iPhone/iPad App Review: X-Men

Back in 1992, the beat ‘em up era had already reached its peak, with side-scrollers such as Double Dragon and Golden Axe being replaced by one-on-one games inspired by the massive success of Street Fighter II. To encourage arcade gamers to play your machine, you needed a strong license – and what better than Marvel’s X-Men.

Konami stayed with the side-scrolling format for X-Men, but instead of providing a couple of characters to play, they offered six and if you were very lucky, your arcade would have the huge top-of-the-line machine with twin monitors, where six players could all play at the same time!

This was nearly 20 years ago though, and the beat ‘em up genre has changed considerably since then – with the side-scrolling game almost disappearing. However, the X-Men most definitely haven’t disappeared, and Konami’s decision to port the original arcade game over the iOS fits in well with the resurgence of interest thanks to new X-Men: First Class movie. The question is, was it worth it?

I spent a lot of money on the X-Men arcade version back in the day, so spending £0.69 on the universal iPhone and iPad game didn’t require much thinking about. However, nostalgia can quickly disappear if the game is nowhere near as good as you remembered it, making re-releases like this something of a gamble.

First of all, the graphics and audio are identical to the arcade machine, which not only means Konami has avoided polishing the game up for modern audiences, but also shows just how far technology has moved on in nearly twenty years! The uninspiring menu screen aside, X-Men has a very cool 16-bit look: pixelated, but still detailed and smoothly animated. The sound FX are all great too, and smacking a Sentinel about produces just the right metal-crunching sounds, plus the cheesy digitised speech and clumsily translated lines (“welcome to die!”) are also all present and correct.

There are six characters to choose from, Cyclops, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine or Dazzler. While Wolverine and the rest are solid, recognisable X-Men, Dazzler is the odd-one-out, being a slightly rubbish disco-inspired character featured in very few comics. The plot is something about Magneto terrorising the planet with his Sentinels, before kidnapping Kitty Pryde and Professor X, which means you must punch and kick your way through a load of Sentinels and several end-of-level bosses to rescue them.

Each character has their own special mutant power, which can be deployed at the press of a button, but only if your energy level is above three and only a few times per level.  As you’d expect, each power fits in with the character’s mutant ability; so you’ve got Storm launching a whirlwind, Cyclops firing his optic blast and Nightcrawler bamf-ing around the screen destroying  baddies as he goes.

Otherwise there’s a single attack button which performs a few punches, kicks, throws and the occasional special move. There doesn’t seem to be any way to influence what attack is performed, so it’s a case of hammering the button and seeing what happens. A virtual D-pad is used to move your character around the 3D-like screen in that you can move left and right as well as up and down; giving the impression of a 3D environment.

The controls are excellent too, and X-Men is proof that when done right, the virtual D-pad can be highly responsive and accurate. That said, X-Men is better to play on the iPad than the iPhone, as the D-pad, attack, jump and special attack buttons take up a huge amount of room on the iPhone’s screen, and your left-hand thumb does tend to get in the way of the action.

Playing X-Men through on your own is fun, however Konami has also included a local multiplayer mode where up to four people can play the game, and this is where it really comes alive! Provided each device has X-Men installed – it can be a combination of iPhones and iPads – and are connected to the same Wi-Fi network, a local game is hosted by one and joined by everyone else with a few button taps. Each player sees all the action on-screen, just like in the arcade!

The multiplayer mode is brilliant fun, and it’s so good to see a local option rather than the faceless online alternative, as playing through X-Men with any number of friends all in the same room is a great mobile gaming experience.

X-Men is a very traditional arcade beat ‘em up, and therefore does become repetitive, as aside from hitting the Sentinels and Bosses, there isn’t anything else to do and single players could lose interest quite quickly. Still, X-Men is easily one of the best side-scrolling beat ‘em ups available for iOS, and if you’ve got iPhone/iPad owning friends, it takes on a whole new level of appeal when played as a multiplayer game.

If, like me, you remember the original, or are a fan of retro arcade games in general, X-Men is a highly playable slice of nostalgic pie; however if you’ve been raised on Devil May Cry or Street Fighter IV, then its simplicity and lack of variety may disappoint.

One thought on “iPhone/iPad App Review: X-Men

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