Overall Rating: 1.5/5 Stars
There was many video games released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System that became classics beloved by millions and even breaking into pop culture relevance. Other cartridges, however, were piles of utter junk that were hardly playable and gained notoriety for entirely different reasons; developer LJN was somewhat known for being more likely to release a bad title rather than a good one, and among the turds they pushed onto an unsuspecting public was Wolverine in 1991, which was indeed based on the popular Marvel Comics character and member of the X-Men.
Playing as mutant titular protagonist Wolverine, the player must traverse through several varied stages, each with a differing theme but all of them packed with many forms of the same faceless, lightly colored clone people, somewhat like the Silver Surfer en masse and less powerful. Each of these stages has a name that hints at their features, like Level 2: Trial By Air, which takes place in the sky amidst flying contraptions; Level 4: Trial By Water, which forces the player to master swimming mechanics with a limited air supply; Level 5: Trial By Terror, an oddly dark level that plays more like something out of a Castlevania crypt; and Level 6: Trial By Fire, which is somewhat self-explanatory, and others, leading up to Level 9: The Final Battle.
This two-dimensional action platformer also features some bosses between certain stages, in addition to the precision-jumping, enemy-dodging, pattern-memorizing aspects throughout the actual levels. In the comics, movies, and other media, Wolverine is a nearly indestructible beast of a man with claws that can cut through nearly anything. His video game avatar is very different, in this case: The claws can be sheathed or unsheathed, but using them actually reduces his life bar. Whether or not the claws (which are more powerful and have a slightly longer reach than the usual punch) are out, the B button punches and the A button jumps, there is a crouch, and the Select button is used to either toggle the claws or call in Havoc, an ally that lets Wolverine rest, a weird little function.
The fact that using Wolverine’s claws damages him cannot be forgiven. This is asinine. A game featuring a character most known for ripping his foes to shreds should not be reduced to a fragile, foe-punching nincompoop who cannot use his signature fighting moves. There is no reason to make the design decision to make the claws a consequence rather than a benefit, other than to irritate gamers and X-Men fans. This means that LJN actually intentionally chose to make this a much worse, less enjoyable, stupider game than it could have been.
There are other odd flaws as well, such as the way Wolverine takes damage: In many NES video games, such as the Mega Man franchise, taking damage grants the character a temporary moment of invulnerability, wherein the player can use a couple precious seconds’ worth of time to escape the situation and move to safety, or bypass an especially difficult area. In other games, like the Ninja Gaiden series, taking damage knocks the character backward, which can be annoying but at least gives an interesting gameplay mechanic in some samples. For Wolverine, however, you just sit there and take damage rapidly as long as you are touching something. This means that if you are standing in front of an enemy and hit it, which you have to be at close range for, you are fine; but if you are a few too many pixels close, your health bar will be dropping as long as you stand there, along with an annoying buzzing sound.
Overall, the gameplay shows the usual shoddy development that LJN was reliable for. This was not a tightly honed game with slick controls and an enjoyable experience. It is very challenging, has a few weird quirks (the berserker mode is one, and not worth explaining), and some mind-numbingly ridiculous design decisions (the claws that mystically kill yourself when using). It stands to say, however, that this is definitely a superior game to the X-Men title on the NES, and at least it is a beginning-to-end platformer quest with varied challenging areas.
The visuals for this 8-bit video game are actually decent, with Wolverine’s character being recognizable, most of the animation operating smoothly, not too many flickering or slowdown problems, and fun appearances by some old X-Men foes like Magneto. In this reviewer’s opinion, the clone enemies actually look cool, though it would be understandable to believe they get stale after a while. At least they come in different varieties, such as the annoying jet-pack ones that fire at you from above.
The music is alright, the sound effects are okay. The audio for this game is better for many, but not within the upper echelons of the NES experience.
The problem with the NES iteration of Wolverine is that the concept itself, of taking a popular license character and producing a below-average game with him or her as the starring vehicle, was not original at all. However, the parts of this game that are “innovative” are dreadful aspects, like having Wolverine’s claws damage him as they are used. This video game actually would have been much better had it been a little simpler: Have Wolverine’s claws out at all times without being self-damaging, fix the hit-detection oddities, and voila, a decent platformer. Instead, we have a very “meh” game that could be worth some replay value as a very challenging action title, but still only merits one and a half stars out of five.
For a look at other NES video game reviews, including other popular-license titles, check www.NintendoLegend.com.