm such as Capcom, the controls are tight and responsive. Pulling off special moves left and right is as easy as 1-2-3. I particularly love Wolverine’s Dragon Punch. I always thought to myself as a kid that it blows the real Dragon Punch out of the water on account of the flesh-cutting adamantium claws. Sorry Ken, not even your Burning Dragon Punch stands a chance.
This is a recurring mid-boss that you’ll encounter throughout the game. I was intimidated as hell when I first saw it as a kid, but it’s more bark than bite.
Wolverine can interact with his environment in the way of scaling tall walls. It’s not implemented as much as I would have liked, but the few bits you get to do it it’s undoubtedly satisfying.
Not only does that enemy get the worst of Wolverine’s claws, but he also got knocked into the razor-sharp robotic fingers for extra damage. Small moments like this delight — it’s a shame then that they’re too few and far between.
A giant pissed off Sentinel guards the end of Wolverine’s stage. Goons and cronies will come at you from both sides, so dispatch them quickly. The laser beams create a somewhat spooky look for the Sentinel. A nice, creepy touch.
Shades of Contra III…
Cyclops, not surprisingly, is slower to control than Wolverine. He’s also a bigger target which makes avoiding hits a bit more difficult. But he has one thing on Wolverine: long distance attacks. His optic blast is basic, but effective.
Somehow, this never gets old
Gambit’s long legs allow him to take out the opposition within a very generous radius. The coolest part is seeing two bad guys approaching you, from both sides, and knocking them out in stereo with the Scissors Kick.
Even cooler is when you deliver death from below. You just can’t beat it.
What makes Beast unique from the others is his ability to hang from ledges. It sort of makes the game feel a bit like Metal Storm, at least, for a few minutes anyhow. An interesting gimmick that isn’t fully fleshed out due to the shortness of this level (in fact, all the levels are criminally short).
Who doesn’t love a good old fashioned screen-filling boss? We all have our own form of video game fetishes. For me it’s definitely towering end-level bosses and…
I know. I need to seek professional help [Please, take all the time off you need… -Ed.]
You also get to use whichever character you want for the game’s remaining stages. Of course, different characters are more effective in certain stages. It’s fun to explore but I just wish the levels were longer.
No seriously, it really is. Walk about 20 feet over and then it’s boss time. What the flipping heck, Capcom? Makes you wonder if development on this game was rushed for it to hit store shelves in time for the Christmas season push…
Some of the choices boggles the mind, but on the bright size, the Tusk sprite looks pretty damn awesome. Look at how he towers over Wolverine. Heck, you can even see his bulging muscles. Great attention to detail for an otherwise forgettable boss.
Speaking of bright sides, at least there are a few fun little gimmicks thrown in here. You can knock Tusk into the lava BUT do watch out for that falling lift!
Just for fun, I like scaling the wall and making the bastard try to reach me. It’s oddly entertaining but then, the little things tend to be that way, don’t they?
The next level forces you to move swiftly as a lava gives chase. This is where the game sure could have used a dash option. Thankfully each of the characters have some sort of dashing special move you can pull off as a substitute for a lack of a dash button, except for Cyclops (who I definitely don’t recommend you selecting here).
Get stuck in front of a pillar though and you’ll have to smash your way through. This can cause for some intense moments to say the least!
For a big bad boss whose name is featured in the game title itself, the encounter with Apocalypse is a bit underwhelming to say the least. His special moves all sort of look weird and as it turns out, he’s not even the final boss. After defeating him you’re transported back to the Danger Room for more training. It’s a bit jarring… almost like Capcom said, “Oh crap, we need to throw in a little more shit because this game is way too short!”
After this it’s off to face the final bad guy of the game: Magneto. Good luck.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
I have fond memories of EGM issue number 65. It came right in time for the holiday season of 1994 (what I consider to be an epic year both personally and in terms of gaming) and clocked in at over a massive 400 pages! I always said EGM sold their souls to the devil… for EGM in my humble estimation was never the same again after producing this tree-killing monster of an issue. I remember the joke that this issue was bigger than some small towns’ phone books! And I believe that. It had a badass cover featuring X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse. The critics were not too kind to this game. EGM gave it ratings of 8, 8, 8 and 7. But GameFan, who was notorious for handing out high scores like free condiments, gave it shockingly “low” scores of 78, 75 and 70%. Super Play Magazine, who were much harder graders in general (not to mention they weren’t huge fans of the beat ‘em up genre) rated this game 52%. Public fan reception has been a little more positive though. Most gamers would agree that this is a pretty good game, especially by X-Men standards at that time.
I enjoyed playing this game back in 1994, and revisiting it again this past week leading up to the new X-Men movie has been, for the most part, an enjoyable experience. It’s definitely not Capcom’s best effort and certainly feels rushed at times, but it’s still quite fun to play through the game using the various characters and utilizing their unique special moves. The graphics are big, bright and bold — it has that classic SNES look to it where you just know at a glance that it was made in the year 1994 (if that makes sense). It has a pretty rockin’ soundtrack to boot. Not in the same league as say a Mega Man X or a Donkey Kong Country but I dare say it more than holds its own. Control is tight and crisp, but the levels are way too short. Just as you’re about to sink your teeth into a stage, it ends. It leaves you with sort of an empty feeling. It’s fun while it lasts, but it never lasts long enough to kick the game playing experience into that extra gear that very good or great games have. Had Capcom spent a little more time fine tuning this aspect, this game could truly have been one of their many SNES classics. Instead, it’s simultaneously disappointing yet fairly solid in spite of its flaws.
I don’t mind single-plane beat ‘em ups, although I prefer more traditional “free roaming” ones such as Final Fight or Streets of Rage, but it works here. The inclusion of special moves done via Street Fighter II motions is pretty neat, and there’s a little more platforming here than seen in most typical beat ‘em ups. Instead of each mutant having a “clear all” attack that takes a little health off their health, each one has special mutant powers that can be executed without penalty or limit. I thought that was a pretty cool twist on the whole beat ‘em up trope. X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse feels like a bit of an amalgam of three classic genres: beat ‘em up, action platformer and in some cases, hints of a 2D one on one fighter. There were certainly instances (like the fight with Juggernaut) where I started daydreaming about this game actually being a legit Street Fighter II clone. Man, too bad Capcom didn’t incorporate a bonus mode where you can pick any of the superheroes and villains to duke it out, Street Fighter II style. Sure, it wouldn’t be terribly polished, but we got such bonus modes in NES Double Dragon and SNES Combatribes. Mutant Apocalypse would have done it better. Anyway, it’s not fair to criticize a game for not including a mode that thinks outside the box, but it is an indication that the game could have been more (generally speaking) and that Capcom didn’t let this one “cook to perfection” for one reason or another. Still, it’s a rock solid title that’s worthy of a spot in any Super Nintendo collection. It’s just a shame it wasn’t even better but hey, it’s hard to complain much when you see all the gems Capcom gave us during the vaunted SNES era.