X-Men: Children of the Atom

X-MenChildAtomTitleA lot of you are familiar with Capcom’s Marvel vs. Capcom series of games, but did you know that the Marvel side of things began as its own series? It started with this very game. Superheroes are quite popular in Japan, so in 1994, Capcom decided to begin a companion fighting series to the hit Street Fighter. And so it was that a fighting game that used X-Men characters was made.

Not that X-Men: Children of the Atom is just Street Fighter with the X-Men, although there is a temptation to think that at first, but Dashing, dial-in combos, and Super Jumping set this one apart as a unique game, if one with cheesy controls.

Plot: 8 out of 10

I don’t know if the programmers were fans of the comic book, but this game tries to loosely adapt the then-recent Fatal Attractions story. It centered around Magneto building a space station called Avalon using alien technology stolen from the X-Men to give mutants the chance to secede from humans and their planet. But the U.S. government tries and fails to keep Magneto off Earth with a planetary force field. The result is Magneto overreacting and attacking Earth.

The cast of characters all have their own reasons for wanted to stop Mags:

Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, Psylocke, and Iceman: These are all the X-Men in the game. As always, they understand Magneto’s motivations, but feel they are turned in a destructive direction that will cause global civil war.

Sentinel: Yes, you get to play as one of the giant robots created by bigoted humans. Therefore, need I even say why they don’t like what Magneto is doing?

Silver Samurai: A professional criminal who looks to take command of the Japanese mafia, he feels that killing Magneto would prove his worth.

Spiral: She’s one of the top dogs of Mojo, a slaver and Jabba The Hutt wannabe from another universe who makes his slaves into TV gladiators. With all these mutants fighting, the iron has never been hotter. If this sounds ridiculous, as well it should, understand that Spiral and Mojo represent the lighter side of the X-verse.

Omega Red: His ending explains that the cardonadium synthesizer that he needs to stabilize his condition (don’t ask) is possessed by Magneto. We’re not told why, but Omega’s motivations are so irrelevent to Magneto that we need some reason why Omega is in the game.

Akuma (secret character): Only Street Fighter to make an appearance. He’s doing what he always does: testing his abilities by seeking others to battle.

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How fitting. The human hater versus the human hater (of all others).

Beyond the motivations of the cast, this is a “beat up the bad guy” kind of plot. Still, some good endings (other than Akuma’s sucky one, since he seems to be a last-minute addition) do redeem things and besides, everything stays true to the comic book. It’s not Macbeth, but it gets the job done.

Graphics: 9 out of 10

Excellent. The comic book animation is done very well, as is the frame-rate. Great backgrounds too, especially when the action tears them up.

Sound: 8 out of 10

The music I most fondly remember is the song for Magneto’s stage. It’s an awesome, sinister tune. The rest ranges from mediocre to great. However, the voice acting is really good. It doesn’t exactly hurt that many of the actors are from the 1990s animated series and are back to reprise their roles.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

As noted, you might think that this is a Street Fighter clone at first glance. And the characters do have similar attributes. There are projectile specialists (Cyclops, Storm, Iceman), corner trappers (Wolverine, Psylocke, Omega Red), power men (Colossus and Silver Samurai), and less simplified characters (Sentinel and Spiral). Very similar to the kinds of characters found in whichever incarnation of Street Fighter II you played.

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A Star Trek reference? I am now officially convinced that the programmers were geeks.

However, once you start playing, you realize otherwise. First, there’s a Super Jump that takes you two screens into the air. This makes it harder to corner someone. Second, there is the Dash, which does pretty much exactly what it says it does. You can run in to perform a quick attack. Thankfully, it’s not quite as cheesy as the Mortal Kombat 3 version. The then-new Super Moves that require you to fill a Super meter up with attacks are here, but they’re called X-Abilty and Hyper-X (requires more in your meter) moves. Finally, you can do “dialing” combos, which enable you to do deliver numerous normal attacks preferably ending with a big special. This is not a difficult setup, but you should understand that cheap tactics are a big deal in Children of the Atom.

All this is obviously quite a bit cheesier than the controls of the average fighting game. This is done purposefully. Capcom knew that X-Men is a popular brand that would attract more everyday people. So they made this more accessible to them.

I’m not necessarily critical. I can enjoy the occasional good but cheap fighter. But I would still prefer one more rewarding of skill and sound strategies. That is why I didn’t rate this too high. You’d think the overpowering dominance of Akuma would cost it some more. He’s got, among other things, a down-diagonal Double Fireball so you take decent damage even if you’re blocking. But since he’s a hidden character and the code to activate him isn’t easy, I can forgive this.

Challenge: 6 out of 10

Most of the way through, it’s the typical A.I. for a Capcom fighter. Not too hard, not too easy. There are two bosses: The Juggernaut and Magneto. Juggernaut is harder than the guys leading up to him but not that much. Magneto, on the other hand, is a leading contender for the toughest opponent in the history of gaming. He’s got an extra fast standing projectile, down-diagonal air projectiles, unblockable projectiles that most characters require a Super Jump to clear and immobilize you on contact, his top Hyper-X depletes most of even a full bar of health if all the hits connect, and to cap it off, he’s got an X-Ability move that makes him invincible for a while. All this makes him one of the hardest bosses ever. Too hard, actually.

By the way, they did make the bosses available with a code in some of the home versions. I played as Mags in the (crappy) Playstation port. And he was still unbelievably powerful and cheap. So don’t say I just suck when even the human version of him is better than all the other characters. Granted, it usually takes over half a dozen X-Men to beat him in the comics, but did that really need to carry over to this game?

Have I ever beat Magneto? Yes. Once with Akuma and his Double Fireball that wears you down even if you block. Many years ago, I did it with Sentinel and his keep-away mastery without ever even thinking about fighting hand-to-hand. In other words, the only way I’ve won is by countering dirty tricks with my own dirty tricks.

Not that it’s not fun fighting your way through the ranks but understand that you may not get to see your character’s ending.

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A whirwind that only knocks someone back a couple steps? I can think of better attacks.

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That’s more like it!

Overall: 7 out of 10

Magneto’s extreme level of difficulty aside, this is a quite admirable X-game. Those who insist that there must never be a hint of cheapness probably won’t like it, but for the rest of us, it’s fun.

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