Recently, Marvel fans rejoiced at the long-awaited reveal of Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite. The newest entry in the fighting game is fully embraced by both fighting game fans and comic nerds alike. However, there’s an obvious missing piece of the Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite roster confirmed so far. Unlike every entry before it, there isn’t a single X-Men character to be seen. Unfortunately, that’s simply business as usual in an era with no new X-Men video games.
Despite the Marvel Vs. Capcom franchise beginning with an X-Men video game, the merry mutants have slowly fallen into the background. A healthy industry of X-Men titles has now become a wasteland just as X-fans have noticed fewer X-Men toys or animated series out in the wild. What happened to all the X-Men video games? And will we ever see a new one?
The X-Men first appeared in comics back in 1963, and the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creations weren’t a huge hit at first. The band of social outcasts battling for equality spent years with lower sales than hits like Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. It wasn’t until the mid-’80s that X-Men books became a top seller for Marvel, thanks mainly to writer Chris Claremont and a group of superstar artists, including John Byrne, Jim Lee, and Marc Silvestri. As the ’90s began, the X-Men comics were so big that they got their own toys, cartoons, and (yes) video games.
Heroes like Wolverine, Storm, and Cyclops were big hits in their first games for NES, PC, and Genesis. The team’s colorful costumes, impressive powers, and unique enemies translated well to the world of games. The X-Men shined in action-packed arcade titles like the beloved X-Men Arcade and their first fighter, X-Men: Children of the Atom. Major developers like Capcom, Sega, and Konami knew the same thing as Marvel: if you put an “X” on the cover in the 1990s, kids everywhere would buy all they could.
The Golden Era
From 1995 to 2005, the X-Men were in some of their most important games ever. Capcom made the X-Men central to their first ever crossover release, X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. That franchise soon grew to include all of Marvel’s heroes, but the mutants were still central to the roster. Fans in the fighting game community played countless rounds as Sentinel, Storm, Magneto, Wolverine, Cyclops, Cable, and more. As the series entered the new millennium, who could ever imagine a Marvel Vs. Capcom title without any of the X-Men?
Around the same time, developer Raven pulled the mutants into the world of dungeon-crawling RPGs. Part Baldur’s Gate, part Ultimate X-Men comic, 2004’s X-Men Legends was a co-op hit on all that generation’s consoles. Both it and its sequel told iconic X-Men stories of battles with The Brotherhood of Mutants and Apocalypse, with all the experience points and alternate costumes Cerebro could find. Much like the Capcom games, X-Men Legends expanded to include the entire Marvel Universe in its sequels. The games were still great, but the addition of The Avengers to the titles was a bad omen.
The Fall of X
Marvel went through tough financial times in the late ’90s, and part of the publisher’s recovery was making a deal with 20th Century Fox. This choice not only leads to the popular X-Men series of films but also to Fox getting a piece of all X-Men merchandise from then on. That includes games, and as explained by X-Men guru Chris Claremont, Marvel would rather make fewer X-Men goods than share that profitable business with Fox. It impacted all parts of Marvel media, games included.
You could see this trend begin X-Men video games after 2005. The Avengers took over the the X-Men Legends series. Fewer mutants than ever appeared in Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. Major stars like Wolverine were gasping for play time in Marvel titles like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel Super Hero Squad. As for dedicated X-Men games, there were the two film tie-ins X-Men: The Official Game and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which was much better than the movie of the same name). That trickle then ended with one final mutant console game in 2011, X-Men: Destiny. That game was so horrible that it killed its developer and is legally forbidden to be sold. If that’s the X-Men’s final game, it’s a horrible ending for such a still-popular team.
The Search for Missing Mutants
Where does that leave X-Men video games for the last five years? Fewer and fewer supporting appearances in Marvel games. The were in the first LEGO Marvel game, but not in the second. All the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe appeared in Disney Infinity, but not one X-Man. Deadpool’s 2013 game came and went in six months with the core X-Men only make brief cameos. And now, Wolverine and all the other X-Men are rumored not even to be in the newest entry of the Marvel Vs. Capcom series they began. It’s a sad situation for anyone who grew up loving X-Men comics. Is there any hope for the vanishing mutants returning?
Well, in comics you can never say never, but the tension between X-Men’s corporate masters looks to remain the same for the foreseeable future. Then again, for years most fans assumed you’d never see Spider-Man meet The Avengers in movies, and then Captain America: Civil War happened. In that situation, Marvel and Sony finally decided to work together and make Spidey in the MCU a priority. Similar cooperation needs to occur between Marvel and Fox for all mutant entertainment to get better, video games included. Until then, the X-Men will likely stay relegated to cameos in free-to-play mobile apps.