In comics the X-Men have been a popular property in recent times. While the popularity of Marvel’s mutants has rarely been at risk in the last couple of decades, the current narrative arc, launched with the House of XBook in 2019 has given new life to characters and stories. That same story has all the makings of a thrilling video game and one that uses a very particular gameplay structure – the roguelike. A roguelike X-Men X-Men could be a great way to capture the best of current fiction. That vision is best when it comes from small teams that have creative freedom and can make the game their own.
Uninitiated: Dawn of XThe storyline played a key role in the relaunch of the X-Men comics a number of years back. We rewrote some aspects of the story to energize the mutant books. [Notable spoilers follow, in case you’re still hoping to discover it for yourself.] The X-Men have a new place. Magneto and Xavier have gotten over old enmities. The majority of mutants live in one nation, the mutant nation. After feeling underdogs for decades, many mutants now feel united and want to be able to sit at the inter-galactic (and international) table. This is due to the great secret that many mutants hold. Thanks to an interplay of power from key members of their ranks, every mutant can be resurrected and brought back into battle after they die.
Und sie sterben. There have been many dramatic twists in the X-Men series of books. Some of our favourite heroes like Jean Grey and Wolverine met tragic ends only to return to Krakoa to carry on their fight. The heroes have the option to die and return the following issue. It’s a fun scene. The miraculous secrets of resurrection are constantly at risk. “Oh no! If you die in this other world, you don’t come back right!,” and other related shenanigans help to maintain narrative tension. Power fantasy adds a powerful twist to the X-Men’s ongoing themes, namely that a minority population is often subjected to violence or even death by an indifferent society. This painful reality is reversed in these stories and gives power to the heroes.
Gamers don’t need to hear too much about the fun of heroes who die, then restart the battle from the start. Roguelikes have gained popularity over the years and offer something unique that no other game can match. You will eventually die after fighting hard in a series of seemingly impossible battles. You can use the knowledge gained during the fight to get a bit further next time. Learn skill, mastery and knowledge. “One more run!” becomes the mantra.
I’d love to see Marvel recognize the potential for the X-Men’s current resurrection-focused stories to translate over into a roguelike game. And to do it justice, they should entrust that effort to the same sort of team that has had the most luck in capturing the intensity and excitement of the roguelike formula – small, independent studios who have already walked these paths with successful games.
Imagine Dead Mage using its skills to create a Children of Morta-style game, but instead creating an action/adventure with characters such as Storm and Jean Grey. Or consider Motion Twin’s side-scrolling exploration as seen in Dead Cells, but with Wolverine slashing through a heavily guarded space station orbiting the sun. Mega Crit Games helped popularize the card-based deckbuilding roguelike; it’s not hard to envision its take on Marvel’s mutants, unlocking new characters with each run, and drawing new cards for your deck that reflects mutant powers.
Many independent developers leave large studios in order to follow their artistic visions. They want the freedom to make their own mistakes and triumphs and take risks that a big dev house simply won’t take. Marvel, like other major license holders, should consider this philosophy and think about partnerships that can take that risk-taking attitude. Many small studios were formed in pursuit of their interests and are hesitant about pursuing other creative projects. However, this is not the first time that independent companies have been able to escape sequels, corporate gaming development and sometimes even licensing. However, I suspect at least some smaller studios would jump at the opportunity to create something with a big property like the X-Men, especially if the pitch was: “We loved the work you did on your last game. There is a story idea about resurrecting mutants within the X-Men legendology to continue the tough fight. We’d love to give you the freedom to take that and run with it in your own direction.”
I’ve been impressed with Marvel’s willingness to take chances in recent years, extending opportunities to work on popular franchises like Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Midnight Sons (Suns), and The Avengers to a variety of top-tier development houses. Insomniac recently announced a Wolverine-specific game. Next, we will open up the possibility of smaller deals with less-known studios that have strong talent and have proven successful stories. This could lead to some amazing games.
Few franchises are as ripe to receive such attention as the X-Men. Varied superpowers from an array of richly drawn characters, lots of memorable conflicts and villains, and a story setup that lets players experience that live/die/repeat structure that makes roguelikes so fun – it all adds up to a game that fans would love to experience. It’s okay for some licensed games to be smaller, feature pixel art, or take characters in unusual directions that you’d never try in a larger and more expensive project. I’m ready to take Cyclops on that seemingly impossible mission to hunt down Nimrod, only to face his demise, and then be forced to try again, optic blasts at the ready. Although the concept could be a great game, it is only possible to make the dream a reality with the right partner.
#XMen @Fantastic #Roguelike Hands