Price: $2.99 (U.S. only)
Buy it now from the iTunes store:US
It's easy to look back and think, "Oh, those classic arcade beat-'em-ups were the best," but when reality eventually rears its head (as it so often does), the current state of the game often pales in comparison to our glowing memories. Such was the case when Konami's 1992 X-Men arcade game hit the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network some months back. While it's certainly not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, the reality is that it's a very short, cheap, and shallow play experience – and now it's available on the iPad and iPhone as a universal app.
But while X-Men may not be the deepest action game around in 2011, the quick nostalgia flashback it offers is arguably worth a couple bucks. Playing as one of six characters wearing some straight-up classic costumes – including Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, and Colossus – you'll battle through waves upon waves of Sentinels and other common enemies, as well as face down mini-bosses like Pyro, The Blob, and Juggernaut on the way to toppling Magneto. The iOS version can be played in a windowed 4:3 aspect ratio like the arcade original or stretched out to fit the screen, but either way, you'll have to put up with some occasionally unresponsive virtual buttons to move your character around the screen. Otherwise, it's all about mashing the attack button, unleashing an occasional mutant power move, and hoping the Sentinels don't smash your brains in. But they will. Oh, they will.
X-Men includes local Wi-Fi and Bluetooth multiplayer battles, giving you a chance to tackle the game as a four-player experience, but it sadly lacks online play and doesn't emulate the six-player arcade approach. And the addition of varying difficulty levels and unlimited continues can be taken either as a bonus or a drawback, as it definitely sucks out a lot of the challenge from the game. Despite those myriad knocks, it's lightly refreshing to revisit a solid arcade brawler from another era, especially one that features a license that has been so often kicked around and abused in the years since. For three bucks, you'll get action and chuckles in nearly equal amounts, and while it's not especially fantastic, that's still a deal we can get behind.
For a decidedly different recent iOS take on the Marvel Comics universe, we have Marvel Kapow! HD, which offers up set of swipe-and-hold mini-games based very loosely on characters and elements from the comics. Kapow is slickly designed from the get-go, with impressive hand-drawn characters all over the menu screens and solid animations within the game. But it's also very much a one-note experience – despite its best efforts to blend gameplay elements to create distinctive variations – and is unlikely to hold the attention of seasoned gamers for long, though the challenge level will often be too much for the younger players out there.
On first glance, Marvel Kapow HD appears to be an obvious homage to iOS smash hit Fruit Ninja, as you'll spend the opening stages slashing floating Magneto helmets using Wolverine's claws. But as additional heroes and villains get introduced into the mix, Kapow reveals other opportunities. You'll deflect missiles back at flying enemies using Captain America's shield, shoot Spider-Man's webs at hovering robotic Venom heads, and whip around Thor's hammer to knock Loki icons off the screen. Quickly, you'll find yourself swapping between abilities in single stages and even occasionally facing boss characters; one early battle against Doctor Doom sees you fighting one hand by reflecting beams with Cap's shield, and then switching to Wolverine's claws to slash up Doc's other hand.
Kapow can actually be pretty challenging, though at times it can feel rather cheap. You'll have to clear the enemies from the screen before they start busting through the safety glass, which is all fair and reasonable; but every so often, one of Green Goblin's pumpkin bombs will wander on screen – sometimes in the path of a projectile you've already released – and even touching it will immediately end the entire stage. Admittedly, Kapow's simple approach yields occasional thrills, as the straightforward objectives can become tense with scads of enemies on screen, but the $3.99 price point is a bit much to ask for a game that isn't particularly great or inspired. Kids might get more of a kick out of it, but the difficulty spikes may knock them out of commission. Otherwise, if you're a huge Marvel nut, wait for a sale – or just stick to the free demo version.
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