Konami's X-Men couldn't have arrived at a more nostalgic time for me. Released my freshman year, I stayed on campus until they kicked everyone out for Christmas break, and went flat broke playing X-Men at the Electric Company Mall in Raleigh.
The classic brawler returned this week to Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, neatly porting over the original ROM while adding drop-in co-op multiplayer that we've seen in other arcade titles on the download services this year. If you loved it the first time, you probably spent more than $10 on X-Men. But is it worth that kind of outlay again?
Anyone who cracks a knowing smile at the memory of one of X-Men's catchphrases, strange inflection, and mangled syntax. "Nothing moves the Blob!" "Go! Go! Ecksmin!" and, of course, "Welcome to die!"
If your arcade only had the four-player cabinet (like mine), if you never got to play the Japanese game, if you never had more than one friend playing alongside you, X-Men's multiplayer is the chance to play this game the way it was meant to be played.
Let's cut to the chase. Is the multiplayer any good? Early in the game's release over PSN and XBLA it was obvious the servers were under heavy demand; frameskip, slowdowns, and controller lag were palpable issues. Playing it this morning and this afternoon, things seem to have gotten better, although Sunday morning would probably be considered an off-peak time. It was disappointing to drop into my first six-player match (literally, ever) and be greeted by jagging and skipping, especially when whomever was Colossus started spamming his WHOAAAAAA mutant attack. Quickmatching is kind of a bad idea when you can just go into the custom match search, button-through all the parameters, and then see how many seats are open in a particular game plus the PING for it. You're more likely to find the game you really want this way.
Did Konami do anything other than multiplayer support? Sure, you'll get a few options. The controller is reconfigurable; you can play on the Japanese or U.S. ROMs (Japanese had energy capsule pickups; the U.S. continued the game after beating Magneto) and if the fresh coat of paint on the cutscene graphics doesn't tickle your nostalgia, you may turn off the new graphics smoothing. The audio is crystal clear and, thankfully, Konami didn't re-record any of it. "Ecksmin, Ecksmin!" [Correction] Apparently a voice actor did re-record the lines, with instructions to be deliberately cheesy. Either way, the dialogue in this is period-perfect.
Even 20 years later, though, how does the game hold up? I'd forgotten just how blunt a game X-Men was, to be honest. In hindsight, the winning attribute for this game was the means to keep feeding it quarters. When there's no longer a financial barrier to continuing, you see the brawler at its most brutish - everyone cornering the boss and hammering the attack, if not spamming the mutant power. That will likely be your experience in a six-man battle, leaving you to think that maybe this game really was at its best when it was just you and your best friend on the sticks.
If you lived out in the arcade provinces of 1991 and 1992 and never saw a six-man machine, Konami's delivered more than the original game; it's giving you the means to experience it fully, whenever you turn it on, provided the server load isn't crushing. Even if it isn't, the experience will wear off quickly, as the game is easily beatable in a half-hour and may be continued without limitation. On its technical merits, X-Men is and always was a very rudimentary brawler. The inconsistent multiplayer quality in its first week keeps X-Men from being a yes-at-all-costs acquisition. But if you've ever worn underwear inside out because X-Men's coin slot inhaled all your laundry quarters, then you have, to be honest, probably made costlier and more impulsive decisions in life.
X-Men was developed by Backbone Entertainment and published by Konami for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, released on Dec. 14 and Dec. 15. Retails for 800 Microsoft Points/$9.99. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played numerous online cooperative games, beating the main story on both the U.S.and Japanese ROMs.