Expectations influence just about everything we come in contact with. Expectations can help lead to a more fulfilling experience when those expectations are met. Other times, they can help make the bad seem worse when something fails to meet though expectations. When I was a kid and I heard there was going to be a video game featuring a team-up between Spider-Man, possibly the most popular character ever created by Marvel Comics, and the X-Men, easily the hottest comic at the time, I was giddy with anticipation. This seemed like a no lose situation and Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge vaulted to the top of my list of must own Super Nintendo games along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. One of those games would turn out well and provide me with hours of entertainment, that game was not Spider-Man and the X-Men.
What went wrong? Well, let’s backtrack a bit first and see how this all came together and if my expectations were even justified. At the time of the game’s release, Spider-Man had already been enjoying a run on the Sega Genesis and Game Boy as a platform star. Perhaps star is a bit strong as his games weren’t really great, but they also weren’t particularly awful. The best was definitely The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin for the Genesis. The game was pretty difficult, at times frustratingly so, but it did a great job of making use of the Spider-Man license. It was also quite popular and one of the best-selling titles at the time. The X-Men, on the other hand, really only had the one NES game titled The Uncanny X-Men. It was horrible and it tricked many uninformed gamers into renting or buying it with it’s X-Men branding. Arguably, the best games for both franchises were the arcade beat-em-ups Spider-Man: The Video Game and X-Men. The Spider-Man game came first in 1991 and for some reason it isn’t as well loved and remembered as the X-Men game that followed in ’92. It was a typical brawler allowing up to four players to join in and included playable characters Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye, and Sub-Mariner. It’s selling feature was a more platform inspired design where the camera would zoom out allowing the players to take on gigantic enemies including a super-sized Venom at the end of the first stage. The X-Men game was similar, but it’s defining characteristic (aside from the comical mistranslations) was the double-monitor cabinet allowing up to six players at once. Both games were hard as they were designed to suck quarters out of its audience but they were a lot of fun, especially with a group of friends.
It would seem to me that a track record was in place that at least suggested a console game featuring these two franchises could be great. If I had been a little wiser as a kid and more aware I would have taken note of the LJN logo on the box and realized right away the game was going to be a giant turd, but sadly I just wasn’t. Before I get into what the game did wrong I suppose I should point out what it did right. First of, Spider-Man is represented fairly well given that he is able to stick to walls, shoot webs, and even make use of his spider-sense in the game. The roster for the X-Men side is pretty solid as well as it features the obvious choice of Wolverine along with Cyclops, Storm, and Gambit. Wolverine has an interesting dynamic to him as he retains his mutant healing power but it only works when his claws are retracted. The game is packed with villains too like Apocalypse, Shocker, Juggernaut, and Carnage. Arcade is kind of a weird choice for the main villain, but at least his Murderworld offers a lot of possibilities for level-design.
That’s basically it as far as what Spider-Man and the X-Men gets right, and unfortunately it’s a pretty small list. So what makes this game suck so hard? Well, lets first start with the presentation. I’m usually not one to have much of an opinion on the audio within a game. I expect it to do its job and often times I have to make it a point to touch upon it when doing these reviews because I tend to overlook it. Here it’s easy to not overlook because the sound is so bad. The score is okay at times, though certain levels (Wolverine’s) feature an annoying soundtrack. It’s the FX that really bug me though as they just sound like, for lack of a better word, shit. A lot of the characters, good and bad, let out a scream when they die that sounds fuzzy and distorted. The machine sounds are just as bad and Spidey’s web blasts sound like they could be grenades. The graphics are also piss-poor. The characters are really small, except Storm but I’ll get to her later, and lacking in any sort of detail. Wolverine even looks like he only has two claws on each hand while Gambit doesn’t have a face. Some of the villains are almost unrecognizable, especially Apocalypse who looks like a blue bug or something.
Perhaps what bugged me more than anything as a kid was just how un-super these super heroes felt. Spider-Man and the X-Men is a pretty hard game made so mostly because these characters can’t seem to take a punch. They die so easily and it’s a frustrating experience. I get that it’s hard to make a super hero game because on one hand the super heroes need to be super powerful, but the game also needs some challenge. That’s why we have super villains though, and Wolverine shouldn’t be getting annihilated by a jack-in-the-box with a tommy gun. The X-Men games that would follow on the Genesis were hard, but at least those X-Men felt like powerful super heroes (well, for the most part), these ones are push-overs. The level designs are also fairly lacking. Spider-Man’s are just weird looking and kind of confusing as they’re intended to be maze-like. The player is supposed to use his spider-sense to navigate but it just gets tiresome. Cyclops’ stages feature an annoying mine cart premise where touching the tracks means death. Gambit has to outrun a giant deathball and might be the best levels, which isn’t saying much. Wolverine is in a circus and there’s nothing noteworthy about the first stage while the second stage he has to outrun the Juggernaut. It’s basically the same concept as the Gambit stages, though at least LJN incorporated something from the comics to make it feel relevant. Storm’s stages are quite different and probably everyone’s most hated as she has to navigate a flooded laboratory. They’re swimming levels, but unfortunately Storm’s mutant powers over the weather don’t let her breath underwater. Just about everyone hates the underwater Sonic the Hedgehog levels for the same reason, this is worse times ten.
If the player manages to actually beat all of the levels then they get to take on Arcade as Spider-Man. You kind of have to be a glutton for punishment to even make it that far as the game is both really hard and really bad. That’s the worst combination. As a kid, I never had much success and never made it past any character’s second stage so making it all the way to Arcade wasn’t in the cards. Playing this game was a depressing endeavor as a game featuring a team-up between these two should have been awesome. I remember a few years after I got it Toys R Us started their first trade-in program where people could trade in games they no longer wanted for store credit. I grabbed my copy of Spider-Man and the X-Men and, thinking I’d get maybe 15 or 20 bucks, was offered only four. I elected not to trade it in but in hindsight I should have taken the four Jeffry Dollars. I could have used it for some Fruit Stripe gum or something.