PSN Review: X-Men: The Arcade Game



In the early ’90s arcades, the 4-player beat-’em-up was king. Between their side-scrolling punch-up tie-ins to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons and X-Men, Konami had quickly cornered the market with a line-up that would, for many who frequented those money-sapping, sticky-floored meccas, become synonymous with arcade gaming.

As more and more downloadable game titles adopt the retro stylings of old, either remaking or aping fondly remembered classics for a new generation, fans have clambered for Konami’s 4-Player beat-’em-ups to make a return appearance. Finally they can cross X-Men Arcade off the list as it makes its way to the PlayStation Network, and though for those who spent exorbitant amounts of cash on the actual machines it’ll be a welcome blast of nostalgia, newcomers might find this no-frills throwback tougher to warm to.
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The mechanics of X-Men Arcade are as simple as they come: Choosing from a selection of six mutant superheroes, you and up to five friends will stroll streets, labs and alien planets, pummelling your way through bajillions of mutant-hunting Sentinels on your way to stopping evil metal-bending honcho Magneto. Pared down to the beat-’em-up basics, you have the ability to jump, punch and bust out a unique, but quickly depleting mutant superpower to aid you in your face-stomping quest.

The story itself, like most arcade offerings, is wafer-thin, but transformed into utter hilarity by the game’s entirely nonsensical Japanese translation job; anyone who gets a kick out of seeing awkwardly butchered “Engrish” will surely dig X-Men Arcade’s garbled approximation of the English language, which was seemingly spat out by a broken auto-translator, then transcribed by a drunk dolphin. Magneto announces himself as the “master of magnet”, boss fights kick off with the not-exactly-pants-wetting threat “Welcome to die!” and the metal-bending supervillain is quick to call our heroes “X-chickens”. It’s tremendously silly and awfully enjoyable, as is the incoherent story, and Konami and developer Backbone Entertainment have preserved the game’s nonsensical charm entirely.
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They’ve also crammed every version of the game they could into the port, offering the choice between the game’s 4-player cabinet or the 6-player machine (which offers a widescreen view, as opposed to the 4×3 view of the 4-player) and the ability to play either the US or Japanese versions of the game. The difference is negligible – the Japanese version offers mutant power-up pills which drop from enemies and a reversed mutant power system, burning through your power points before sapping your health for your super-skills – but the addition is a welcome one, even if just for completist’s sake. There’s also every variety of multiplayer set-up, from up to 6-player local games to taking the fight online with your own personalised set-up, whether opting for the Japanese 4-player cabinet or shutting off voice chat.

Naturally, the most fun comes with getting friends together in the same room for some old-school multiplayer action, but whatever set-up you go for, there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had for fans of old-school side-scrolling fighting games, especially those who have fond memories of playing the actual arcade unit. Unfortunately, due to the warts-and-all nature of the port, free from added polish, new characters or game modes beyond the multiplayer, that nostalgia is almost an essential factor in getting any prolonged enjoyment from the game. Removing it from its original arcade setting and dropping it onto a home console like a fish snatched from a river and tossed on your living room rug only highlights the fact that X-Men Arcade is really designed to be played at a machine that’s stealing all your precious quarters.
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When you’d pull up to an arcade cabinet, unless you had a spare eight grand in small change, it was rare that you’d see the later levels of many games and the fact that you were spending your hard-earned cash to play meant that it felt all the more like a challenge, a crushing blow dealt with every life you lost. In downloadable form, the game is yours to plough through in an hour or less – the console version comes with mandatory unlimited credits, which might cut down on frustration, but even on the highest difficulty setting, hitting ‘X’ to spring back to life without penalty whenever you drop surgically removes any sense of investment or challenge. As a result of that ease of play, you’ll see every level of the game zip by in less time than it takes to cook a pizza, which makes the lack of enemy variety and the game’s simplistic, repetitive nature all the more apparent.

For better or worse, though, it’s as perfect a port as anyone could expect. Without any nefarious tinkering or graphical makeovers, purists will be happy to know that X-Men Arcade looks and plays exactly as you remembered it. Those who never played the game in actual arcades will likely find the game’s lack of challenge, longevity and variety a major stumbling block, especially in the wake of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which retains the fun, brutally challenging foundations of those old-school side-scrolling beat-’em-ups and layers them with a wide variety of game modes far beyond those found in ’90s arcade brawlers. For those who can view the game through nostalgic glasses, though, it’s an entirely faithful port of the game you played and loved and no doubt an essential purchase.

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X-Men: The Arcade Game is available to buy on the US Playstation Network Store and Xbox Live Arcade now priced $9.99/800 Microsoft Points. The game hits EU consoles soon.