Spider-Man and the X-men in Arcade’s Revenge (is Misunderstood)

To some people, the letters L, J and N in the same sentence instill a feeling of dread. As a publisher, LJN was able to acquire an impressive number of high profile licenses such as Alien,  Back to the Future, Terminator and even Marvel. Contracting various developers, LJN would pump out several of these high profile games while never bothering to consider the quality. Sadly, most all of these “games” were terrible in more ways than could be discussed in a single blog post. While I haven’t played every game LJN has to offer (nor do I ever want to), they did give us a game worth talking about.

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (U)_title

Originally developed by Software Creations and released for the Super Nintendo in 1992, Spider-Man and the X-men in Arcade Revenge is a platformer that let’s you play as several iconic Marvel characters in various bizarre situations of varying quality of gameplay. Each of the five playable characters has two big levels to  and one small level (except for Spider-man, who has more) to play through in a unique environments with unique play styles. One of the aspects that makes this game great is how each character feels different from each other almost to the point where it feels like an entirely different game. It’s like a kind of variety show in game form, yet it feels cohesive and works rather well. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the game because there definitely are problems… a lot of them.  But what it lacks in some areas it makes up in many others.

Controls

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Oh no! Our heroes have been captured! Do they have what it takes to escape?!

Like any good platformer, Spider-Man / X-Men has extremely responsive controls. The characters never feel sluggish and move exactly where you want them to… even though it is occasionally hard to tell where you want to move them but I’ll get into that later. While each character controls a bit different, the developers, thankfully, put the common controls in the same spots for each character. No matter who you are, ‘B’ is the jump button and ‘Y’ is your primary attack. You may think it’s silly to mention this but I’m sure some of you would just assume that because it’s produced by LJN that everything would be awful. This is definitely not the case as here’s quite a lot here to enjoy.

Graphics

The game looks pretty darn good! The animations are rather fluid and look nice and crisp. Our Marvel heroes are easily identifiable in their various costumes. The backgrounds and settings also feel very well made. Each character has their own graphical theme ranging from circus to cave. It may not have pushed the boundaries of what the SNES could do but it didn’t really have to, either.

Audio

Wow! Composed by Tim and Geoff Follin, the music for Spider-Man / X-Men is astounding. These two brothers clearly knew their way around the SNES’ sound chip. Every song is this game is a rich, complex composition. Some songs are filled with wailing guitars, cymbal hits, full drum sets and more. Even more impressive than the music is how accurate each song feels. Every environment has a song that will make you think “this is the only song that could have ever gone with this level”. The amount of understanding that the Follin brothers had toward the mood of each level really shows. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy the games prog-rock style, it’s hard to not appreciate the quality of the soundtrack.

The sound work in this game is really fantastic as well but to a lesser extent. Most sound effects, such as punching an enemy, explosions, screams, and other little miscellany sound just great. Some other sound effects, especially those related to Spider-Man, can be particularly grating and nonsensical. For example, Spider-Man’s “spider-sense” sound effect is horrible. It’s an amazingly harsh buzzing sound that seems to never stop (especially in the introductory stage). It becomes less of a problem in his later stages but he still has a couple other sounds that just make you wonder, “Why?”.

Gameplay

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Spider-Man is in quite the hurry to save his friends…

As I mentioned before, each of the five playable characters controls differently. In addition to control, each characters play a lot differently too. Except for Storm who swims, each character runs and jumps in order to reach the end of the level or defeat a boss enemy. This is about where the similarities stop, though.

Spider-Man’s levels are the most basic with very traditional feeling platformer gameplay. Doing whatever a spider can, his moves consist of web shots, web swings and wall-crawlin’. His first level is a very basic run, jump and web swing a lot while his second level adds a huge layer of complexity. Wind is blowing at all times, pushing Spider-Man around. You have to work with and against the wind in order to successfully complete the level. Spider-Man, with his well executed spider-moves, is fun to play as and so are his levels.

Wolverine, with his famous claws, has a nice set of wildly different levels. His first level is very basic: run, jump and claw you’re way through the level until you kill the boss. At any time, you are able to retract Wolverine’s claws in order to regenerate health. It’s a not-so-useful but welcome addition to his abilities. His second level is where the game starts to get a little crazy. Juggernaut is chasing you throughout the level and it’s up to Wolverine to kill him before you reach the end. You have to attack, drop weights, break down walls, all while dodging and killing obstacles and enemies. It’s a extremely complex level to learn and most people might stop here.

Cyclops and his Optic Blasts have two of the deadliest levels. Using his fists, feet and eye-lasers, Cyclops must traverse dangerous mineshaft-like levels. His first level features mine-cart rides over dangerous electrified tracks. One wrong step and it’s instant death! His second level, while not featuring mine-carts, still has the deadly tracks. It’s challenging but never impossible.

Gambit has the most unique platforming section. As you may know, Gambit throws kinetically charged cards as his method of attack. This game’s version of Gambit is no different. Injecting a small aspect of realism into the game, Gambit is limited to a deck of cards. After he throws them all, he’s out! It requires you to kill enemies in order to replenish the deck. It’s an interesting mechanic and it works well, making each shot feel like it counts for something. Gambit’s first level feature’s a gigantic spike ball chasing you. If it touches you, you’re dead! It may seem difficult at first, but there are plenty of items abound that push the spike ball back. His second level features an ever-rising elevator. On your way to the top, you must learn the correct path through, else you’ll be crushed! Although fun, these levels can feel a bit trial-and-errorish which can be a bit of an issue.

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No Storm’s were hurt in the making of this GIF.

Storm is the odd one out. Known for her power of flight and weather control, she uses neither of them and instead… swims. Storm is challenged to swim though a maze-like area, destroying tanks to raise the water level to reach the top. Instead of health, she has an air meter. Getting hurt reduces you air meter as does being under water. Both of her levels play the same and are difficult to learn the correct and safest path. Her stages feel like another example of trial-and-error gameplay, requiring that you learn which tanks raise the water by how much. Although initially daunting and frustrating, Storm’s levels are the easiest in the game once you learn the correct path through. With her gameplay feeling rather rough and unrefined, Storm’s sections are easily the weakest of the game’s levels.

Each character almost feels like a separate game! They were very ambitious, trying to incorporate many ideas into the game. Some of the ideas work extremely well while others, not so much. While I love this game an unhealthy amount, I am not one to overlook it’s obvious faults.

The Problems

Spider-Man / X-Men is one of my personal favorite games but is by no means a perfect game. Many people would even call it a “terrible” game. Having spent so much time playing, I could understand why so many people might look down upon this game. People who dislike this game will probably (rightfully) argue the following:

Limited Lives

One of the main problems with any game featuring an instant-death or trial-and-error gameplay element is featuring a limited number of extra lives with no continues. This is one of those dreaded games. Certain levels feature elements that by the time you could have possibly known it would kill you there is no way to escape it. It’s unreasonable to expect a player to waste lives learning a level, only to game over and have to start from the title screen. This may even lead to the situation that, by the time they reach the level they died on, they’ve forgotten how to avoid the thing that kill them. It can be frustrating and encourages the player to give up, rather than continue.

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Frantic but fun, you will die a lot!

As an extra slap in the face, any extra life present on a level can only be collected once. That means that if you go out of your way to collect the rare extra life token and die, you’ve just wasted your time. Gambit’s stage is the only exception as his stages have different rules altogether regarding extra lives (collect 100 stars).

It should be noted that there is a glitch present in Gambit’s first stage that allow you to collect an unlimited amount of lives. I encourage anyone attempting to learn this game to exploit that glitch rather than use save-states on an emulator. You can find instructions on how to do the glitch all over the Internet.

Withheld Information

There are several cases where the game just does not tell you enough about what you need to do. Here just a few couple examples:

Spider-Man

There is an enemy in one of Spider-Man’s stages that requires you to swing into him. Common sense tells you that running into enemies is bad. It never tells you your web-swing can hurt enemies and more importantly, never sets up a situation where you are expected to learn this.

A more intelligent game design would place a certain object in your way. This object would block your progression through the level while also hinting that it can be destroyed some how. The level would then be set up in a way that a web-swing would carry you at the perfect height to strike the object blocking your path. Thus, teaching you about this game mechanic that is required.

Wolverine

Wolverine’s second stage is one of the biggest cases of “we’re not going to tell you how to beat this” I’ve ever seen in a platforming game. While the goal is to defeat Juggernaut, there three very key aspects that are not disclosed.

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Why won’t you die?! It’s almost as if he’s… unstoppable!

One, that Juggernaut cannot be defeated until the very end. Two, there is no way to tell how much health the Juggernaut has left. Three, your claws do not hurt Juggernaut. You can hit him, left him run into things but have no real idea if you’re doing any damage. Add these up and you get a situation where you have no idea if you’re doing it right until you inevitably die at the end. Throughout the level, there are weights hanging from ropes. You quickly learn that you can cut down a weight to slow down Juggernaut but what you don’t learn is that only the weights can do damage to him. Another major problem is that the game gives no differing feedback whether you punch him, slice him, let him run into a weight or drop a weight onto his head. Unless you just know to drop the weight on his head, most players would just cut down the weights and keep slashing at him only to find out that, regardless of how many time they hit him, he would not die.

Bugs

This is not a particularly well-made game. It features many bugs, some helpful and others very hurtful. I like bugs as they often add to the quirkiness or replay value of a game. That being said here are a few of the prominent bugs:

Helpful

The hit-box on Wolverine’s attack is extremely disjointed and huge. You can exploit this to kill enemies you probably shouldn’t be able to.

A glitch on Gambit’s first level allow you to get an endless amount of extra lives!

Hurtful
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And Cyclops was never heard from again…

There are at least three levels featuring a bug that can prevent you from progressing with one of them even requiring you to reset the game!

Storm’s clipping is very strange. The screen scrolls closer to the right than it does on the left. It’s fairly easy to get stuck rounding corners or to have your shots hit the ground when it looks like it shouldn’t.

Conclusions

Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge is a bad game and a good game. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the crisp graphics, rocking music and tight, responsive controls but it comes at a cost. It’s got so much going on that it almost make me wonder if the developers spread themselves a bit too thin, trying to do too much in too little a time. With all the bugs and quirks it’s the kind of game you have to learn in order to fully enjoy.  Spider-Man / X-Men comes from an age where it took much, much more than flicking a bird at some pigs to be considered a “game”. You can tell that the developers of Spider-man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge attempted to create something original, exciting and a little beyond the scope of the common run-and-jump platformers and you’ve got to respect them for that.

A game doesn’t have to be a perfect technical or design achievement to be a great game. Sometimes, it’s all the quirks and rough spots that make games so interesting. To many, the developers, Software Creations, have aimed a bit too high and missed the mark… but from where I’m sitting, it looks like they hit dead center, making of the most enjoyable Super Nintendo games I have played.

Video Walkthrough

For fun, I recorded a complete video walkthrough of the entire game. It’s played by myself on an actual SNES using a video capture device. I have fully annotated the run with all sorts of neat notes, tips and information. If you’ve enjoyed this article, you’ll probably enjoy the video, too!

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