Unfortunately, the best you can say about any comic book property's video game history is that it has been hit-or-miss. Some have definitely been worse than others--poor Superman has not only never had a truly great game, but Superman 64 is considered one of the worst games ever made--and some have game adaptations on the level of Batman: Arkham City.
So we have the highest of the high and the lowest of the low in the world of comic book-to-video game adaptations. And terms of the X-Men, that is very much the case, with the best being excellent and the worst being absolutely dreadful. The question is, how does the balance tip overall? Well, that's what we aim to find out with this here list!
The first X-Men video game was released in 1989 and, since then, 29 separate video games have been released that are headlined or co-headlined by either the team as a whole, or one of its members (read: Wolverine). It's a fairly low number compared to, say, Spider-Man, who has nearly 40 starring video game roles to his name--but it is way more than the currently red-hot Avengers, whose total video game conversations can be just about counted on one hand.
The X-Men are perfect for a video game--they are a team of characters with awesome super powers, each one has a distinct personality and set of abilities, their overall story is fascinating, and they have a whole bunch of interesting villains to choose from. But how well has this actually been realized in video game form as a whole?
29 The Uncanny X-Men (NES)
Can you spot which of those jumbled collections of pixels in that screenshot is supposed to be a member of the X-Men? Even on the NES, there was no excuse for an X-Men game to look that bad. But poor graphics could be forgiven the game itself was good--and The Uncanny X-Men was anything but.
The best thing you could say about this abysmal video game debut of the X-Men is that it was a two-player co-op game. But making someone play this with you was more of a punishment than anything else.
28 X-Men: Madness in Murderworld (PC)
Sadly, the X-Men's PC debut was only a tiny bit better than their console debut, but not by much. You could at least identify the characters in Madness, but that's of little consolation when what you're having them do is so completely boring.
That this game advertised over 500 screens of action should be taken more as a warning than a boast.
We aren't sure what the PC vs. console debate looked like in 1989, but for X-Men fans involved in that debate, everybody lost.
27 Wolverine (NES)
Licensed video games had a very bad rap in the late-80s to early-90s, and much of that had to do with publisher LJN, who seemingly spent so much money buying up every available property that they had none left to ensure that any of the corresponding video games were actually good.
Like many licensed games of the era, Wolverine feels like a generic, forgettable action game that was already basically finished when the developers were told a month before deadline that they had to shoehorn this character into it. Also, it was way too hard, even for an NES game.
26 X-Men II: The Fall Of The Mutants (PC)
Apparently there were enough gamers fooled into thinking that the previous X-Men PC game was worth buying that it sold well enough for a sequel. And those that either actually liked the original or were hoping that second time was a charm quickly found out that follow-up The Fall of the Mutants was essentially just as bad.
Is this a puzzle game? A point-and-click adventure game? A fighting game? It's a bad game, and that's all that matters.
Luckily, X-Men games were about to get much better after this dud...
25 Wolverine: Adamantium Rage (SNES, Genesis)
It certainly must be tricky to design a game around an entire team of mutants who each have their own very distinct set of superpowers, so it stands to reason that developers would occasionally just try and do a solo game--and that it would star Wolverine.
The developers of Adamantium Rage definitely gave Wolvie a lot of moves--but the problem is, the controls are so bad that it's hard to even effectively utilize most of them. This is one of those infamous old-school games where many players never even got past the first level before quitting in frustration.
24 Spider-Man And The X-Men In Arcade's Revenge (Multiplatform)
With the whole big mess over which company owns the rights to what Marvel properties in terms of movies, resulting in many of them remaining completely independent of each other (though that might soon change with the Disney/Fox merger), we don't see these kinds of fun crossovers very often.
Sadly, a cool team-up concept is spoiled by a lackluster game.
Arcade's Revenge's production was reportedly rife with conflicts between the developers and publisher Acclaim, and it shows--the game is disjointed, unpolished, and feels like it was made by people whose hearts just weren't in it.
23 X-Men: Wolverine's Rage (Game Boy Color)
Wolverine's Rage is like a lot of Game Boy games in that it was made quickly and cheaply and probably didn't need to sell much to be profitable.
"Mobile gaming" wasn't much different in a pre-smartphone world as it required wading through a LOT of licensed junk to find the good stuff.
To be fair, there are some solid X-Men games on handheld consoles--this just isn't one of them. And it might seem like we're picking on poor Logan here, but we promise that the next time he appears on this list it'll be a more positive write-up.
22 X-Men: Destiny (Multiplatform)
Of all the games on this list, none took a more interesting concept and completely squandered it on a bad game than X-Men: Destiny.
The idea of creating your own mutant and then having them either fight alongside the existing X-Men or Brotherhood of Mutants is definitely intriguing. But then you actually start playing the game, and find its ambitions rested entirely in its concept and left little for the gameplay itself, which was bland and uninspired. Not surprising, since this was made by Silicon Knights and that was kind of their M.O. (cough Too Human cough).
21 Uncanny X-Men: Days Of Future Past (Mobile)
It's hard to know how to feel about the current state of movie-licensed games and most of them just being mobile apps rather than AAA console/PC games. On one hand, a lot of AAA movie-based games are terrible and only serve to taint the property. But on the other hand, maybe we just don't need them at all then, mobile game or otherwise.
For a $3 app that doesn't require a million extra purchases, Days of Future Past isn't a terrible investment. But it's also an unnecessary one.
Then again, that describes 90% of all mobile games, doesn't it?
20 X-Men: Mutant Wars (Game Boy Color)
Here's another X-Men Game Boy title that feels mostly like it was designed to fool well-meaning uncles and grandmas into buying it for Christmas presents rather than actually being a genuinely good game. Admittedly, the visuals for Mutant Wars are decent and the X-Men themselves are well-animated, but there isn't much else remarkable about it.
There are worse side-scrollers for Game Boy Color than Mutant Wars--a lot worse--but there are also better ones, too. Like much of this particular segment of this list, this one is strictly for superfan completionists and nobody else should bother.
19 X-Men: Reign Of Apocalypse (Game Boy Advance)
The most obvious change in Reign of Apocalypse over the previous X-Men games for Nintendo handhelds is that the jump in horsepower to the Game Boy Advance makes for a much better-looking game. And the inclusion of two-player co-op is nice, even if it wasn't always the easiest thing to get coordinated on a GBA.
However, not to sound like a broken record here, but like its peers, Reign is just kind of...there. It's a fun enough diversion for a (single) car ride, but nothing will keep you coming back.
18 X-Men: Next Dimension (Multiplatform)
The X-Men are perfectly-suited for a one-on-one fighting game. And while Capcom had that locked down on the 2D side, developer Paradox--most famous for creating the cancelled PS1 brawler Thrill Kill--decided that the mutants should do battle in the third dimension.
This third installment of the 3D X-Men fighting game trilogy is the best-looking of the bunch...but also the least fun.
It's tough to pinpoint just what went wrong here, except to say that Next Dimension just seems to lack the simple charm of its predecessors. Still worth playing, but a disappointing end to the series.
17 X-Men (Game Gear)
It's no big spoiler to say that we'll be discussing the beloved X-Men Genesis game much farther down this list. Luckily, Sega didn't try and just shrink down that classic game for the Game Gear, and instead opted to build a completely different adventure for the system.
Like a lot of the Game Gear's library, X-Men didn't get the attention or recognition it deserved, despite being better than a lot of what was happening over on the Game Boy (especially in terms of the X-Men). An overlooked title worth either discovering or revisiting, whatever the case may be for you.
16 X-Men: The Official Game (Multiplatform)
Among comic book film franchises, the X-Men actually have one of the better track records in terms of video game adaptations, with all of them being pretty good. They even, surprisingly enough, mostly improved with each installment.
The debut X-Men movie game--based on the first two films--does nothing special, but does it pretty well.
The developers weren't looking to reinvent the wheel here: They just wanted to make a fun, light action game based on the movies, and to that end they definitely succeeded. While this all feels like backhanded compliments, we're just being honest here.
15 X-Men 3: Mojo World (Game Gear, Sega Master System)
As good as the original X-Men was for Game Gear, it might have been overlooked because people assumed it was just going to be a miniaturized port of the Genesis game. The series was able to break out of that with its two sequels, distinctly named and very clearly represented themselves as unique titles.
The third installment, Mojo World, takes a tiny step backward from the sequel but they are both basically on the same level quality-wise. Mojo World was also ported to the Master System in Brazil, making it technically the best non-handheld 8-bit X-Men game.
14 X-Men 2: Gamesmaster's Legacy (Game Gear)
As mentioned in the previous entry, it was almost like flipping a coin to decide how to order the second two Game Gear X-Men titles on this list--both are great and almost feel like two halves of one huge game, Sonic 3/Sonic & Knuckles-style.
However, ties are a cop-out, so we forced ourselves to make a call.
The things that ultimately led to Gamesmaster's Legacy getting the nod are the rare appearance of Cable and Bishop as playable characters; the inclusion of more niche X-Men villains like Shinobi Shaw, Fabian Cortez, and Trevor Fitzroy; and the superior plot.
13 X-Men: The Ravages Of Apocalypse (PC)
You might be skeptical about that screenshot, but we assure you that The Ravages of Apocalypse was indeed a real, commercially-released first-person shooter that let you shoot at the X-Men. Well, kind of.
This 1997 expansion pack for Quake re-imagined id Software's iconic fragfest as a weird adventure starring a gun-toting cyborg who has to fend off an army of evil X-Men clones. Yeah, they kind of copped out on that last part, but the amount of gore that results in mowing down one of the beloved mutants is jarring every time you see it.
12 X-Men: Mutant Academy (PlayStation)
There was plenty reason to be skeptical about a 3D X-Men fighting game for PS1--after all, this was the generation that brought us Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi. But those that kept an open mind and gave it a chance found Mutant Academy to be a pretty solid, very obviously Street Fighter-inspired (in a good way) fighting game.
While it's disappointing that it lacked the four-player support of the cancelled Thrill Kill as well as Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, two games made by the same developer with the same engine, the trade-off was gameplay that was tighter and less chaotic.
11 X2: Wolverine's Revenge (Multiplatform)
While it might seem like a movie tie-in game given its use of the title "X2" and featuring Hugh Jackman on the cover, Wolverine's Revenge had little to do with the film and was basically a straight-up comic book adaptation--the actual in-game Wolvie model looks nothing like Jackman, in fact.
It also features an interesting portrayal of Wolverine by none other than Mark Hamill.
The first Wolverine-focused game to finally get the character "right," the action is brutal and satisfying, if a bit repetitive. And Patrick Stewart voices Professor X, which is always a plus.
10 X-Men: Children Of The Atom (Multiplatform)
Now that we are four games deep into the Marvel Vs. Capcom series, it's easy to forget the slow progression that led to that series, beginning right here with the all-X-Men fighting game Children of the Atom. Laying much of the groundwork for what would eventually make up the Vs. franchise, CotA took the basic Street Fighter gameplay and amped everything up to 11.
The first steps of any new franchise are inevitably going to be wobbly, and CotA definitely had some polishing to do of its new concept--but much of that only feels so in retrospect.
9 X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 (PlayStation)
It goes this way for pretty much every fighting game franchise--the first installment lays the groundwork but is a bit rough around the edges, and it's in the first sequel that everything comes together and fulfills the original ambitions of the debut installment.
Mutant Academy 2 definitely honors this tradition by taking a pretty good fighting game and following it up with a really good sequel.
Featuring an impressive-for-its-time 18 playable characters--including a fun appearance by Spider-Man--the game improved on its predecessor in basically every way. One of the best 3D fighters on PS1.
8 X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Multiplatform)
We always hear about great movies that led to bad video games--but sometimes the reverse happens, and a bad movie leads to a great video game. The disappointing X-Men Origins: Wolverine somehow spawned the incredibly fun video game of the same name, and it remains one of the best ever digital representations of the character.
Smartly ripping off titles like God of War and Devil May Cry, Origins features smooth, satisfying hack-and-slash combat in gorgeous locales. And the updated Uncaged Edition brought the violence into hard M-rated territory, years before the movies finally went there with Logan.
7 X-Men Vs. Street Fighter (Multiplatform)
While X-Men purists might have resented having to share half the roster with Street Fighter characters, there's no denying that X-Men Vs. Street Fighter is a better-made game than Children of the Atom in basically all categories.
Introducing the now-iconic tag mode--though sadly absent from many home versions--X-Men Vs Street Fighter forced even seasoned fighting game vets to completely rethink how they played.
Look, obviously Marvel Vs. Capcom is better...but just among X-Men-headlining games, this is the best fighter there is. And subsequent MvC games have increasingly been more Avengers-focused anyway.
6 X-Men (Genesis)
Few comic book games based on any property are more beloved that X-Men for Genesis, and rightfully so--after years of either outright disappointing games, or games that were fun but shallow beat-em-ups, this game finally brought some depth and adventure to comic book video games.
Whether it was being able to "break" the game by using Nightcrawler's teleportation, the perfectly-utilized assist characters, or that brilliant fourth-wall-breaking moment when you are tasked to "reset the computer," X-Men isn't just one of the best comic book games--its among the best games ever made, period.
5 X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse (SNES)
Gamers have debated whether Mutant Apocalypse is better than X-Men for Genesis almost as passionately as they have argued over which 16-bit system had the best Aladdin game.
Whichever one we put ahead of the other, we were bound to make the other half angry.
But we had to make a call, and ultimately, we went Mutant Apocalypse. In a lot of ways, Genesis X-Men is the better game. But at the end of the day, MA is just more fun and more playable--and also looks quite a bit better. Also, MA has Psylocke, and 'nuff said there.
4 X-Men 2: Clone Wars (Genesis)
While everyone is busy squabbling over whether Genesis X-Men is better than Mutant Apocalypse for SNES, we'll be busy playing the game that is better than both of them, the best 16-bit console X-Men game of all time.
One of the rare games to have a "cold open" which just instantly dumps you into the action, Clone Wars makes one awesome decision after another, not the least of which is letting you play as Magneto! Gimmicks aside, it's just an incredibly well put together side-scroller than doesn't get nearly as much recognition for how fantastic it is.
3 X-Men Legends (Multiplatform)
There seems to be this assumption that comic book games have to be all-out action titles. In fact, many of the best ones aren't that at all--such as the with the excellent action/RPG title X-Men Legends.
Few games are a bigger celebration of their source material than the X-Men Legends games--and later, their evolution into the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series. It just feels like one big love letter to fans, from fans. That it also introduced a lot of console fans to the world of PC-style dungeon-crawler hackfests is just the icing on the cake.
2 X-Men Legends II: Rise Of Apocalypse (Multiplatform)
X-Men Legends was a huge hit, and with that success, the game's publisher saw that the sequel was worth spending a little more money on to smooth out some of the original's rough edges--the result of which is the absolutely excellent X-Men Legends II.
Unlike most of the games on this list, you can easily get swallowed up by this game even if you know nothing about the X-Men.
Many still even prefer Legends II to either of the Ultimate Alliance games, but that's all a matter of personal taste. You can't really go wrong with any of them.
1 X-Men (Arcade)
Both X-Men Legends games--and at least the next four or five entries after that on this list--are objectively better than the 1992 X-Men arcade game.
To that end, most artsy indie movies are "better" than most summer blockbusters, too--but we all know which we typically enjoy watching more.
It's a very by-the-numbers beat-em-up that shows all its cards within the first 30 seconds you play it. And nobody ever wants to be Dazzler. But so what--X-Men for arcades was, and still is, just a whole lot of button-mashing fun. And that's all we need it to be.