Many gamers will remember pumping quarter after quarter into X-Men Arcade in their local burger joint or video arcade. The machine gobbled up money as players haphazardly pounded on the mutant power button draining their life, and subsequently their playtime.
Despite being a short game, X-Men Arcade was a challenging button masher that allowed up to six people to crowd around the cabinet. Now, with the release of X-Men Arcade on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, players are once again greeted by Magneto’s infamous line, “Welcome to Die” — except, this time, gamers are equipped with infinite credits and online co-operative play.
The game is a near identical port of the original title, aside from an HD bump, don’t expect the same upgraded visuals of Konami’s other retro arcade title TMTN: Turtle in Time. All of the basic mechanics are the same from the controls (jump, attack, and mutant power), resource management (abusing your mutant power still drains your health), to the cheesy dialogue (Magneto: "Master of Magnet"). However, gamers have a few more options in this home port, as opposed to playing in the arcade, as Konami has added level select as well as a port of the Japanese version of the game which features power-ups and a few gameplay tweaks (power-ups are used up before health). It’s not a robust set of options but it certainly helps squeeze out a bit more value from the title — especially since the campaign can be cleared in less than 30 minutes.
That said, compared to modern-day arcade beat ‘em ups such as Castle Crashers and the recent movie tie-in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game some players will find that X-Men Arcade is a pretty low return on investment — depending on how satisfying nostalgia alone is to the player. The game controls aren’t particularly precise, especially since players are now controlling the movement with a thumbstick, instead of a full joystick.
Also, since gamers are now working with unlimited credits, there’s no tangible reason for most players to improve their skills. Most of the online matches I played devolved into nothing more than the various players spamming the mutant power, getting hit a few times, continuing, and mashing the mutant power button again — rinse repeat. It didn’t take long for me to abandon more skill-based moves, combining jump and attack or trying to line up multiple enemies to get the most out of my hits, for the Marvel vs. Capcom 2-esque chaos of a mutant power bonanza.
Playing with a set of friends is a bit more enjoyable but there’s still always the temptation to either spam the mutant power, or retro-fit rules on the gameplay (no abusing mutant power, only 5 continues, etc.) — where, in the original, the rules were self-imposed by the barrier to entry (cash money). Knowing when to unload your mutant power on a boss, even if it meant losing some life, was part of the satisfying balance of the original game.
Despite what could be a fun multiplayer experience (depending on your partners), with up to 6 people local on the PS3 and 4 people local on the Xbox 360 as well as online slots for 6 people (on both platforms), the game has very little replay value. The handful of achievements/trophies shouldn’t take particularly long to accrue and, given the aging gameplay mechanics, many players will find little reason to return to the title — except, maybe, when a childhood friend comes over and you’re looking for an excuse to reminisce.
X-Men Arcade isn’t a bad game, it’s just devoid of any updates that could have made the game more attractive to modern console players. The developers, Backbone Entertainment, could have done any number of things to add a bit more value to this package, news skins, challenge modes, or the option for updated visuals; instead, X-Men Arcade is a relatively pricey downloadable offering that relies entirely on nostalgia.
That said, if you loved X-Men Arcade when it was first release in 1992, the console version will probably be hard to pass up and while you won’t likely regret downloading the title, it’s unlikely that you’ll invest as much time in it as you did when you’d crowd around the original cabinet with your friends in the arcade.
X-Men Arcade is currently available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and your local retro arcade.