Friday, May 01, 2009

AdVantage Point: Wolverine Adamantium Rage (1994)

Give an idiot a scanner and a comic book, and let him pick out all the advertisements for video games.
This is AdVantage Point -- a chance to document the winding timeline of comics/gaming history as it was canonized by the adverts. Musings, rantings, observations, advertisements.

With the arrival of May comes the moderately anticipated release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in cinemas, and on game consoles, worldwide. The dual release ensures those who are lazy, disinterested, or illiterate, can finally learn the secret history of the much marvelled mutant.

When it comes to slashing claws, berzerker barrages, and gravelly brooding, few stalwarts of the medium can rival the iconic X-Man. With a well seasoned traveller in the realm of video games under their wing, Raven Software could've easily slackened off in the comfort of knowing they were part of a multimedia sure-thing. Instead, they went the extra mile to ensure their Wolverine game could stand-out in the crowd, attaching themselves to the violent origins of a character who, despite having six inch blades sticking out of his hands, is all too often pacified by kid-friendly ratings.

It's undeniable that Raven have pushed the graphical boundaries to match-up with the dreamy human pectacular that is the film's star, Hugh "Huge" Jackman, but unfortunately, that itself brings with it it's own baggage.

By tying in to the film Raven instantly bought in to a brand that was ready to be exploited.
While the filmic Wolverine offers a gritty hyper-realistic platform upon which the Wolverine game could be designed, the militant recreation, though conceivably palatable to mainstream gaming audiences, leaves little to inspire future generations.

Today's feature ad isn't entirely dissimilar from the 2009 release.
Now fifteen years old; Adamantium Rage pits Wolverine against a host of villains familiar to the decade, such as Bloodscream, Cyber, Albert the robo-clone, and Psi-Borg, as well as enduring mainstays like, Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike, and the Hellfire Club. Unfortunately, these mid-nineties references drag the title down in a similar fashion to Origins, bogging the game down in less than intriguing elements from the heroic canon. Also like 2009's game is the awfully generic surroundings Wolverine is thrust into as he grapples with grossly powerful enemies, unremarkable level designs, grubby graphics, and surprisingly clunky controls.

In the modern era, you can at least be thankful that the mass slaughter of 2009's bland villains will come much easier; the overall quality of the visuals will be improved; and you won't have to see Elsie Dee at any point -- the hilariously named exploding little-girl-cyborg friend of Albert.

While ties to the film franchise are likely to muddy the connections between Origins' story and the facts of the thirty-plus year canon; Origins will benefit, like the film, from an era where the once legendary mysteries of Wolverine's past have been put to bed.
The false memories that once plagued the character with nauseating repetition now give way to decades of history as the immortal mutant walks a path of relative immortality thanks to his mutant healing factor. This history contributes to revealing the titular origins, whilst meandering into other recent revelations, like the existent of other instalments of the Weapon Plus program, into which James "Logan" Howlett was submitted in it's tenth (Weapon X) iteration. This was the process famously revealed to have grafted the unbreakable adamantium metal to his skeleton -- which included boney retractable claws!

This composite history established over the past three decades comes together as a glorious whole.
If you've read this blog, you know I'm a story guy, and from that perspective, it's pleasant that there can be some conceptual spine to a narrative that features FMV cut scenes and a handful of guest stars from the film (Sabretooth, Deadpool, Gambit) and others, like the robot-hunting Sentinels, whose giant-sized robotic proportions were always too financially unviable to make it to the big screen.

Where does this stream of consciousness take us?
Well, I'm going to introduce a third-act plot twist -- the greatest comic book game known to man.

Though graphically superior in terms of it's visual fidelity and violence, Origins can't hold a candle to Adamantium Rage's mid-nineties contemporary, X-Men 2: Clone Wars.

While playable characters included Cyclops, Gambit, Beast, Psylocke, and Nightcrawler, the X-sequel boasted some impressive Shinobi III-esque SEGA gameplay, an expansive list of tough-but-fun levels, and a narrative that invited an A-list parade of villains [The Hand, Master Mold, Magneto, Apocalypse] before finishing with the titular menace of the Phalanax, made this one of the best games around!

Wolverine, complete with functioning healing factor (at lower health levels), and everready claws, was easily the most playable character on the list! Perfect for platforming speedruns, Wolverine embodied what was great about the game, putting cumbersome alternatives to bloody shame.

Unfortunately, licensing likely prevents the underrated classic getting a digital second-life.
Such issues haven't kept Wolverine out of the downloadable circuit, however. Capcom have just announced a digital release for the much-loved beat 'em up, Marvel versus Capcom 2. Worthy of note for it's depiction of the character in the 2D fighting arena, it's not only a classic triumph for Capcom, but hopefully a symbol of hope for anyone keen to find more colourful and traditional outlets for Wolverine.

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