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X-Men Arcade
Score: 72%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Media: Download/1
Players: 1- 6; 2 - 6 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Arcade

Graphics & Sound:
X-Men Arcade is a monument to older design sensibilities. It's an arcade-perfect port, so you're getting everything you remember from the original, including the terrible voice acting and worse translation ("I am Magneto. Master of the Magnet.") These are all things that could have been cleaned up, but I'm happy they weren't.

Visually, X-Men Arcade is one big nostalgia trip. First off, you have the X-Men in their older, late 80's/ early 90's outfits. Wolverine is dressed in brown, Storm rocks her old black-leather dominatrix look and Dazzler... well, it's Dazzler! Character animations are stiff and low-key, though it all comes with the territory.

Locales take you even further along on your trip. Every level shuttles you to some other bizarre locale. One level you're fighting through the streets of a city and the next, you're on a trek through a jungle populated by giant bees and dotted with mechanical trap doors and other mechanical oddities. Again, it's great, though only if you eat up with this sort of thing. Not to say younger players won't enjoy seeing some of this stuff, but by comparison, it will all seem goofy and archaic alongside modern brawlers.

X-Men Arcade is a nearly 20-year old game, so the obvious question is how well it holds up after all this time. Surprisingly, it's every bit as fun as I remember, though that fun directly corresponded to the number of friends in a game.

Similar to last year's Scott Pilgrim beat 'em up, X-Men is something you want to play with friends. As a single-player experience its fun, but without the need to fish quarters out of your pocket (or mom's purse), gameplay is a bit hollow. You're essentially given infinite lives, so situations that would require strategy and tactics become situations where you just put your head down and barrel through. There's no sense of danger.

Toss a few friends into the mix, and gameplay is suddenly transformed into something different. There's still the issue of no financial barrier holding you to make good decisions, but I found an odd sense of camaraderie pop up. You don't want to see your buddy go down, nor do you want to get into a situation where you're left holding down the fort.

The Japanese ROM adds another twist by including health power-ups. Depending one who you're playing with, this has the potential to disrupt the "team" mentality. I got lucky and only played with friends, but I can imagine a few seagull players who will sprint around the screen screaming, "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

The US ROM doesn't include this "perk" though it does allow you to keep playing longer than the Japanese ROM. Once you beat Magneto, the game flips right back to the beginning, offering the opportunity to keep the action going.

The Japanese ROM is easier than the US ROM, thanks in large part to the inclusion of power-ups. Both feature the same exact levels and enemy patterns, but the US version is more of a survival match since there's no way to replenish health without dying.

The two versions also handle mutant powers a little differently. The Japanese version places emphasis on tokens when using powers, while the US version ties powers to health. Although I like the way the Japanese version handles powers, I dug the decision-making the US version tossed at least. The health-tie adds a better risk/ reward mechanic. The only drawback is the infinite continues. It's possible to charge through entire levels just spamming mutant powers.

Offering infinite continues without penalty is a major misstep. It's the dream of every kid who has ever stepped foot into an arcade with only the change in his pocket, but the gameplay doesn't support the idea. Without that little ticker in the back of your mind constantly telling you to be careful and pick your fights, there's nothing holding you back from using a cheap "Spam-Die-Spam" approach. Backbone wasn't able to go into the code and rework or update anything, but by tightening up the number of available continues, they would have added some much needed conflict to gameplay.

Game Mechanics:
X-Men Arcade is a different experience at home than it was in the arcade. The game was designed to eat quarters, so when that isn't a factor, the cracks become more noticeable. Enemies follow simple behavior routines and most fights become rugby scrums.

Unlike more "modern" brawlers (again, I point to Scott Pilgrim), which introduced mechanics like leveling and stats, X-Men presents a blunt, straightforward experience. Each of the six playable X-Men has the same base set of punches and kicks, which lead to some combos. Though important to play, you're likely to button-mash your way through large portions of each level.

When you're not hammering away at the buttons, you'll switch to mutant powers. Each X-Man has one power, offering one of the only major differences between each. But, as you cycle through each, you'll find that the differences between powers are more cosmetic. There are a few variances in range, though each serves the same function - clear out enemies in one hit.

X-Men is directed more towards fans of older games, not newcomers. Again, that's not to say players who equate arcades with Bigfoot sightings won't find something to enjoy, but really they're more than likely to pick it up, blast through a level and go back to something else. Gameplay holds up, but only if you're willing to overlook the lack of modern enhancements.

If you're a fan of older, arcade beat 'em ups, and have a set of friends (either locally or online) to play with, X-Men Arcade is a fine purchase. It's not a must own, but is still fun with friends. Without the friend factor, X-Men is a flat brawler. It's fun for the first hour, but once you've crushed Magneto once (a half-hour worth of play, tops), there's little incentive to want to do it again.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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