During the 2021 Consumer Electronics Show, CES for short, Arcade1up announced their new line of cabinets, and easily the most exciting reveal was the return of Konami’s beloved arcade game, X-Men. Not only does the unit include the classic brawler, but also Data East’s Captain America and the Avengers, a game not seen since the days of the SNES/Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and The Avengers in Galactic Storm, another Data East game that frankly is probably unknown to many.
Fans of classic superhero coin-op titles owe a debt of gratitude to Arcade1up. Since late 2019, they’ve brought back nearly every game in Capcom’s Marvel catalog – Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes can’t be far behind – and now they’re back with even more. However, as great as these cabinets are, they’re also very expensive, the Marvel vs. Capcom unit retails for $699 at Best Buy in Canada, not to mention space consuming.
For those who have to budget their money and space, there’s simply no way they can get one of these machines, let alone amass a collection of them. Marvel, and their parent company Disney, should frankly be doing more to put these games in affordable collections so more players can experience them, whether it’s for the purpose of nostalgia or discovery.
The most retro game playable on the PS4 and Xbox One, and now their next-generation counterparts, is Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which was released in 2011 and remastered in late 2016 for the PS4. It came to the Xbox One platform early the next year in 2017 where it would also get a new physical run too. There was a time when you could buy the first two entries in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series on both platforms – digitally only – but they’ve since been taken down and are no longer available to purchase.
This stands in a stark contrast to the seventh console generation that housed the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The first iteration of the PS3 was one-hundred percent backwards compatible with the libraries of the PlayStation 1 and 2. Playing retro superhero games still required you to track down and collect physical media, but it was still an option available to the consumer. Future revisions of the PS3 would take PS2 compatibility out, but all consoles still have the capacity to play PS1 discs. The Xbox 360 was never fully compatible with the library of the original Xbox, but you could still play the likes of 2002’s Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and The Punisher on it.
These consoles also introduced the concept of digitally distributed games to their respective ecosystems, and for a time, they were a great way to play classic Marvel games. In 2009, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes was revived complete with online play, and this was followed by the likes of Konami’s X-Men, marking the first time it was ever available to play at home, and Marvel vs. Capcom Origins that collected Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes and Marvel Super Heroes.
All of these suffered the same problem that faces the preservation of all licensed video games: expiration of rights. As none of these ever got a physical release, they’re now lost to everyone except those who bought them when it was still an option to do so. Most of these are now part of Arcade1up’s line-up, with the exception of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, one of the most beloved fighting games of all time that celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary last year but was nowhere to be found to buy except on eBay for a lot of money. I would know, I spent $150 securing a copy of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on PS2 last April that didn’t even have its manual.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was supposed to make an appearance at EVO 2020, however due to alleged abuse allegations from its co-founder, not to mention the ongoing pandemic, the event was cancelled. Even if it had gone ahead, there’s no way, at least legally, to play MvC2 online or otherwise unless you owned the digital rerelease which is now from two generations ago.
As someone who spends perhaps too much time thinking and writing about comic book games, it would perhaps shock you to reveal that I’m in fact, not a lawyer. I’ll allow you to collect yourself for a moment. However, two things appear evident from an outsiders perspective. One, it looks like it’s far easier to bring back classic licensed games in a form like an arcade machine – Arcade1up’s output is evidence of this, not to mention Capcom Home Arcade that featured Alien vs. Predator – and the people responsible for brokering these deals are not associated with Marvel Games, but rather Disney proper.
When the announcement came that X-Men was coming back from Arcade1up, there wasn’t as much as a like or retweet from the official Marvel Games twitter account, which mostly appears to be dedicated to promoting their catalog of mobile games and releases from 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man onwards. This is understandable as they want to chart their new era and direction for Marvel’s digital future, but it’s also important to celebrate the past. There seems to be a distinct lack of passion and enthusiasm overall for retro Marvel titles from Disney, as seen in their approval of a shirt found on the IGN store listed as “X-Men Arcade” that’s clearly from Capcom’s X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse.
This stands in stark contrast to classic Star Wars games. Limited Run for example has rereleased titles going all the way back to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back on NES to Shadows of the Empire on Nintendo 64. These have all have been treated with the upmost care and respect with the packaging on certain editions emulating famous action figure card backs. I can’t be the only one who would love to see Spider-Man/Venom: Maximum Carnage brought back in a similar way with a matching motif. Can you imagine X-Men 2: Clone Wars or Mutant Apocalypse with the trademark orange backing from X-Men figures in the 90’s?
The difference here is ownership and effort on the part of Disney. Before they began to license the property to developers like BioWare, Star Wars games were crafted internally by LucasArts. It can be inferred that when Disney bought everything from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away that this included video games also. Marvel never had the luxury of having an internal game division like LucasArts, with titles being handled by a myriad of developers and publishers like Sega, Capcom and Acclaim. Bringing back these games, even if it can be done at all as who knows where things like source code are now, requires effort that, as far as Disney is concerned, probably isn’t worth it for the return on investment.
I’m a huge cheerleader for what Arcade1up is doing, even if I’m already a couple of cabinets behind and see no way in the immediate future of ever having the money or space to support their business model. Therein lies the problem really, as playing absolute classics like Konami’s X-Men and the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes without emulating them shouldn’t cost more than a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Of course not every Marvel video game form the past needs to make a dramatic comeback, but the ones that have stood the test of time, like the entirety of what’s in Arcade1up’s catalog, should be packaged in ways that everyone can enjoy them without putting themselves into financial debt.