Much has been made of Marvel’s renewed push for relevance in gaming. In the past few years the comic book entertainment giant has partnered with a few mobile developers to produce some very popular mobile games. Now, reports have promised that they’ll soon turn their attention back to the console market. Big and exciting Marvel games are on the horizon, even though for most of the past decade’s worth of cinematic dominance the company has done little to translate its success into high-end gaming.
But that wasn’t always the case. Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe and 20th Century Fox films reinvented Marvel characters for new generations, some of those same characters — and specifically the X-Men — were the subjects of a lot of fantastic retro classics.
The Uncanny X-Men
This was the first of the bunch, a 1989 NES game that’s undeniably crude and perhaps simplistic even for its time — but also, in a way, kind of awesome. In terms of gameplay, it’s now only relevant for people who really like some retro flavor to their action. But the content was actually pretty strong for 1989. This game allowed players to control a number of classic characters including Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Iceman while fighting through adversaries to get to a few of the traditional X-Men baddies. Mostly this was a kind of roaming, bird’s-eye beat-em-up, but the characters did have defining features and attacks. There was even a secret, final mission that pitted you against Magneto. If you find an emulator (or have an NES lying around) and this one feels a little too old, it was sort of resurrected in the form of a popular mobile game that’s been described as one that an X-Men fan will really love playing. But the two games are actually pretty different, the latter being a platformer with more modern graphics, if perhaps similar story concepts.
X-Men: Madness In Murderworld
Never mind that this is one of the best gaming titles in history. It was a pretty unique title, also released in 1989, though in this case for the Commodore 64 and Amiga systems. In truth, this one didn’t make too much of an impression on the gaming community, at least not in a long-term sense. But it’s still awesomely retro in that a comic book dealing with the game’s plot was actually released alongside the game. That sounds wild even today, when another of Marvel’s apps — The Contest Of Champions — has basically inspired a new line of comics.
Arguably the first great X-Men game (and when you think about it, there have been many), this 1992 title was a platform, beat-em-up arcade game that was later re-released for download on major consoles in 2010. Developed by Konami, the masters of beat-em-up and fighter formats, it allowed you to fight as Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, or Dazzler as you fought off sentinels and villains to ultimately make your way to Magneto. The game thrived in particular on simple controls. Instead of complicated high-punch, low-punch, and kick combinations that existed on so many arcade games, this one simply offered a basic attack button, a jump button, and a Mutant attack button, with a joystick for movement. It was simple, thrilling, and repetitive, but repetition in old arcade fighters and beat-em-ups was usually pretty satisfying.
Wolverine: Adamantium Rage
Released for Sega Genesis and Super NES in 1994, this was yet another action-packed platformer, though it was a little more heavily focused on creativity in getting through different stages, rather than simply beating up villain after villain. The game is also particularly satisfying now in that it showcases Wolverine in his classic costumed form, which has become far less common in the aftermath of Hugh Jackman’s 16-plus year portrayal of the character in film. One modern game features Wolverine as the signature character for a themed slot machine, and asks appropriately, “who could forget Wolverine?” in its description. There, the slot icons and background also show the character in his classic form. But for the most part more modern games have adopted Jackman’s image, which makes the very face of Wolverine in this game a pleasant retro feature in and of itself.
That about covers the basics as far as some of the older games are concerned. There were other platformers and beat-em-up experiences for arcades and mid-’90s consoles as well, but titles like the ones listed above set the tone. And while a lot of these games look and feel pretty old-fashioned today, there’s also a charm to them that’s more or less been abandoned in more recent Marvel gaming efforts.