One of the best things about Marvel's X-Men comic series is its diversity. Charles Xavier's team of mighty mutants is made up of characters from all walks of life, with powers as different as their personalities. The roster has expanded significantly over the decades, and while old pros like Wolverine are mainstays, there are always new characters being thrown into the mix. It's this quality that makes the series perfect for video game adaptation, a medium that indulges power fantasies and player choice. As a franchise, the X-Men video games hold several world records, including the Guinness World Record for the most number of titles based on a superhero group.
The results have been a mixed bag, to say the least. While the series does have its high points and has been responsible for some genuine innovations in gameplay, it also has some crushing low ones that are best left forgotten. As we've chosen to focus on only the games that have "X-Men" in the title, there are a couple of disqualifications to start. Appearances in general Marvel games don't really count, as they're not solely X-Men titles, so things like the Marvel vs. Capcom series or the Lego games won't make it onto the list. Our strict naming policy also means that two solo Wolverine games didn't make the cut, but as neither are really worth talking about, you're not missing much. We're also sorry to say that any hardcore fans of 1996's X-Men Cartoon Maker may be disappointed with its lack of inclusion.
For the rest of you, here's our rundown of Every X-Men Video Game Ever, Ranked From Worst To Best.
18 The Uncanny X-Men (1989)
We've talked about this stinker before, but as this is a definitive ranking of the series, our complaints bear repeating here. The game was made for NES by the infamous LJN, the undisputed kings of licensed trash.
The Uncanny X-Men is a top-down action game where the player could choose two of an available six X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman and Nightcrawler). It was a dull slog of a game that featured boring gameplay and awkward controls. It also has an incredibly stupid central game mechanic. The use of a character's mutant abilities costs them health. Surely one of the most appealing things about an X-Men game is to use our favorite characters' awesome superpowers? Not according to LJN, who made it so every time you wanted to use Cyclops' signature eye beams, you put yourself in danger of a game over. This actively discourages the player from using them and it's a complete misunderstanding of what can make the series work. It's bad enough in Uncanny X-Men, but its inclusion in LJN's later Wolverine game makes even less sense, considering the character's well-established healing ability. This game represents the absolute bottom of the barrel for the series that thankfully hasn't been beaten out yet.
17 X-Men: Madness in Murderworld (1989) / X-Men II: The Fall of the Mutants (1990)
The short-lived Paragon Software released two X-Men titles before the company was bought by MicroProse in 1992. As simplistic DOS games, they aren't necessarily bad, but when placed in the pantheon of X-titles, they come out with a low ranking due to their limited nature. To rank them higher over some of the more advanced and sophisticated games would be a little disingenuous.
In Madness in Murderworld, Professor X has been kidnapped by Magneto and Arcade and hidden inside the latter's nightmarish amusement park. The player must use Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Dazzler to work their way through the deadly park using their individual skills to progress. Much like other early games, the difficulty was all over the place, with an especially unforgiving mechanic where your characters stayed dead, often meaning that you wouldn't be able to go past a certain point without using a certain power, like Colossus's ability to break through walls.
The sequel, Fall of the Mutants, improved on the first game considerably. It had an expanded roster of heroes to choose from, including fan favorites like Rogue and Psylocke, as well as more obscure characters like Longshot. Whereas the first game had classic enemies like the Sentinels to fight, Fall of the Mutants took advantage of the reality-bending Chris Claremont/ Louise Simonson storyline and had a weird and varied gallery of foes. Ever wanted to battle T-Rexes, shotgun-toting rednecks, and Viet-Cong soldiers with an array of superpowers? If your answer is “yes”, then Fall of the Mutants may be the only game that comes anywhere near catering to your specific wishes.
16 The X-Men Game Boy trilogy (2000, 2001)
Released to coincide with the DVD release of Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie, X-Men: Mutant Wars was a side-scrolling beat 'em up for the Game Boy Color. The sequel, X-Men: Wolverine's Rage came out the following year. Reign of Apocalypse was also released in 2001, but made the jump to the hot new system on the scene, the Game Boy Advance, and featured fancy color graphics as seen above.
It's tough to muster much enthusiasm for any of these games. All three are generic mediocre beat 'em ups for systems that had countless better examples. Reign of Apocalypse is the best of the bunch, with a more in-depth character progression system, but none are worth writing home about. Nintendo's Game Boy systems were designed for pick up and play gaming, but that didn't stop some stellar adventure titles like the Zelda and Pokémon games from appearing on them. Simple fighting games have their place, but it's hard not to wish for something that set its sights a little higher than being like practically every other licensed game out at the time.
15 X-Men: Destiny (2011)
With this list, we're working off the idea that a good X-Men game is one that showcases all of the best qualities of the series. If a licensed game fails to reflect what makes the name on the front of the box special, then what's the point in making a licensed game in the first place? (The obvious and cynical answer is money, but we're not here to rank shady business practices.) With this in mind, X-Men: Destiny deserves its lowly place on this list due to the fact that it fudges an idea that had a lot of potential.
The basic premise was that the user-created player character was a new mutant on the scene. Players could customize their character's looks and attire as well as choose the type of mutant power they wanted. The player could join the X-Men or Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants, and the story would change based on the player's choices. In theory, anyway. Destiny ended up being a rushed mess with dated graphics, repetitive gameplay, and an underwhelming, linear story that boiled down to several boring endings. On paper, X-Men: Destiny could have been the ultimate X-Men roleplaying experience, but the final product fell way below the mark and ended up disappointing a ton of fans.
14 Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade's Revenge (1992)
Hooray! LJN are back! Fret not, however, because their Super Nintendo title wasn't as disastrous as their NES attempts with the license. Don't get us wrong, it's still pretty bad, but the game has a few saving graces that stop it from being a complete dumpster fire.
This one brought back Arcade and Murderworld, last seen in the original DOS game, and roped in the help of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as a playable character. The development of the game was fraught with legal problems behind the scenes, and as a result, the game ended up a confused mess. The game's story sticks to the Uncanny X-Men arc of the same name pretty faithfully, which is at least a step up from whatever the plot of their first game was. The gameplay was fun at times, but it was controller-snappingly hard, with many normal enemies able to wipe you out in a couple of hits, which pretty much undermines the point of playing as a superhero.
13 Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
In the late 2000s, game companies started releasing the obligatory movie tie-ins on smartphones instead of clogging up console and PC libraries. It's easy to see why. Phones have a wide built-in audience, and it costs significantly less to develop a mobile game than it does to make a console or PC release, given all the complexity and visual fidelity that those platforms demand. Uncanny X-Men: The Days of Future Past was a 2D side-scrolling action game released on Apple App Store in 2014 to tie-in with Bryan Singer's time-twisting movie sequel. The game took its main inspiration from the comic arc rather than the film and featured a number of playable X-Men, including Kitty Pryde and Scarlet Witch.
It's a rather sad state of affairs when the only real thing the game can be praised for is for what it doesn't do, rather than for what it actually does. It was sold for a reasonable $2.99 and had no in-app purchases or time-wasting mechanics designed to pit your patience against your wallet. The game also had several big free updates that added classic characters like Magneto and Storm to the playable roster. Outside of these positives, the game was a rather standard grind with uninspired level design and cookie-cutter fighting. At the time this writing, it's also the last proper X-Men game to be released, which is a disappointing send-off for such a venerable series. Here's hoping Marvel dusts off their adamantium claws and make a new game worthy of the license in the very near future.
12 The X-Men Game Gear trilogy (1994, 1995, 1996)
Sega's answer to Nintendo's domination of the handheld market was the Game Gear, released in 1991. It was way ahead of its time, with a backlit color landscape screen and advanced graphics. However, it never really managed to threaten Nintendo's comfy position at the top of the pile due to a number of factors, like its large size, its ridiculously short battery life, and library of games of varying quality. Sega's X-Men trilogy (X-Men, Gamesmaster's Legacy and Mojo World) actually managed to be pretty solid, although nowhere near the level of some of the console's best titles.
The games are fun enough, despite featuring the same dumb powers/health trade-off that LJN “pioneered”. All three games are basically the same, requiring the player to solve maze levels and find their way out. The first game garnered reasonable write-ups, whereas the sequels improved on the basic formula. Gamesmaster's Legacy wins some points for originality by featuring a decent number of underutilized supervillains like Mister Sinister and Fabian Cortez. As Mojo World used the same game engine as Gamesmaster's Legacy, it was a very similar experience, but we're going to rank it as the best of the three, if only for the game's two difficulty settings: “Mental” and “Way Wicked”. You can practically taste the '90s.
11 X-Men: The Official Game (2006)
Movie tie-ins are notoriously bad. They're usually passionless cash-ins rushed to meet a movie release date, putting a cap on the potential quality of the game. This is typified with Activision's X-Men: The Official Game, released to coincide with the equally awful X-Men: The Last Stand. The game is a standard third-person actioner and fills in some of the narrative gaps in the X-Men trilogy, and well as allows players to play through key events from the movies.
It's a distinctly average experience, despite featuring the voices of several of the movies' actors like Hugh Jackman, Alan Cumming and Patrick Stewart. The meandering and uninvolving story is only notable for two things. One, it introduced Hydra into the X-Men movieverse, and two, it explains Nightcrawler's absence from the third movie. In case you were wondering, Nightcrawler has a mental battle with the powerful telepath Jason Stryker and the event leaves him convinced he's strayed too far from his peaceful religious ideals. He leaves the X-Mansion and that's it. They're both interesting additions to the canon, but are hardly worth the hours of slogging through the game's same-y levels and watching the paper doll-like cutscenes.
10 X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse (1997)
Other than the fact that it sounds like the title of a trashy romance novel, Ravages of Apocalypse is a unique entry on this list for a number of reasons. It's an official mod of id Software's Quake and it required the base game to play. It was the first superhero first person shooter, and it featured gameplay where you zipped around shooting evil robot versions of the X-Men. You actually get to kill the X-Men in this one. Hooray?
Each mutant had their own superpowers to make life difficult. For instance, when fighting Wolverine, the player had to inflict enough damage to negate Logan's healing factor, whereas other characters were immune to certain weapons. If you were to input id's famous God Mode code, you'd be greeted with an in-game message informing you that Mister Sinister has messed with the game's cheats, meaning that you were on your own. The game received mixed reviews on release and failed to win over many new gamers outside of the core Quake fanbase and the super-dedicated X-Men fans.
9 X2: Wolverine's Revenge (2003)
Another entry, another movie tie-in, this time for X2: X-Men United. Although the game's box-art featured Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, the character design mostly took inspiration from the comics, with an original story written by Larry Hama. The plot put Logan in a race against time to uncover his past and find the antidote to the deadly Shiva virus coursing through his veins. Weirdly enough, whilst Patrick Stewart reprised his role as Charles Xavier, Mark Hamill was the one to give Wolverine his gruff tones, despite being famous for playing the Joker (and a little thing called Star Wars, obviously)
Much like every other Wolverine game ever, gameplay boiled down to running around levels looking for bad guys to dice with your claws. Players had a bunch of vicious-looking combos at their disposal and a decent number of end level bosses to fight. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good either. Many reviews criticized the game's lack of variety and awkward checkpoint system, which often meant having to replay long stretches of the game over and over again until it was possible to reach the next save point.
8 X-Men (1993)/X-Men 2: Clone Wars (1995)
Sega's pair of Genesis-exclusive X-Men titles are often overlooked when it comes to talking about good superhero games. This could be because only one of them was actually good. 1993's simply titled X-Men was unfairly difficult, with especially unforgiving bosses that could stomp you flat within seconds. Worse still, if you manage to defeat Mojo, the end level boss for the fifth stage, you're presented with a message to reset the computer to exit the level and proceed. You could spend hours looking for the objective, but the actual solution was to lightly press the reset button on the Genesis console itself to continue. Not that it tells you that in plain English at any point. Note that we said, “lightly press”. If you weren't careful, it was possible to reset the entire game and have to start from square one all over again.
X-Men 2: Clone Wars was definitely the better of the two games. For starters, the original's mutant power bar was done away with, and players could now enjoy unlimited use of the X-Men's various abilities. It received the standard mixed reviews from contemporary publications, but time has been rather kind to the game, and many retrospectives have held it up amongst the best experiences the Genesis had to offer.
7 X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse (1994)
Mutant Apocalypse was Capcom's second attempt at the X-Men license (we'll get to the first in a moment) and it was pretty good, all things considered. It was a vaguely-defined action game with a focus on combat and limited platforming. The plot involves Xavier sending his X-Men to Genosha Island to free the captured mutants imprisoned within the complex's dangerous walls.
The combat was solid and the sprites used were well-designed and colorful. The game was rather short on content, with five main stages and two boss battles in the Danger Room to complete before the final showdown with Magneto on his space station Avalon. It's a fun time, only slightly soured by the fact that each time your character dies, you'll be forced to start the entire level over, which can get tiresome. It's a shame Capcom and Marvel never released another X-Men game like this, but we're more than happy with this anomaly in both companies' back catalogs.
6 X-Men: Children of the Atom (1994)/ X-Men vs. Street Fighter (1996)
Fans of both X-Men and Capcom were in for a treat when the two beloved companies teamed up for the first time in 1994. The result of their collaboration was X-Men: Children of the Atom, a great fighting game featuring the X-Men as they appear in the awesome '90s animated series. The story was loosely based on the "Fatal Attractions" comic arc that pitted Professor X against his supposedly dead arch-nemesis Magneto and his Acolytes. Fans of arcade brawlers were thrilled and the game received widespread critical praise. It was later ported to the Sega Saturn, PC, and Sony Playstation, with wildly differing degrees of success.
After Children of the Atom featured Street Fighter character Akuma as a secret unlockable fighter, Capcom took things several steps further. X-Men vs. Street Fighter featured the two diverse rosters going head to head. The game is also responsible for an important innovation – the ability to “tag in” partners from anywhere onscreen. Games had featured tag matches before, but X-Men vs. Street Fighter streamlined the process and refined it to the point where it became an industry standard. The arcade game garnered the same decent reviews, and is notable for being the first entry in the company's ongoing Marvel vs. Capcom series. The full roster for this year's Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite hasn't been revealed yet, but we're hoping for at least some of the X-Men to make an appearance, if only for old time's sake.
5 The Mutant Academy trilogy (2000, 2001, 2002)
As fighting games normally feature an expansive roster of visually different fighters with unique special moves, it makes them a perfect match for the X-Men series. Playstation title Mutant Academy was a 3D fighter with ten playable characters. While not a direct tie-in, it did feature several of the costumes from the first movie and outfitted fighters like Beast and Gambit in a similar style, despite neither featuring in the film. Reviews were fairly middling, but the game was a commercial success, meaning that production quickly began on the sequel, Mutant Academy 2.
The sequel took everything good about the first game and built on it. This time around, there were 18 playable characters, including a guest appearance from Spider-Man. Controls were tighter, there were way more combos to master and everything was much better presented, including a welcome overhaul of the fairly ropey graphics of the first. The third and final game, Next Dimension, was the only game of the series to be released on the PlayStation 2, and it earned a rather mixed reception, with many reviews comparing it unfavorably to naughty gigglefest Dead or Alive 3. The definitive ranking for the three games is down to personal preference, but most seem to agree that Mutant Academy 2 was the series' high point.
4 X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the otherwise terrible Wolverine solo movie, the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game defied expectations by being rather good. For the first time, it felt like the character's brutality had been finally realized in game form, with Logan viciously ripping and tearing through his enemies. It was clearly influenced by similarly violent games like God of War, but that didn't stop the spectacle of leaping on an enemy and showing them the business end of your claws from being any less fun. It's tough not to appreciate Raven Software's love of blood and gore, and it's even harder not to be impressed by the way Wolverine's healing ability is showcased. Logan can take a tremendous amount of punishment, with the player character taking noticeable damage as Wolverine's skin is torn away to eventually reveal his adamantium skeleton underneath. If you take cover, your health and Wolverine's flesh slowly regenerates until he resembles Hugh Jackman once again.
It's the only game on this list to have earned an “M for Mature” rating. Well, the Uncaged Edition is the only one to be rated Mature, that is. The PS2, Wii, and portable versions of the game went more family-friendly, cutting out all the fun violence in favor of a more generic experience. The Uncaged Edition wasn't perfect and had its fair share of dumb enemies and repetitive stages, but at least it had the over-the-top violence to up the enjoyment factor. We imagine there were more than a few PS2/Wii owners who felt short-changed by their end of the bargain.
3 X-Men (1992)
Konami's excellent X-Men arcade game was the first to meld the worlds of fighting games and Xavier's mutants together, and it proved to be a revelation. The player could choose one of six X-Men from the choices of Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Dazzler (it's hard to grasp just what the early '90s obsession was with Dazzler, but we digress). It was a great brawler and a lot of fun to play with friends, even if it drained you of your allowance.
On the internet, the game is mostly known for its hilarious mistranslations. Although there's stiff competition for the funniest of the bunch, Magneto gets the best of them, including lines like “I am Magneto, master of magnet!” and the infamous “Welcome to die!” The game was re-released on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network in 2010, with iOS and Android ports in 2011. However, due to rights issues and Konami's shift in business practices, none of these versions are currently available for download, which is a massive shame.
2 X-Men: Legends (2004)
Raven Software's first experiment with the X-Men license happened to be a doozy. X-Men: Legends is an action RPG where players can select a team of four mutants to battle through levels with. The plot focuses on young student Alison Crestmere as she joins Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and learns what it is to be an X-Man. As the player progresses, their skills and abilities can be upgraded to make them more of a force to be reckoned with.
The in-depth story featured a ton of familiar faces from the comics as well as a great voice cast highlighted by Patrick Stewart as Professor X. Gameplay was fun and furious, and it pioneered the awesome concept of special team-up moves, where two X-Men would combine their powers into one devastating attack. These would later be refined into “Fusion” attacks in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. The game also had appealing cel-shaded graphics, making the whole game look like it had been ripped from the colorful pages of the comics. The game was a critical hit and a massive success, with it selling enough to be included in the classic line of budget titles for the three consoles it was released for. However, it narrowly misses out on the top spot.
1 X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (2005)
It's said that all great sequels use the original as a jumping-off point for a bigger and better experience. This is certainly true of X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse which improved on practically every aspect of the first game and delivered a highly satisfying sequel.
The core action role-playing gameplay remained the same, but with many welcome tweaks. The number of playable characters was upped and included some awesome unlockable fighters like Iron Man and Deadpool. It also featured high-quality CG cutscenes by Blur Studio, the people responsible for the Halo Wars CG shorts, the cinematic trailers for the Batman Arkham games, and the visually arresting title sequence for David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Not only that, but the game took advantage of new technology and included online multiplayer into the bargain. While we collected several games together earlier in the list, Rise of Apocalypse marked a step up from the already great X-Men Legends and deserves a nice, roomy entry all to itself to give it its proper due. It's currently the highest rated X-Men title on GameRankings.com, and it holds an impressive 80% across all releases on Metacritic. Is it too late to start a campaign for X-Men Legends III? We're game if you are.
What's your favorite X-Men video game ever made? Do you agree with our rankings? Let us know in the comments.