Compared to Capcom, Konami’s thirst for licensing ‘toons seemed to have no end and they feasted in 1992 with no less than four arcade adaptations. Granted, not all of them were as well known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons, two properties that they already had under their belt, but that didn’t stop them.
Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa and Bucky O’Hare entered the fray along with the French born comic hero, Asterix. But the biggest name in this lineup would turn out to be a clever adaptation of one of Marvel’s biggest power groups — the X-Men.
X-Men ran on what arcade hardware museum, System 16, calls “Konami X-Men Based Hardware” which was an arcade board sharing similarities to the ones used by The Simpsons and Vendetta in 1991. Konami, like many other arcade houses back in the day, custom built hardware for their games creating a potpourri of various boards and cabinet configurations.
Efforts were made by some, such as Capcom and SNK, in the late 80s and early 90s to build a standard set of hardware like the CPS or Neo Geo MVS, respectively, to power their games and cut down on costs, but Konami was one of those that seemed to pull whatever they had in stock at the time and cobble together the hardware they needed for any particular project.
The board did share similar characteristics to Capcom’s and SNK’s hardware in using Motorola’s 16-bit 68000 processor for the CPU, Zilog’s Z80 as the sound CPU, and Yamaha sound chips — standard stuff back in the day. It’s just that Konami loved their custom boards. A lot.
As a cartoon adaptation, X-Men very loosely followed concepts borne out in 1989’s animated pilot, X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men. Though the pilot didn’t kick off a hoped-for X-Men cartoon series (and pretty much marked the end of Marvel’s foray into animation which had started with Fantastic Four in ’78), game developers were still eager to license its characters such as when Sega brought Spider Man to the arcade in 1991 with a lavishly animated beat ’em up. Three years later, X-Men would finally get their own cartoon series in 1991 which was also the same year that their arcade game would arrive. It’s hard to believe, but the powerhouse that is Marvel today would find itself struggling to stay afloat in 1996 a few years later after seemingly doing well.
Their arcade debut had a number of different configurations but its largest one allowed six players to co-0p through the adventure together on a giant cabinet equipped with a double monitor setup. One monitor was hidden below inside the cabinet and reflected up to create a widescreen effect allowing all six players to see what was going on. It was similar to the same technique used by Taito in ’87 using a three monitor setup for their Ninja Warriors to create a triple widescreen (but which only had 2-player co-op).
Each player had an eight-way joystick for 3D movement and three buttons (one for jumping, attacking, and launching a special mutant attack) to wreak havoc amongst Magneto’s forces. Each mutant had similar limitations when it came to basic attacks (because X-Men had its own special button, hitting attack and jumping did a jump attack instead). Their specials, though, really helped to set them apart at the cost of three bars of health (tokens could buy more lives, or health gauges).
Cyclops had his optic blasts, Wolverine launched slashing damage, Colossus’ armor exploded in a bubble of energy, Storm fired tornadoes, Nightcrawler launched a zig zagging energy teleport attack, and Dazzler fired off a bolt of energy exploding in a huge dome of death. These attacks could often annihilate lesser foes with one strike and dish severe damage against the bosses. The great animation work also helped to make all six characters stand out with dramatic moves and combos. Players could also pick and choose who they wanted to be as opposed to being locked in by which position they chose on the cabinet.
If there was one thing Konami excelled at doing with their adaptations, it was in respecting the art of the cartoons in bringing them to life in the arcade as well as leveraging their game design know-how into transforming star villains into creative bosses much like what Sega had done with Spider Man in 1991. Konami’s artists copied the cartoon and comic style of the X-Men with the same kind of attention to detail that they paid to The Simpsons, TMNT, Asterix and others, a trait that console adaptations would also share like 1994’s The Adventures of Batman & Robin on the SNES.
Story-wise, X-Men excelled with a dramatic intro, voiced cutscenes, and speaking parts for all of the bosses eschewing as much text as possible until the very end. It was certainly a step up from the text-heavy cuts that Capcom often favored in their beat ’em ups. On the other hand, the gameplay wasn’t quite as bombastic.
Much of the action revolved around our heroes fighting through seven stages ranging from a wrecked city to Magneto’s stronghold in orbit, Asteroid M, from where he plots to take over the world while bellowing infamous lines such as “Come, X-Chicken!” and “Come to die!”. Most enemies consisted of palette swapped Sentinel-minis and big, armored guys with huge cannons. Bosses had a lot of personality, but didn’t last very long against concerted special attack blasts.
There also wasn’t a whole lot of variety later outside of a few alligator-headed mutants and critters that popped in from time to time. As far as breakables, there wasn’t a lot to interactively demolish in the environment, either. It was basic, beat ’em up action with great production values and a famous license. That by itself isn’t too much of a bad thing, but the action was something of a far cry from what Capcom’s beat ’em up direction celebrated in trying to introduce as much variety as possible with every iteration.
Like Konami’s other titles, the scoring system was based more on how many enemies you took out than raw points such as in Capcom’s beat ’em up system. Continues preserved your score by default and dropped players right back into the game with a chance to pick someone new. Finishing the game also didn’t simply end it after the credits rolled — it picked up again from the start allowing players to exhaust what was left of all of those tokens they may have dumped into the game to buff up the lives they had.
X-Men didn’t die in the arcades like so many of its peers. Nearly 19 years later, it would show up on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade as a downloadable title. Players could pick between either the US or Japanese version, adjust difficulty, and up to six players could join in locally or online (though the XBLA version could only support four local). A few other changes included tweaks to Cyclops’ optic beam range and re-recording a few lines. In 2011, Konami released it on iTunes and Android as a copy that remained closer to the arcade version.
Playing the game solo wasn’t bad but X-Men is one of those games that seemed made for jumping into a group to trash some of Marvel’s menagerie in all of their spandex-wearing best. It was a standout example of Konami’s cartoony lineup and probably its best foot forward in 1992. It’s not the most involved beat down, nor does it mutate the essentials into anything too dramatic, but for X-fans, it was still an opportunity to punch Magneto in the face to shut him up.