FROM JASON’S BATTERED 16-BIT SYSTEM — Before consoles had the power to use 3D graphics, Sega was leading the way in superhero side-scrolling platform action by licensing comic book characters.
Nintendo was still leading the market with the Mario and Zelda franchises, but meanwhile Sega was forging an alliance with Marvel and creating darker teen games with oversized sprites like Spider-Man and Venom: Separation Anxiety. But maybe the best of this brood was 1995’s X-Men 2: Clone Wars.
The plot: Techno-organic beings known as The Phalanx have sent a clone invasion to Earth. Only a small band of X-Men have remained uncaptured. When the baddies go after a closed-down sentinel factory, it’s your job to stop them.
I spent weeks playing Clone Wars as a teen, switching between the playable characters and their assorted mutant abilities: Beast with his amazing strength and ground-pound; Cyclops’ optic blasts; Psylocke’s 180-degree sword slash and psychic thrust; Gambit’s long-reaching staff and telekinetically-charged cards; Wolverine’s claws, wall-climbing, and self-healing; and Nightcrawler’s ability to crawl on ceilings, teleport, and deliver and high-speed flying kick. Later in the game, I was dumbstruck when Magneto was unlocked to fight alongside the X-Men. He was slow but he could fly (and remaing hovering), giving each level a new dimension. He could also throw a pretty wicked magnetic bomb blast.
That versatility meant many different ways to complete a level, and allowed for a great deal of strategy compared to other platformers of the day. It’s also what makes modern comic-book vidjagames like X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance so attractive and re-playable.
Nightcrawler was easily my favorite character, and if played right he was almost invincible. During an invasion of Asteroid M, Nightcrawler could bypass almost the entire level by walking up the wall and clawing across the ceiling, then teleporting to the exit. At one point I completed the first 6 levels in 15 minutes using those tricks and his speedy flying kick to circumvent enemies.
The levels were beautifully rendered. The introduction stage was a Siberian military complex with flying snow and mock-3D ice walls. Later stages included a raid on a sentinel factory, Magneto’s Avalon, a showdown with Apocalypse, the Savage Land, and a dark Metroid-type maze.
In that final level, you have to fight clones of all the X-Men to survive. I beat the game once during college but never again managed to duplicate that victory.
I can’t recommend this game enough, and if you have a Genesis emulator, the ROM is out there. Take the time to learn each of your mutants’ special moves, then go out there and kick some Apocalypse/clone ass.