PS4 exclusive Marvel's Spider-Man kickstarted a new renaissance for games based on Marvel Comics characters, with new titles based on The Avengers and Miles Morales due out later this year. Much like it has on the big screen, one famous pillar of Marvel Comics, the X-Men, hasn't had much luck in games over the past decade.
This week, Inverse is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first X-Men film, so as we also look back on the history of X-Men games as well, we can't help but hope that this decade will be a brighter one for the X-Men games.
The 2010s certainly wasn't.
The rise and fall of X-Men games
While X-Men games have been out of fashion in recent years, there were some pretty fun games over 20 years ago. The official X-Men arcade game and X-Men vs. Street Fighter dominated the '90s arcade scene, with the later even spawning the Marvel vs. Capcom fighting game series.
In the early 2000s, games like X-Men Legends and its sequel truly captured the feeling of working as a team in a Diablo-like, getting the closest to a "true" X-Men experience. 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a surprisingly great tie-in game for a terrible movie, and showed the potential of a game that was just a focused take on one X-Men character.
Once the 2010s hit, the trend in X-Men games became much more negative. X-Men: Destiny (2011) felt rushed and underdeveloped so it failed to deliver the fantasy of creating and playing as your own mutant in the X-Men. Its developer, Silicon Knights, even went under shortly after the game's release.
The X-Men's representation in games dwindled after that, possibly due to rights issues with 20th Century Fox. This could be seen most in 2017's Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Even though the X-Men played a pivotal part in the creation of that series, no X-Men characters were present in the fighting game, which was a total flop.
Outside of a few decent mobile games, X-Men fans didn't have much to play until X-Men characters like Wolverine, Deadpool, Cyclops, and Colossus appeared in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order for Nintendo Switch. This, along with the fact that Disney now owns 20th Century Fox, makes the future of the X-Men in games a lot more bright. Disney owns the gaming rights to the X-Men, so how can the House of Mouse develop a game worthy of the Marvel franchise?
A next-gen X-Men game needs to emulate Marvel's Avengers
With a new generation of consoles upon us and Marvel more active in game development than ever, it's time for the X-Men to return to games. While appearances in games like Ultimate Alliance or Marvel vs. Capcom are nice, the X-Men deserve way more than that. There are a couple of routes an X-Men game for PS5 and Xbox Series X could go, but the best is also the most obvious.
For a simpler route, Marvel's Avengers from Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics lays out a fantastic blueprint for how an X-Men game should work. It has multiple playable characters, each with unique fighting styles and powers. There's also online co-op gameplay and even intricate loot and progression systems to enhance the experience. An RPG like this makes a lot of sense if you are playing as a mutant developing their powers, and truncated systems from titles like X-Men: Legends and X-Men: Destiny showed the potential of that approach.
If Marvel's Avengers is received well, then this is definitely a formula that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics could apply to more Marvel properties. As a fully next-gen game, this hypothetical X-Men game could realize classic locations like the Xavier Institute in a highly-detailed fashion.
The RPG progression is key, even if a potential X-Men game doesn't follow Marvel's Avengers formula that closely and instead sticks to the player creating a unique mutant character. The strides made in the genre over the past console generation thanks to games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt could be applied to an X-Men game with a dynamic story and gameplay progression.
The X-Men are rife with the potential to be part of a fantastic RPG or action game, but that potential has yet to be fully realized in modern gaming. While the classic X-Men games offer short spurts of fun, it's time for Marvel to fully dedicate itself to creating a next-gen X-Men game that seems so obvious but still hasn't been made.
If such a game ever comes out, you can be sure that I'll be there on day one.
Welcome to X-Men Week, Inverse's celebration of the film that kicked off Marvel's movie domination.