Key art for X-Men Legends
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The finale of X-Men ‘97 aired this week, and it’s making me reflect on just how important these mutants are. Ever since their emergence in the 1960s, this superhero team has served as a cultural touchstone, providing a fictional world where issues of social oppression can be explored. And on top of all that, they’re still superheroes with radical powers. X-Men ’97 has doubled down on that to create the best Marvel series on Disney+ yet. That’s exciting, but it’s made a certain void all the more tangible: Where are all the X-Men games?

Marvel games have made a resurgence over the past several years, leading to excellent titles based on the Midnight Sons, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man. But outside of one Wolverine game on the horizon and guest character slots in Marvel’s Midnight Suns and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3, the X-Men have largely gone ignored in the game space. That’s a shame, as there’s one X-Men game primed for revival: X-Men Legends.

Remembering X-Men Legends

I mostly grew up playing licensed games, and while many of them were bad, games like X-Men Legends and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance were bright spots. They are superhero games developed by Raven Software and published by Activision in the early 2000s, and the quickest way to describe both is as superhero Diablo. They are approachable action RPGs that swap out the fantasy clichés for superhero ones.

In single-player or co-op, X-Men Legends lets players control a team of up to four mutants. Action plays out from an isometric perspective, and the fun of combat comes from finding ways to combo and combine each character’s abilities and upgrade them over time with XP. In-between missions, players can also explore the X-Mansion as Magma, the game’s central character, and mingle with other members of the team.

Longplay of X-Men Legends [HD]

The gameplay systems aren’t as deep as something like Diablo IV, but the approachable nature of the series made it a go-to co-op option for my brother and I at the height of our X-Men fandom in the 2000s. While I played its sequel less, I know it still polished and expanded on what the first X-Men Legends did, ultimately setting the stage for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, one of the best superhero video games of all time.

While Ultimate Alliance has two sequels, including one released in 2019, X-Men Legends has not been acknowledged since 2005’s Rise of Apocalypse. I think it would still be very possible for remasters of the X-Men Legends games or a full-on sequel to be a hit in 2024. The franchise appears to be making a comeback with X-Men ‘97 and the upcoming Deadpool & Wolverine, while games like Diablo IV and Baldur’s Gate 3 prove that isometric RPGs aren’t out of fashion and can still be very successful. Unfortunately, the X-Men just haven’t had much of a footprint in the video game space for some time.

To me, my X-Men

Living and learning in the X-Mansion and going on missions with the X-Men feels like such an obvious foundation for a great RPG. That’s why it’s shocking that so few games have actually capitalized on it outside of X-Men Legends and its sequel. It speaks to how the X-Men’s video game presence has greatly diminished. There were tons of X-Men games in the 1990s and 2000s when they, along with Spider-Man, were Marvel’s most valuable properties.

With the dawn of the MCU and Disney’s deemphasizing of video games and X-Men in the 2010s, the X-Men’s standing in the video game space pretty much died. Since then, all X-Men fans have gotten is the appearances of characters like Wolverine in games like Ultimate Alliance 3 or Marvel’s Midnight Suns. The best representation has come from Marvel Snap, which has held Avengers versus  X-Men and Exiles-themed season to bookend X-Men ’97. Like Microsoft with Fallout, it’s a shame that Marvel doesn’t have a fantastic X-Men game ready to go with this hit animated series.

Disney+ / Disney+

Looking back at how well games like X-Men Legends worked and the success of X-Men ‘97, I can’t help but yearn for the X-Men’s grand gaming return. For now, that task seems to be one solely for Insomniac Games to solve. That lauded studio is working on Marvel’s Wolverine; if information exposed in last year’s leak is accurate, it has the exclusive rights to X-Men in video games and are planning a full-on X-Men game.

Those projects are potentially years out, and while I am excited for them, X-Men feels like too vast a property to limit to just one developer. Embracing diversity is a concept that’s at the core of the X-Men, and it seems counterintuitive to restrict who has storytelling access to these characters. I’m using the desire for X-Men Legends 3 as a personal example and can’t wait to play Marvel’s Wolverine, but I’d love to see even more developers, big and small, get the chance to make a game about the X-Men. It’s too fruitful and eternally relevant of a franchise to not allow that opportunity.

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