The Uncanny X-Men
The Nintendo Entertainment System was an 8-bit home video game console that is still remembered for producing some of the best titles of all time, especially in cartridge format. However, it is also known for also providing a library of truly putrid selections. One particular developer is responsible for many of them: LJN Toys Ltd, a company notorious for taking a popular license and quickly, shoddily turning it into a cheaply made NES cart in order to try and turn a rapid profit before consumers could realize that the games were horribly low-quality, especially in an age before the internet allowed people to rapidly learn of such travesties occurring. Some examples include Friday the 13th, Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, Beetlejuice, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, all of which are nearly universally considered to be poor gaming choices and not displaying the work of a top-rate developer.
Another example was the X-Men game released in 1989, called The Uncanny X-Men on the box but referred to as Marvel’s X-Men on the title screen. This discrepancy, right away, provides a keen sample of the vast comedy of errors that seemingly took place whenever the LJN scam artists put a video game onto the market with the least effort possible. The title issue was not the only problem that plagued the X-Men video game on the NES.
The bland title screen showcases the title text, a blank background, than an animated showing of the head shots of the six selectable mutant heroes known to X-Men fans: Wolverine, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Iceman, Colossus, and Storm. After selecting one or two players, the first player can then select the level, from the choices Practice, Futurecity Street Fight, Subterranean Confrontation, Seach & Destroy the Robofactory, or Battle Through a Living Starship.
After selecting the level, the battle begins, and the player will immediately notice a tragic mistake: Rather than having the B button attack, as in a proper NES game, instead the A button attacks and the B button hops in place. The hop is completely, utterly, mystifyingly useless. The attack for Cyclops, Storm, and Iceman consists of a quick beam that fires across the screen, while the other three characters Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler attack with an awkward lunge forward. The characters also have different traits, viewable on the character selection screen, such as Nightcrawler boasting a high speed and Colossus being able to take a lot of damage.
In each area, with the exception of the endless Practice field, the two X-Men mutants must navigate their way through defeating enemy hordes and environmental dangers while searching for keys in an effort to find the finish. The term “two X-Men mutants” is not used accidentally; indeed, even in one-player mode, the player must select an accompanying mutant that is used by the computer as a teammate, although the computer often attacks in the wrong direction, gets stuck behind simple obstacles, paces back and forth in a small space, or freezes altogether until death. If you complete a level, you get to select a different one to try. You cannot even face the final boss, Magneto, except by use of a code: Once having defeated all the levels, you must hold Up, Select, and B, while highlighting the Practice level, and hit Start.
Otherwise, the gameplay is atrociously broken and ridiculous. The mutant “powers” are barely represented at all; while Cyclops does have an energy beam, it is just the same attack as Storm and Iceman have, and while the lunge forward may make sense for the metal strongman Colossus, this game makes no attempt to acknowledge the powers of Wolverine or Nightcrawler, except by making Wolverine’s attack strength high and Nightcrawler very fast. This game is notably difficulty, with dozens of enemies attacking in waves, portions (like closing gates in narrow gaps) that can kill characters instantly, awkward play control resulting in the inability to efficiently attack or avoid attacks, and the stunning lack of any indication as to what to do or where to go on any particular level. There are little icon power-ups that can be collected after defeating many enemies, perhaps to recover energy or freeze on-screen foes, but often items are dropped that freeze your character as well. The entire experience is not enjoyable and offers no replay value.
The “graphics” found in X-Men are genuinely bad. The character sprites are tiny, with only the palette colors enabling you to discern who is who, and not making any effort to showcase the famous characters with any marquee on-screen presence whatsoever. The different levels are a poorly designed, crappy-looking tile-based mess of background haziness, foreground busyness, and bizarre enemies coming from every angle. The navigation screens, like the level selection or character selection, are dull and minimalist, completely uninspired and not making even the least effort to appear interesting or like the developer cared at all about the final product.
The music cannot even be mentioned. The sound effects sound as though they were designed to be unpleasant, rather than appropriately complement the gameplay. The effect used for the energy blasts, for example, is a high-pitched shriek that sounds, in no way, like the sci-fi blasting noise it should. The entire game is experienced as an endless series of beeps and boops and stupid noise noise noise. There was not any work put into the soundtrack, and the X-Men video game for NES is just left in shameful shambles. There are Atari 2600 games with better sound than this title, and that is neither exaggeration nor hyperbole, that is cold, hard, measurable, quantifiable fact.
This is a sickeningly awful video “game” that is of audaciously low quality. It it not fun, it is not good, there is nothing about it that can be favorably compared to even an average NES cartridge, and it offers no noteworthy gaming features. Could a great X-Men game have been created for the Nintendo Entertainment System? Yes, but fans of both Marvel and Nintendo were betrayed with this abomination. If this video game were a squirrel, it should be tied to a tree and beaten to death. The NES version of X-Men receives a half star out of five, and should rot in the ground like the putrid turd that it is.
Eric Bailey is a retro gamer on a crazy quest to write a quality review for every single American-released NES video game over at NintendoLegend.com.