In the world of comics, X-Men has been a hot commodity in recent years. While the popularity of Marvel’s mutants has rarely been jeopardized in the past few decades, the current narrative arc that comes with the House of X Book in 2019, breathed new life into the characters and stories. The same story has all the makings of an exciting video game and one that uses a very special gameplay structure – the roguelike. As written, to use that very conceit, a rogue X-Men game could capture something intriguing and exciting about current fiction. And that vision would be best if it came from a small team that had creative freedom to make the game their own.
For the uninitiated who Dawn of X storyline helped relaunch the X-Men comics a few years ago and reinvented some core aspects of the narrative to reinvigorate the mutated family of books. [Notable spoilers follow, in case you’re still hoping to discover it for yourself.] Without sticking to the details of a particularly complex setup (even by comic book standards), the X-Men are in a completely different place than before. Old enmities, such as that between Xavier and Magneto, were put aside. Most of the mutants now live together in a mutant nation on the living island of Krakoa. After having felt like an outsider for decades, exposed to constant attack, the tone of the books has changed and shows a largely united mutant body that demands a seat at the international (and even intergalactic) table. The key to this change of fortune is a great secret that mutants now hold; Thanks to the merging of the powers of several key mutants in their ranks, each mutant can now be revived after death and brought back to battle.
And they die. The X-Men book family was full of dramatic twists and turns that saw some of our favorite heroes, like Jean Gray, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler, come to grisly ends only to reappear on Krakoa to continue the fight. It makes for some fun scenes as the heroes make the ultimate sacrifice and then can reappear in the next installment. Of course, the miraculous mystery of the resurrection seems to be in constant danger of being discovered or corrupted. “Oh no! If you die in this other world, you don’t really come back!” And other related gimmicks help maintain the narrative tension. Men mythology takes a strong twist, namely that a minority population often faces violence and even death in an indifferent world.These latest stories undermine that painful reality and give the heroes power and confidence.
Players rarely have to rely on the fun potential of heroes who die and then start the battle over. The roguelike genre has grown in prominence in recent years, capturing something magical and exciting that few other games can handle. Fight hard through a seemingly insurmountable series of battles and then die. Use the experience you gained during this fight to go a little further next time. Gain skill, knowledge and mastery. “Another run!” becomes a mantra.
I would love to see Marvel see the potential of the current X-Men resurrection oriented stories to translate into a villainous game. And to do it justice, entrust these efforts to the same kind of team that have been most fortunate to capture the intensity and tension of the roguelike formula – small, independent studios that have already come down this path with successful games.
Imagine Dead Mage translating its expertise into a game like Children of Morta and instead having a pixelated action / adventure with characters like Jean Gray and Storm. Or check out Motion Twin’s side-scrolling exploration as seen in Dead Cells, but with Wolverine slicing through a heavily guarded space station orbiting the sun. Mega Crit Games helped popularize the card-based deck building roguelike; It’s not difficult to imagine how to interpret Marvel’s mutants, unlock new characters with each run, and draw new cards for your deck that reflect the mutant powers.
Independent developers are often independent for good reason; Many of these studios are full of talented people who left large studios to pursue their creative visions. They want the freedom to make their own mistakes and triumphs and take risks that a big developer house simply won’t take. Marvel (and other major licensees) should follow this ethos and consider partnerships that leverage this penchant for risk taking. Many smaller studios have been set up specifically to pursue their own passions and projects and may be rightly reluctant to deviate from their own creative endeavors; Eventually, many broke into independence to evade sequels, corporate game development, and in some cases even the limited control that comes with some licensed work. However, I suspect that at least some smaller studios would take the opportunity to create something with a large property like the X-Men, especially if the pitch was, “We loved the job you did on your last game. We have this story concept about resurrecting mutants in X-Men mythology who rise up to fight the same tough battle over and over again. We would like to give you the freedom to take that and go in your own direction with it. “
I’ve been impressed with Marvel’s willingness to take risks over the past few years and expand the opportunities to work on popular franchises like Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Midnight Sons (Suns), and The Avengers to a variety of world-class development houses. We even recently heard about a special Wolverine game from Insomniac. The next step is to open the door to smaller stores with lesser known development studios where strong talent and proven track records could make fantastic games possible.
I can think of few franchises as ripe for treatment as the X-Men. Varied superpowers from a range of richly drawn characters, loads of memorable conflicts and villains, and a story setup that allows players the Live / Die / Repeat structure that makes roguelikes so fun – all of this makes for a game fans would love to play Experience. It’s okay for some licensed games to be smaller, have pixel graphics, or take characters in unusual directions that you would never try in a larger, more expensive project. I am ready to take Cyclops on this seemingly impossible mission to hunt down Nimrod only to face his downfall and then be forced to try again, optical explosions ready. The concept is ready for gaming success, but only if the right partnership can turn the idea into reality.