For years, comic books and video games have gone hand in hand. Pretty much every major superhero has at some point ventured into the digital world in one form or another, while an incredible amount of video game characters have had their own comic book runs.
While there was many action-adventure and side-scrolling beat-’em-ups based on characters from the Marvel universe, it wasn’t until the early 90’s until we got a fully fledged fighting game. It only made sense that Capcom, one of the heaviest hitters in the genre at the time stepped forward to fix this.
Released in arcades in late 1994, X-Men: Children of the Atom established what would be a beloved and fruitful relationship between Capcom and Marvel, and laid the foundations for the successful “Vs.” series that fighting game fans have played for nearly 25 years now (read our X-Men vs. Street Fighter article!).
The game is loosely based on 1993’s “Fatal Attractions” storyline, in which Magneto and his Acolytes return to confront the X-Men, tempting Professor Xavier to cross a moral line to stop them. It’s a pretty insane storyline with some fairly gnarly imagery (one such example sees Wolverine getting the adamantium ripped out of his skeleton!), and the good vs. evil dynamic lends itself perfectly to the setting of an arcade fighting game.
Promotional Material/Box Art
The marketing for the releases mainly centered around the artwork we got on the box art, with the exception of the original arcade release flyer, which opts for a more suitable comic book style from that era. Puns involving the letter “X” aplenty!
As was the case with the advertisements, the box art for most of the home releases was uniform, except the Japanese Sega Saturn release, which looks fantastic.
As previously mentioned, the game’s story is based on the “Fatal Attractions” comic book storyline, in which Magneto plans to unleash an electromagnetic pulse that will disrupt Earth’s magnetic fields and cause massive amounts of chaos on a global scale. As their foes group together to benefit from this new world, the X-Men must test themselves to see who is strong enough to defeat the master of magnetism himself.
Initially, players have a roster of 10 fighters; 6 of which are our heroes, and 4 villains.
In terms of which X-Men made the cut, everyone here is very recognisable to even the most casual of comic book fans. Each mutant’s fighting style is pretty much what you’d expect it to be; Cyclops relies on optic blasts from his visor, Storm’s wind/ice/lightning-based attacks are all intact, Colossus is pretty much a metal Zangief, Psylocke’s mix of martial arts and psychic energy is great (especially creating several copies of herself to deal more damage), Iceman is a no brainer, and Wolverine slashes away at enemies with his iconic claws (and also has a healing factor too!).
As for the baddies, things are slightly more varied to make up for the smaller choice of playable fighters. Spiral can completely disappear and teleport mid-match, Silver Samurai exclusively uses sword-based attacks, Omega Red uses his carbonadium tentacles to massively increase his attack range and the Sentinel is one of the most powerful fighters in the game. Juggernaut’s effective mix of speed and brute strength makes him a formidable sub-boss, and Magneto is, well, Magneto.
The game’s secret character should come as no surprise, as using a cheat code at the character selection screen unlocks Akuma from the Street Fighter series. Part of Capcom’s contract with Marvel was that one of the Street Fighter characters must appear in the game. A nice nod to the follow-up game!
As an added bonus, each of the characters are voiced by the cast of the much-loved X-Men cartoon series from the early 90s too, so everything here feels incredibly authentic.
As is the case with many Capcom fighting games, each character in X-Men: Children of the Atom gets their own unique stage. Ranging from famous locations from the comics such as the Danger Room from the X-Men’s HQ, the Savage Land and the Sentinel factory in Genosha, to some vividly illustrated areas such as a ruined city, an ice floe on a tropical beach and on top of the Blackbird (the plane, not an actual blackbird). Fans are bound to see something they like here.
Capcom rarely disappoints with its stages, and while there could be a bit more animation, this game is certainly no exception.
X-Men: Children of the Atom saw a gradual release on home consoles, each varying in quality.
The first port for the Sega Saturn, and was released around a year after the original arcade version. This version is widely lauded as one of the most impressive arcade-to-console conversions, with some small sacrifices being made to the animation. This was also originally planned to be the only home release of the game.
The PC version saw a release in May 1997, and does an admirable job of getting the look of the game right, but doesn’t include chain combos. Players can readily play as Juggernaut and Magneto on this port though, so that’s definitely a bonus.
The final release of X-Men: Children of the Atom was in February 1998 for the PlayStation. This port gouges away at the animations, takes ages to load and is much slower than the original arcade release, which is pretty unforgivable when you consider that the arcade version had already been out for nearly 4 years by this point.
The ending you see upon completing the game is totally dependent on which character you played as. For the most part though, they all centre on a final standoff with Magneto, whose acolytes show up to help him escape as Avalon blows up. There’s a substantial amount of comic book references that follow, such as Woverine’s jealousy of Cyclops, Psylocke longing for a forer life and Iceman performing tricks on a beach (?).
As a starting point for Capcom’s Marvel-themed fighting games, X-Men: Children Of The Atom is a fun, if not slightly basic, beat-’em-up that was a dream come true for many comic book fans in the mid-90s. Its combo systems are great, the use of the cartoon series voice cast is appreciated and the character sprites are an absolute treat to look at.
Just do yourself a favour though, stay well away from the PlayStation version!
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