I am an experienced time traveler. Unfortunately, triggering my travels through time is beyond my conscious control. I must rely on external factors to throw me into the past. Yesterday, one such external factor threw me back to an arcade in Oklahoma City in the early 1990s. Yesterday, I picked up my Xbox 360 controller and played the Backbone Entertainment’s XBLA release of Konami’s classic 1992 side-scrolling beat-em-up arcade game, X-Men. The highest praise I can give this game is that it is exactly how I remember it being over 15 years ago. When I sat and started playing last night, I felt like a kid in an arcade again.
(Screenshots from Xbox Marketplace)
I do have one complaint about the game; it is incredibly short. There is an achievement for beating the game in under 25 minutes, and if you have a good six-player group, that can easily be accomplished. Most games, however, will probably take anywhere from 30-45 minutes from beginning to end. The game has, of course, always been short, but time flows differently when you’re playing at an arcade than when you’re playing in the comfort of your own home, or so we perceive. What only takes 30 minutes in reality may feel like hours in an arcade, when you’re constantly pumping quarters into a cabinet and bumping elbows with your fellow X-Men, while that same real time feels shorter at home, where you have nothing to distract you from the game experience itself. That being said, there is a great deal of replay value, and as soon as you finish the game, it loops you back to the beginning so that you can keep building your high score.
I loved the dialogue, the graphics, the sounds, the gameplay, and the seamless integration of online drop-in/out play. According to IGN, part of Konami’s deal with Marvel to bring the game to XBLA/PSN was that the only acceptable change to the original code would be the inclusion of online functionality. This means that the game I played last night was the exact same game I played in that dark, crowded arcade that smelled of the nearby food court over 15 years ago. Some people may think that paying $10 for something that hasn’t changed in 18 years is pointless, but I think that changing this game would have been very detrimental to it. There are certain games where new gameplay and features bring an updated feel while retaining nostalgia, and there are certain games that need simply to be made available in their original form. X-Men Arcade is of the latter; a game that simply needed to be made available to play on new platforms with no change to the classic gameplay it mastered so well. The inclusion of online gameplay was done very well, and thankfully allows multiple local players to play together in an online game, which is something that I find missing from some other local/online co-op XBLA games. I like playing with Lindsey, and it bothers me that some games don’t allow both of us to play while also allowing online players. One of us is generally excluded, but that is not the case in X-Men Arcade, which means it’s going to be something we play quite often.
So, yes, the gameplay is unchanged from 18 years ago except for the addition of online play; this gives me the great experience I remember from my childhood and allows me to share it with people around the world. Yes, the dialogue is atrocious; this makes it incredibly fun, and gives it the potential of spawning Internet memes. Yes, the graphics are 18 years old; this more than anything else triggers the excellent nostalgia rush that I’ve come to know and love. Yes, the sounds are outdated, and the voice acting is not always spot on; I can close my eyes and just listen to the sounds of my childhood as they play through the speakers on my HDTV.
X-Men Arcade is available on XBLA for 800 MSP, and on PSN for $9.99. If you like side-scrolling beat-em-ups, X-Men Arcade is a game for you. If you lived in arcades, X-Men Arcade is a game for you. If you’re too young to remember side-scrolling beat-em-ups and arcades, but want to get a great feel for the 90s, X-Men Arcade is a game for you. Pick it up, join me on XBL, and travel back to a simpler, more awesome time.