The joys of X-Men (arcade) JAA

Konami’s 1992 arcade release X-Men probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. It was during that year that I happened to be in our area arcade, and someone had abandoned a game of X-Men arcade, leaving Nightcrawler to idle on the screen. I took over the free game, and I was HOOKED.

I should have known better with Konami at the helm, but this was a time where the one-on-one fighter was shoving the tired beat ’em ups out of the way at arcades. With X-Men, though, Konami melted the presentation flex of its mascot beat ’em ups like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the fluid fighting gameplay of its more “serious” beat ’em ups like Vendetta/Crime Fighters 2.

xmenheader

The large character sprites in X-Men ran around thrashing small sentinel robots, which would explode into pieces and make the combat very satisfying. The game was also in your face with its audio, producing crunchy hits and energetic music. And then with a press of a button, you could cash in resources to unleash a crazy exhibition of your character’s mutant power.

This game really got around arcades at the time, and I started seeing the cabinet everywhere I went. This was a good thing as I never got tired of playing it. I read about the six-player cabinet in magazines, but the Cedar Point amusement park was the only location I had ever seen this deluxe model until recent years.

xmen6

The most recent X-Men 6-player sighting: Boss Battle Games in Indianapolis

Thankfully the X-Men arcade game resurfaced with a digital release in 2010 thanks to Backbone Entertainment. This not only allowed players to have a way to play the game at home, but it added a handful of features such as online play. The great thing about this Xbox 360/PS3 release, though, was introducing me to the Japanese version of the game.

Experimenting with MAME brought about checking out arcade game ROMs from different territories, and I spent some time in my early college years checking out a lot of ROMs. In a lot of instances, this typically only brought about cosmetic differences, but it has been long discussed online that Konami was at the forefront of making U.S. versions of its arcade games more unfair than the typical arcade fare.

It’s long been known that arcade games have been about demanding quarters as fast as possible from the player. No doubt, dedicated gamers were able to master golden-age arcade games and keep playing for marathon amounts of time. The situation turned around over time, creating arcade games with endings that stop the player no matter how skilled they are, shifting to fighting games that continually rotate paying players onto the machine, and even to today where there are games such as racing games that have players paying for a one-race premium experience.

Players notably took note of Konami’s U.S. arcade releases such as Crime Fighters that were outfit with decaying health amounts and prompts to try and get players to beat each other up between stages. Getting my hands on the Japanese version of the ROM, you can see a more traditional, Double Dragon-style health system is in play, the version is more generous on weapons such as the pistol and there is an input for the very helpful back kick move not present on the standard U.S. four-player cabinet.

It’s been explained to me that, while U.S. arcade games have traditionally accepted the quarter, the machines in Japan have always taken the 100 Yen coin. While markets fluctuate constantly, it’s typically reliable to estimate that 100 Yen is equivalent to $1 (US). Understandably, “easier” beat ’em up games give the Japanese player a more comparable experience compared to a U.S. player being able to get four credits out of their dollar.

While I’d had plenty of experience playing the game in general, this is another instance where the intricacies were broken down for me by the great LRock617. LRock runs a ton of arcade games for 1CCs and has speedrun multiple formats, so follow the LRock617 Twitch channel or the LRock617 YouTube channel to get more of that content. I’ll also note that Zerst has broken this game down in the past, going as far as to detailing how the frame cycle works that determines when a character can perform a throw. Zerst is an incredibly talented arcade game player (you can see one of his T20 tournament victories included in our video featured in our “Recent Arcade Adventures” page), so I also recommend following his content at the Zerst YouTube channel.

Looking specifically at X-Men, on the surface the only thing that seems to change is the game places Japanese subtitles in correlation with the voice samples still recited in English. However, peeling a few layers back, you begin to see how the revision tilts the game more toward the players’ favor and makes it a more fair – and more importantly, fun – playthrough.

Off the bat, a couple of the changes become extremely evident: The game introduces a pink Sentinel variant and these drop pickups that restore your health or grant you an additional use of your mutant power; and the mutant power orbs are consumed before depleting your health – the opposite of the U.S. version depleting your health and only consuming orbs if you don’t have enough health to cash in for the attack.

sentinel

The pink sentinel at the bottom left drops power-up items in the JAA version.

Item generosity is not unique to X-Men when you consider Konami’s arcade games, as the Japanese version of The Simpsons had hidden spots to attack for extra items and weapons, and players in that version could eat food at full health to “overcharge” their health beyond the single health meter.

The kicker here is that these power-up items in X-Men are fairly frequent. The pizza pickups in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are pretty spaced out, but you’ll find yourself getting access to a couple of power-up items per stage in X-Men. They are even placed at opportune locations, giving you a good boost going into the finale of the stage to fight the boss. This is speaking from one-player experience, of course, as I’m not sure if X-Men leaves you to the same fate as TMNT, leaving at least one of the players in the cold with a limited number of powerups.

The big game changer, though, is that the characters have command-based attacks in the JAA version. Players can mash the attack button as usual, but if you hold down-forward or up-forward and attack, the characters execute a few different attacks. These attacks are cycled in at random as the player mashes attack in the U.S. version.

Most notably, Storm gains the ability to execute a down-forward+attack move where she extends her wand forward, safely poking the enemies with a long-distance attack. This attack can carry Storm throughout the entire game, and makes fighting bosses way less stressful when you master the distance from which you can safely attack.

poke

Storm’s down-forward+attack “poke” in the JAA version.

Then there are tiny differences that add up, such as enemies not being able to be knocked off the screen, and enemies that enter from the backgrounds (walking through doors, etc.) taking a full string of hits instead of being knocked down in one hit and not taking much damage in the U.S. version. The JAA version slightly changes a few enemy configurations, but it also tones down the boss fights in a couple areas – most notably, The Blob can be knocked down in three hits as opposed to six needed in the U.S. version.

Overall, what seems like a batch of minor modifications all add up to be a big deal in the sum of its parts. While I’ve sunk a ton of time in the U.S. version of the game, my best performance saw me reaching the boss of the second-to-last stage on one credit. With so many things working against you in the U.S. version, small mistakes can become a very big deal quickly. At least the U.S. version does give you the courtesy of refilling your health in-between stages – perhaps the one concession it does offer the player.

When you can cash in mutant powers knowing it won’t chip your health away, you are more inclined to work them into your strategy. When you can pick up the occasional health refill, taking a few bits of damage isn’t as catastrophic going into a boss battle. When the enemies don’t get knocked off screen all of the time, you can easily close in the distance on the enemies with guns. At the end of the day, these changes remove a lot of the stress you feel when you are trying to get as far as possible with one credit.

While I’ve done some practice over time, I finally gave a 1CC attempt on the JAA version a go on a recent live stream. With some familiarity of the game, I actually landed the 1CC on my first try, although I took a stupid death toward the end of the game.

If you are a fan of this title and haven’t done so, do yourself the service of playing X-Men in this revised format. The changes don’t make the game “free,” but you definitely feel like more mechanics are available to you, and you finally don’t have to be afraid of using your mutant power sometimes (imagine a character in the comics or cartoon can’t use their signature powers because they don’t have any “orbs” at the moment).

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:djtatsujin

Arcade enthusiast and game collector. Affiliate Twitch retro streamer and games archive writer at Gemubaka (http://gemubaka.com). For business only: gemubaka at gmail

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