Did everyone run out and see X-Men: Apocalypse last week like dutiful little geek girls and boys? Yeah, I’m sorry you had to see that. Even if brain bleach was a thing, there wouldn‘t be enough in the world. But it did get me thinking that maybe Hollywood just isn’t the medium we should be using to explore the complex and (let’s just say it) insane universe of Marvel’s outcast mutant heroes. The budget would be too big for a television series, and at this point I’m a bit tired of established actors halfassing these roles, anyways. Only video games are up to this task, and yet the industry remains strangely reluctant to give us what we want.
The history of the X-Men in video games is a long and checkered one. Nineties kids swear by the epic SIX PLAYER co-op arcade beat-em-up, and it was a lot of fun for its day, in spite of its ridiculous quarter-devouring boss difficulty spikes. I spent hours struggling against the Battletoads-esque challenge that was Arcade’s Revenge on the SNES -which was actually pretty great in hindsight- and found Mutant Apocalypse to be a solid attempt at bringing the team to the small screen.
The Sega Genesis churned out some winners before the X-Men joined the growing army of Street Fighter clones along with a spattering of forgotten portable titles finally leading up to 2004 and the one game that finally captured them in all their glory. X-Men Legends was the game we’d all wanted and maybe never thought we’d get. A perfect action/RPG combining deep comic lore with a massive roster of playable and upgradable heroes while still capturing the co-op fun of that old arcade game. This thing was so true to the comics in its details that Cyclops and Havok’s powers didn’t even work on each other during that boss fight. That’s commitment to authenticity.
After only one sequel (which featured the first ever playable Deadpool) the X-Men Legends franchised was broadened into the awesome Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which cranked out one disappointing sequel and then vanished, leaving a gaping hole in the lives of Marvel action-RPG fans.
2006 brought a horrible video game tie-in with the third X-Men movie (you know, the one so bad they needed an entire other movie specifically designed to retcon it out of existence), and 2009 gave us X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a surprisingly great gaming tie-in to a horrible film, but not a true X-Men title. Then there was X-Men: Destiny, which looked to bring back that lovin’ feeling and instead got met with gamer apathy and savage reviews after the budget was cut and the final product came out feeling unfinished. That was nearly five years ago and since then Marvel’s legendary cash cow has been sitting on the shelf while gamers wonder what the hell happened.
My best guess is that Disney has put the kabosh on developing X-Men merchandise until the film franchise is back where it belongs with Marvel. The House of Mouse has a poor history with handling gaming franchises so until they figure out that this new-fangled video game thing that the kids seem to like so much is actually an industry set to rival and potentially surpass Hollywood itself as the entertainment opiate of the masses, we may not want to get our hopes up.
It’s kind of sad since the X-Men defined comics for years, ruled our childhoods with an all-time classic cartoon in the nineties, and have just generally served up some damn fine entertainment while allegorizing important social issues for decades before the internet made meaningful discourse on such topics impossible. And I honestly can’t think of a better medium to relaunch and explore the franchise than video games.
As insane as the comic continuity is, it’s highly unwelcoming to newcomers as a general rule and the X-Men proper have been a bit of a shambles for a good while now, arguably because Disney/Marvel are trying to edge them out and replace them with the Inhumans (good luck with that).
Rebooting them as an ongoing video game franchise could be the best possible way to experience Marvel’s finest creation anew. X-Men Legends was practically a perfect game, but still had room to grow. Give it a Mass Effect level of cinematic character development and choices and more immersive 3D combat rather than the outdated top-down dungeon crawler perspective and you’d have a potential game of the year on your hands.
Everybody loves the X-Men, and everybody loves gaming. Win. Win. It seems crazy to treat video games as a mere advertising tie-in when they could be as much of a moneymaking franchise as the films or comics have been. If Disney really is burying Marvel’s most storied superteam just to deny 20th Century Fox’s films exposure, they’re cutting off their own nose to spite their face. The Disney/X-Men fanart alone [see right] proves that.
Gamers, comic nerds, and sci-fi film fans are pretty much one in the same. We aren’t going to play an X-Men video game and then go “hey, this Wolverine dude seems pretty cool, if they make a movie with him in it, I’d totally watch it. Whhhhhaaaa? You say they already did? Hot damn!” As consumers, we know what we want and we know what’s available to us.
And if we are assuming that nobody knows who the X-Men are without Disney’s say-so, it would still work both ways; fans of the movies would be at least as likely to buy the games as fans of the games would be to watch the movies. Plus, now that the movies are officially crap again, offering up a superior alternative to fans of the property seems downright lucrative.
Film was never the best option to explore the universe of the X-Men anyways. Video games are able to provide more focused and expansive narratives and better-developed fictional worlds to boot. Add in the interactivity and customization allowing gamers to fully immerse themselves and affect the story and characters with their own actions and there you have it.
A video game wouldn’t build an advertising campaign around Psylocke and Storm and then just have them stand around like lame background decorations. And as bad a rap as video game writing has, the last time they had lines as corny as “you’ve got a warplane….let’s go to war” delivered without tongue firmly in cheek, Jill Valentine was the master of unlocking. And they don’t write stories designed explicitly to shove flavor of the month celebrities down our throats either. That’s right, I’m calling it: Jennifer Lawrence is the female Keanu Reeves. Now where did I put my “deal with it” sunglasses?
It’s obvious that the X-Men still have a lot to offer gamers, and that the ever-evolving and mutating industry and art form gaming has become has even more to offer them in return. I really hope that things change and Marvel’s merry band of mutants has another chance to be represented at their best in virtual entertainment because in current comics and films, that simply isn’t happening anymore. This generation deserves a fresh look at what has made this property so iconic and gaming may be the only way to bring it back in the near future.