Let’s face it: no other superhero team has featured in video games more than the X-Men. Whether it’s a quarter-hungry arcade game, a sub-par platformer, some of the best fighting games the world has ever seen, or even terrible role-playing games, the X-Men are on the full spectrum of licensed video game greatness — or lack thereof.
The first X-Men video game debuted in December of 1989 for the NES, but that was only the first of a nigh-inconceivable array of games to come in the next three decades. While the X-Men have gotten a lower profile in gaming as of late, there were a number of hidden gems amongst the 40-or-so games that featured Marvel’s merry mutants in some capacity — and one that was so bad, it deserves to be called out.
It’s time to start with the worst and work our way up to the best of the best. Are you ready?
11. DISHONORABLE MENTION: “X-Men Destiny” (2011 — Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360)
This game didn’t deserve to make the list of the best X-Men games, but man does it deserve a call-out — as the worst X-Men game the world has ever known in the modern era. “X-Men: Destiny” holds the dubious honor of a shocking 36 Metacritic score, with reviewers criticizing everything from the repetitive gameplay to the weak character cameos. (It’s notable in that it’s the only major X-Men game that had Pixie in any kind of real role, so, there’s that?)
It’s not all bad. After all, developer Silicon Knights got Mike Carey to write the plot, which was… fine? The idea was that the game would be more of a “Mass Effect”-type game where the moral choices made affects the story. The problem was that it didn’t do that. No, it did not do that at all.
Beyond the repetitive beat-em-up, button-mashing gameplay, the game’s story mode lasted about 8 hours and it didn’t really matter what kind of choices you made. It was a laughable effort for an RPG where you could customize one of three characters, and the graphics were hardly up to the standards of most PS3/360/Wii games.
10. “X-Men” (1993 — Sega Genesis)
While it wasn’t the first X-Men game on a home console, it was among the first of the 16-bit generation. The Sega Genesis was a hot commodity, and was marketed as the “cool” console (after all, it did what Nintendon’t!) and the first-ever full 16-bit graphic X-Men game was highly anticipated by fans, especially given the popularity of the ’90s “X-Men” cartoon series. While this game was almost punishingly hard, it delivered on many levels. From the roster of Wolverine, Gambit, Cyclops and Nightcrawler with support character appearances from Storm, Rogue, Iceman, Archangel and Jean Grey; to a story that gave players access to incredible environments, “X-Men” hit a lot of the right notes.
But as I said, the game was punishingly hard. And I mean hard. Not only were the enemies ridiculously placed, but there were stupidly inscrutable jumps, and the bosses just would not die. (Plus, your mutant power meter ran out as Wolverine whenever your claws were extended. What’s up with that?) Oh, and there was that infamous puzzle in the fifth level, “Mojo’s Crunch”, that actually required you to press the reset button on your Genesis. Talk about your head-scratchers.
9. “Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge” (1992 — Genesis, SNES)
Now, here was a game for comic book fans. Not only did “Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge” feature a villain that only comic book readers would know about, it featured Spider-Man! This game actually was the first 32-bit X-Men game on consoles, and it was super cool. Based on “Uncanny X-Men” #123-125, the player takes control of Spider-Man, Storm, Wolverine, Gambit, and Cyclops in different levels made to emphasize the strengths of each character. Spider-Man fought some of his rogues gallery in NYC, Storm was in an underwater (?) level, Wolverine had the fun house, Gambit got a “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-esque cave, and Cyclops got to fight Sentinels in Genosha.
Once again, the cameos are plentiful in this game. Everyone from Juggernaut and Master Mold to N’astirh and Selene make appearances, albeit somewhat difficult to recognize. The game was criticized for its difficult controls and lukewarm portrayals of superheroes, but it holds up surprisingly well. Even if it didn’t, the adaptation of an actual “Uncanny X-Men” storyline more than gives it a deserved place on the list.
8. “X-Men: Children of the Atom” (1994 — Arcade, PC, PlayStation, Sega Saturn)
It was among the first fighting games to feature the X-Men, and certainly the first to only feature Marvel’s merry mutants. “X-Men: Children of the Atom” was classic Capcom (so much so that many of the movesets and character sprites would later be used in another entry on this list), and it showed. To this day, it’s one of the best remembered X-Men games, and that’s for good reason.
The game is very loosely based on the “Fatal Attractions” crossover storyline from the ’90s, though the best part about the game was its voice talent. Most all of the voice actors from the ’90s animated series signed on to reprise their roles. The game featured Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman, Psylocke, Storm and Wolverine as playable heroes, with villains including Omega Red, Sentinel, Silver Samurai, Spiral, Juggernaut and Magneto. (Akuma from “Street Fighter” even made a cameo appearance in the game.)
“X-Men: Children of the Atom” wasn’t the first Capcom fighting game featuring the X-Men, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but it laid important ground for a few entries that are as important as they are well-beloved.
7. X-Men 2: Clone Wars (1995 — Genesis)
After the ridiculously difficult grind of “X-Men” in 1993, “X-Men 2: Clone Wars” was a refreshing change of pace. The difficulty on the game went much further down, and it — like many other games on this list — was based on a popular X-Men comic book crossover. The “Clone Wars” title was a little misleading for Spider-Man fans, but X-Men readers recognized the reasoning for the titles as soon as they saw the Phalanx, the main shapeshifting villains from “The Phalanx Covenant” crossover.
Among the improvements in the game were a larger roster, with Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Wolverine and Magneto all playable in the game, challenging bosses, and (of course) numerous cameo appearances from villains in adversarial roles, such as Apocalypse, Exodus, Deathbird and many more.
The best change to the game from its predecessor was the abolishment of the mutant power energy gauge. All powers could be used frequently and often, and they were much better thought out for this outing.
6. “X-Men Legends” (2004 — GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox)
As the model that would eventually serve Marvel well for its “Ultimate Alliance” series of games, “X-Men Legends” is among the best in X-Men gaming lore, and not just because of its fantastic story. This game was clearly made by a team that had immense respect for the lore and legacy of the team and its members. The point-of-view character is Magma, for heaven’s sake!
15 different X-Men are playable in this game, and it’s the second-best X-Men RPG of all time. It was a fine single player game, but it really came to life in multiplayer mode, where a friend could pick up a controller and drop into your game. Executing powers at the same time would sometimes result in a new, more incredible display of combat, gaining the player more experience points and bragging rights.
Visually, the game was stunning. It used a cel-shaded style that captured the comic book feel better than any of its predecessors, and the ability to grab collectables that gave more information about the X-Men’s history was a nice added bonus.
Plus, Sir Patrick Stewart voiced Professor X. It doesn’t get much better than that!
5. “Deadpool” (2013 — PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
This game is ridiculous, and it’s one of only two M-rated games on this list. That said, it’s probably the most faithful attempt at adapting a comic to a video game. In many ways, it felt like a predecessor to the wildly popular film — which may explain why there was a more recent reissue of the game for modern consoles.
Written by Daniel Way, one of the longest-running “Deadpool” comic writers ever, the game follows every trope that you’d expect a “Deadpool” game to have: breaking the fourth wall, interacting with the actual player, cameos galore, Cable, unicorns, references to Mexican food, and — of course — Death.
The gameplay’s a little repetitive, but the ridiculousness of the game redeems it time and time again, along with some creative boss fights and hilarious references to Nolan North, the voice actor behind Deadpool in this game. If you can get past the normal foulmouthed humor low-hanging fruit, the best part is a scene where the Merc with a Mouth actually uses text boxes as platforms. Oh, Deadpool. You’re incorrigible!
4. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine — Uncaged Edition” (2009 — PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Talk about a game that earned its M-rating! “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” may have been a terrible film, but it had the only good video game the movie franchise ever released! That’s right, this is the one instance in which the licensed video game was actually better than the movie it was based on. Buckle up.
This game actually took Wolverine seriously in a way that no other game has since. It showed Wolverine killing his enemies in truly visceral ways with an amount of gore one might expect from an enemy that’s just literally lost his head. The violence was definitely the highlight of the game, and made the player actually feel like they were controlling the best there is at what he does.
3. “X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse” (2005 — PC, GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox, PSP)
While sequels aren’t always better than the originals, “X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse” absolutely raised the bar on the original “X-Men Legends” formula. The combo system of combining two powers to devastating effect returned for the sequel, with Apocalypse as the big bad.
The game was particularly notable for its expanded roster of playable characters and incredible number of references and cameos. While the game lost Jubilee, Magma, Psylocke, Emma Frost, and Beast, it gained far more than it lost, picking up the likes of Bishop, Rogue, Sunfire, Scarlet Witch, Deadpool, and even Iron Man. Plus, there were some platform exclusive characters on PSP, which gave X-Force fans some real love with Cable and Cannonball. Special combinations of heroes gave team bonuses when matched together, meaning that you could battle with a the classic original five, or even a New Avengers-esque team for extra advantages.
This game dug deep into the Marvel vault, presenting a story that included Ka-Zar, Vindicator, Shanna the She-Devil, Blink and many more. It was truly a celebration of all things X-Men, and in many ways, all things Marvel. It laid the groundwork for “Marvel Ultimate Alliance,” which wouldn’t hit stores until 2007.
2. “X-Men” (1992 — Arcade; 2010 — PlayStation3, Xbox 360)
Despite the advance of technology in modern video games, sometimes there’s just no way to combat a classic. The “X-Men” arcade game was the latest in a series of side-scrolling beat ’em ups from Konami, and it delivered in ways few other arcade games ever did.
4-player arcade cabinets weren’t uncommon in the ’90s, but 6-player cabinets were nigh unheard of, until “X-Men.” The game was notable not just for its 6-player roster (which was drawn from the “Pryde of the X-Men” animated film) but for its 6-player arcade cabinet that allowed all X-Men to be played at the same time. In fact, “X-Men” holds a Guinness World Record for most simultaneous players on an arcade game. The game was so popular that Konami re-released the game for home consoles nearly 20 years later in 2010, and for mobile platforms in 2011.
That said, the translation always left something to be desired. “I am Magneto, Master of Magnet! Hahahahahaha!” will get stuck in your head for days. But not nearly as much as the song for the #1 X-Men video game of all-time.
1. “Marvel Vs. Capcom 2” (2000 — Arcade, Dreamcast; 2002 — PlayStation 2, Xbox; 2011 — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
“I’m gonna take you for a ride!”
Technically, it’s not an X-Men game in name, but man, there were a ton of them. Out of the 23 playable Marvel characters in the beloved fighting game, 17 of them are X-Men heroes or villains. It helped that many of them were completely new, never before seen in a Capcom fighting game. Cable, Silver Samurai, Rogue and even Marrow were new additions to the roster that all came from X-Men lore. The single player mode was fine, but the game really shined when testing skills against another player.
This is the gold standard by which all future Marvel-related fighting games were measured, and it still has a healthy community today. While it’s fallen out of favor in major tournaments for the updated “Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3,” “Marvel vs. Capcom 2” allowed X-Men fans to build a dream team of mutants to take on both characters from the Marvel Universe, and the Capcom library of games.
In fact, the X-Men characters were so powerful that the top five highest ranked characters are all X-Men heroes or villains. (Sentinel is still super OP. What is it about hunting mutants that gives you a huge advantage in fighting games?)
What’s your favorite X-Men video game?
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