If you’ll recall from my review of this game on the SNES, I’m probably one of the few people in the world who took it easy on this game, despite knowing full well its myriad problems. Finishing this game, a feat I once thought impossible, is something that I will always look back fondly upon when remembering the summer of 2014, so as you’ll imagine I couldn’t quite contain my excitement about reliving the experience all over again when I came across Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge for the Game Boy at my local game store. How does the experience stack up on a handheld? In some respects it’s better, and others, it’s not.
SMXM (again abbreviated because Spider-Man and The X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge is too long to keep typing out) comes from a different developer than the console game: Unexpected Development, who I can’t find much data on other than they developed Game Boy games primarily. Whoever they are, they did a pretty good job of translating this game to the inferior Game Boy hardware. A lot of the levels, the opening in particular, match the SNES game identically and the rest of the title follows the same template: Beat the opening stage as Spider-Man, then you complete levels in any order you wish before you encounter Arcade, the final boss.
Due to the limitations of the platform, some changes had to be made and some are welcome. The first is notably the Gambit stage, which has the giant spiked ball of doom removed. It makes playing as the character a lot less stressful as you can casually stroll through the stage without worrying about impending death rolling down on you at any minute.
Another difference in the versions is the game’s length. On the consoles you had to beat two stages with each character, plus the intro, then a short vignette with each character before fighting Arcade. The Game Boy game only has one stage per character, plus the intro, and upon beating them all, it throws you straight into the final fight. It’s a little light on content in comparison to what you get elsewhere, but SMXM is a pretty tough game, and you have a much better chance of seeing the end here than elsewhere. The stages themselves get a bit of a shuffling as well: The X-Men stages feel a little bit shorter but follow the same overall layout as their first levels, while Spider-Man forgoes his complicated maze-like first stage for the stage two encounter with Carnage.
As much as things change, as the saying goes the more they say the same. SMXM Game Boy is still a tough game, and I think one of the reasons why I was able to beat it rather quickly was due to my muscle memory from earlier this summer. It also carries over the same “few lives, zero continues” philosophy as on the 16-bit platforms, so when you die, you start over. Nowhere within the levels, at least from what I was able to find, can you find spare lives, a pro tip I can provide however is that you can farm lives rather easily in the Gambit stage as you only need fifty stars for a 1 up as opposed to a hundred. You can easily get two lives once you get good enough, so while it’s tedious, you can collect two lives, die, then start over.
A lot of attention went in to making this game feel as much like its counterparts, but one area where it fails is in the controls. Say what you will about SMXM as a game overall, but you cannot speak ill of the games tight controls that allow precision platforming, swinging and every other mutant ability. Unexpected tried to squeeze in as much here, but the controls in movement and jumping feel very stiff, with jumping being of the worst. In order to make some of the tighter jumps in the Gambit stage for example, your character needs to be just at the edge in order to avoid a cheap death that will cause you to lose one of your few valuable lives. Spider-Man still gets to swing here, by pressing Up and the B button, but similar to Gambit, he has to be positioned in the exact right spot before he’ll take to the air. As the developers went with Spider-Man second stage from the 16-bit game as opposed to the first, it’s a problem as that level requires a lot of precise swings against the wind blowing back at you. While it’s a small complaint, Wolverine can’t retract his claws, which you would think is good, but he also cannot regain health.
The graphics, though obviously downgraded, do their best jobs of looking like the 16-bit game as possible. Where this fails the game in certain areas is that sometimes you can’t tell what’s a platform and what isn’t unless you played the game on either the SNES or the Sega Genesis. In the opening stage intro stage, you have to fall into three specific areas in order to collect the blinking icons to reach the character select screen and you sometimes can’t figure out what’s a wall and what’s something you can pass through. In trying to stay as close to detail as much as possible to the layouts in the other stages, some background elements stick out as things you think your character can either jump or wall crawl on.
SMXM on the Gamy Boy, shortcomings notwithstanding, is a very well put together 8-bit version of the 16-bit game that should satisfy fans of the game, however many there are outside of me. Despite some confusing level elements and stiff movement controls, it does justice to all of the heroes included in the package. Veterans of the game on other platforms should be able to breeze through this without much difficulty, while anyone who had problems with the game when played on a TV will have the same issues on the Game Boy: a sometimes unfair challenge and a lack of continues.