This week, we took a bit of a nod from TV’s hottest new show, Legion, and turned eye our toward the history of X-Men video games. Anthony John Agnello endeavored to scour the mutants’ gameography and pull out three titles—the best, the worst, and the weirdest—that tell us a little something about what it takes to make this series work in video game form. Naturally, the comments were full of other suggestions for those three distinctions, namely which X-Men game is the best ever. X-Men Legends, the action RPG from Raven Software, was a popular choice. (By the way, here’s Anthony talking about why he went in a different direction.) Evan Waters summed up its merits:
I find X-Men Legends was the best for a couple of reasons. One, it really lets you wander around in the fan-friendly minutiae of the franchise—the “hub” between missions is Xavier’s mansion, and you can spend a while just going and meeting the various characters, finding collectibles, running Danger Room simulations, etc. The plot involves the Sentinels, Magneto, the Morlocks, Muir Island, and a battle in Professor X’s subconscious. It really only leaves out the space-opera stuff.
And it does a really good job at the truly chaotic feel the X-Men comics always had when they were in the heat of action. You’ve got four heroes unleashing major powers all the time, wrecking everything in the environment, including the goddamn walls, and surprise “combos” keep popping up and showing you how to use their powers together. There’s something truly satisfying about just blasting your way through an enemy compound.
Heart Like A Fridge went for something even more chaotic:
I definitely echo the love for Legends and the glorious, quarter-sucking side-scrolling of the six-player arcade game, but for me the idea of an X-Men video game is best captured in Capcom’s work from Children Of The Atom, X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, and the Marvel Vs. Capcom Series.
Obviously, story is secondary (Hello, Onslaught and Abyss!) and that is a demerit when talking about the X-Men and their history, but those fighting games were the living embodiment of childhood arguments about who would win in a fight between Storm and Iceman or Cyclops and Wolverine and then blew up into the craziness of the Vs. series (and the glorious cheapness of Cable’s specials). But that series was the most fun I had with the X-Men.
LJN’s Uncanny X-Men for the NES was a near-unanimous pick for worst game. The Greetest For No Raisin recalled a particularly tragic encounter with this turd:
God that NES X-Men game was hot fucking garbage. I learned a hard lesson about licensed games when I got it (a lesson I should have learned after playing the Atari 2600’s goddamned E.T.). It was my birthday, and instead of doing a pre-order on Super Mario Bros. 3, like my mom suggested, I wanted a game that day because SMB3 wouldn’t be out for months. One of the worst decisions I ever made. One thing that truly makes the game suck that this article doesn’t mention: You have to use two characters at once on each mission. A second player can control the other character, but if there’s no second player, the game’s pitiful AI takes over and promptly gets the character it’s controlling killed. Naturally, if all the characters are killed off, it’s game over, making the game even more difficult than it needed to be. Oh, and that part about using the mutant powers hurting the character? Guess which ability the AI loved to use? Fuck that piece of shit game.
Elsewhere, Poop Medicine (I can’t believe I actually had to type that) repped a cult classic that’s not an X-Men game but comes kind of close:
The best X-Men game is called Freedom Force. It doesn’t have any actual X-Men in it, but it does a very similar thing completely brilliantly. There are a bunch of built in superheroes with these great little origin story animations and really memorable voice acting, and it also lets you make one from scratch if you’d like.
It’s kind of like a Baldur’s Gate game, almost: pause-unpause top-down control setup where you’re in charge of a squad of heroes and everybody has powers that cost what’s basically mana. That’s all familiar, but it’s incredibly three dimensional. Some of your heroes can fly, some can leap tall buildings in a single bound, some can wall-crawl, and either way, all those buildings are fully destructible. If your guy has super strength, he can throw a taxi at an enemy or rip a lamppost out of the ground. Everything is destructible and weaponizable. Your people all gain experience and level their abilities up, and you get to pick your own squad, so it’s kind of XCOM-like in that respect.
It’s a pretty under-appreciated game. They made a second one where you beat up nazis, but it feels more like an “expandalone” than a real sequel. It does have Nazi punching, though. They’re both on Steam, and I highly recommend throwing one on the ol’ wishlist and picking it up on a sale.
This week also marked the end of my Resident Evil 7 review series, as part three took us through to the end of the game. I made mention of a particular plot twist that gets sprung in the final moments, and down in the comments, Spergatory took a moment to dig into and praise it (naturally, this is going to cover a very specific plot detail from RE7, if you don’t want to read about it, you best turn back now):
I really want to call attention to the Granny Baker twist, because it’s just done so well. Throughout the whole game, we see this harmless old woman in a wheelchair, and we are more or less conditioned to assume she is Granny Baker by default. But the game subtly builds clues that not is all as it seems; “Granny” is never mentioned by the other characters. She appears in none of the family photographs—at least, not in her “old” form. The only characters referred to in either the text or spoken dialogue are Jack, Marguerite, Lucas, Zoe, Mia, Ethan, and the various “victims” the family caught over the years. “Granny” is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost appearing and disappearing at will, never speaking, always watching.
It isn’t until the game’s final sequence in the salt mines where the curtain starts to be pulled back, with one of Lucas’ missives referring to Eveline as starting to look old. The game relies on us ignoring the old woman, just taking for granted that of course she does nothing and of course the others ignore her, because that’s what happens to old people in our world, as well. It relies not only on our ignorance and dismissal, but on us accepting the Bakers’ as natural and expected. It’s a pretty damning commentary that isn’t really commentary. If we had been paying attention, we might have seen the evil in front of us all along.
That’ll do it for this week, friends. Thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!