In order to proper evaluate this game, I think it’s best to imagine yourself back in the early 90’s when this game came out: You’re an impressionable young kid who loves video games, comic books, cartoons, and you don’t have the luxury of the internet to provide you with up to date information on all the new games coming out. While looking through a magazine (those things we used to get “up to date information” back then) or a comic, you see this advertisement:
So not only is there a new game for the powerful Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but it has both Spider-Man AND the X-Men?!! Unprecedented! You then begin to devour every detail you can on the game and start counting down the days to when you can get your hand on this gift from the Gods. Then you finally get to play it and…well…maybe somethings are just too good to be true.
I’m not sure if anyone else went through these emotions when they found out about the existence of Spider-Man and the X-Men In Arcade’s Revenge (SMXM from here on out) but this is a pretty accurate representation of how I felt as a child of around seven or eight. For me, there was no way in hell that a game that featured some of my favorite super heroes was going to be nothing short of the best game of all time. The way I’m talking about SMXM you would start to believe that I dislike this game, and that would be false. I recognize it’s fault, of which it does have many, but it’s not the worst game ever produced nor even in the same league as other productions from LJN. From the first time I booted this game up in my SNES and even to this date, I just keep wanting this game to be better than what it actually is.
There’s little story to speak of in SMXM: Spider-Man is trying to figure out why the X-Men have been disappearing one by one and arrives just in time to see Gambit get taken off by a truck belonging to Arcade. Upon meeting up with the captive X-Men, it’s up to our heroes to survive the obstacles in Arcade’s latest Murderworld to obtain their freedom.
SMXM starts out like the SNES MegaMan X games, but before that series ever started: You first must play through a simple intro level as Spider-Man where you have a simple goal of collecting items in a particular order by following your spider-senses to their destination. Once this level is completed, you’re then granted the ability to play Spider-Man and the team of X-Men: Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm and Gambit in their own personal levels in which ever order you wish, also much like MegaMan.
First up is Spider-Man who attacks by shooting web-bullet projectiles and can climb on most surfaces as well as swing with the “X” button. His levels appear as an unfinished construction site set for a movie or stage production. At this time in his video game career, this was probably one of the better Spider-Man experiences available in a video game. Swinging from a web line carries excellent momentum and the degree of your swing is largely dependant on player input.
Next is Wolverine, whose twisted carnival style levels are made of the things that would give the Joker himself nightmares. The first level with him is your standard side-scrolling action level where you can fight with both your claws in and out, the benefit of having them in being you regenerate your health, a first for the character in a video game. After taking out the stages boss, Apocalypse, the second stage challenges you with taking out a rampaging Juggernaut who’s chasing you through the entire stage.
Thirdly is Cyclops who can shoot his optic blasts in six directions and melee fight as well. These levels take place in an underground mine system where landing in mine carts in imperative to not only getting around, but to avoid being electrocuted as well.
Storm, the fourth character, breaks the mold from the other characters by only being able to swim in her levels and has to rely on shooting valves to raise water levels to continue. Storm eventually does get to be played like everyone else, but only when you can manage to get through everyone’s stages to reach the final level.
Finally there’s Gambit, that despite being known for using a bo staff and his trademark “kinetic cards,” can only use cards as projectiles and come with an ammunition counter that puts you in a sticky situation if you run out; even in boss fights. In his first stage he has to escape being run down by a giant wrecking ball and then in stage two has the threat shifted from a horizonatally moving death ball to a vertically raising platform.
One of my favorite things about SMXM is that developer Software Creations, those who went on to craft “Maximum Carnage,” effectively made five different game in one that are all fun to play in their own way. Mastering the game requires learning each hero’s powers as well as stage layouts and while some are way more fun than others, my personal favorites are Spider-Man and Cyclops, all the X-Men and Spider-Man are enjoyable to play as.
What’s also great is how Software Creations translated each of the five super heroes powers’ to make them handle like they should: Cyclops can shoot his visor in every angle possible, Gambit attacks with his cards and Wolverine can extend and retract his trademark claws and heal from damage. Kudos should also be given to the individual themes of the characters that are equal parts odd but also quite catchy…though Wolverine’s still feels like it comes from your worst nightmare.
So far I’ve been rather kind to SMXM and now it’s unfortunately time to get to why this game is remembered more notoriously than fondly. SMXM is simply way too difficult a game to be enjoyed by anyone other than the most dedicated players. As a kid, I couldn’t beat any stage save the opening level which has little to no opposition, and now as an adult I’ve just only beat the game as early as today, and that’s only been with days of practice and studying internet walk through videos. I should have to study in school, not to play a video game!
It’s not an issue with control nor collision detection on jumping or hits, as neither feel loose or unresponsive, the issue lies in the continue and lives system. You start off with four lives which can be increased by finding extra ones in the ten levels, but the pool is shared among Spider-Man and the X-Men, so it’s not like for example, you have three tries to beat Wolverine’s levels and then three more with Cyclops. When you lost all your lives it’s game over with no chance to continue and no passwords to pick up where you left off. Either continues or passwords would’ve helped immensely, but having neither just makes it so hard to practice each of five different level types to get good enough at them to progress. If you take on the challenge like I did to complete this game, get used to seeing the opening stage over and over again until it’s committed to memory.
Something that sounds so amazing on paper, having Spider-Man and the X-Men together in a video game, did not turn out as well as its namesake and that’s an incredible shame. With some fine tuning on the difficulty or even something as simple as an option to continue would’ve made the title more accessible to a lot more people, including myself at a much younger age. I can’t condemn this game, as it does do the characters justice and the controls work very well, but know that if you pop this in your console, you’re in for one up hill battle.