Sunday, January 31, 2016

Vile and Disgusting: Ex-Mutants (Genesis)

Ex-Mutants (Genesis, 1992)

It's sort of curious, in hindsight, the big library of exclusives the Sega Genesis enjoyed; today the SNES is considered the vastly superior system in every regard, except for its notoriously slow processor (a weakness Sega had no qualms pointing out, again and again). But the early '90s were a different time, and games were most definitely more local; Japanese games were often washed of their origins, and western properties didn't hold much sway in the east. It's easy to forget that the Genesis, with its two year head start and aggressive advertising campaign, initially dominated the industry, the first real challenger to Nintendo's stranglehold. It's equally easy to forget that the system didn't enjoy nearly the same success in Japan, playing catch-up with the SNES and even the TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine. Which goes a long way towards explaining the number of exclusive American comic games the Genesis enjoyed. The SNES in the West didn't see a single exclusive DC/Marvel comic game until Capcom's X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse (1995), while the Genesis had been enjoying exclusive Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and X-Men games as early as 1990 (side note: the SNES did see an exclusive Spider-Man game, called Lethal Foes, in 1994, but it was never localized).

Ex-Mutants is one of those games, given the context, so clearly marketed towards Sega's American audience. Its very existence is a bit of an oddity; sure, comics were literally selling millions in the early '90s, but publisher Malibu Comics was pretty third-rate. Their entire line of comics was modeled after Valiant Comics, which itself was merely a a 4th option (after Marvel, DC, and Image) for superhero fans. Hardly what anyone would consider a hot license, so it makes sense the game was developed internally - Malibu had its own game development branch, which wasn't limited to comic properties (though not many people would claim they were responsible for many classics). The same branch was also responsible for the better-known Dinosaurs for Hire (also a Malibu property), which featured ads plastered in every comic in 1992, it seems.

Ex-Mutants as a game is pretty unremarkable; it's the same action-platformer you've seen dozens of times on the Genesis. Which doesn't make it all that bad. You have access to one of two heroes (alas, no switching), with a very typical fast/weak and slow/strong split. Levels are spacious and somewhat expansive - they require you to hunt down a doodad before you can progress, though the design is all pretty obvious and unimaginative. A number of pick-ups enhance your offense. A few will add a ranged attack to your melee weapon - like throwing shuriken everytime you swing your axe. The others are all bombs, used by a separate button - ticking C4, bouncing balls, homing orbs. These are necessary to blow up walls to progress or discover the game's rather obvious secret rooms. I'd say you're encouraged to use them pretty liberally on enemies too - it's easy to have a tendency to save them for bosses, but levels are littered with more ammo. What's more is that enemies can be pretty cheap at close range, and it's often easier to take them out with ranged bombs. It's not that the hit detection is bad or anything, but every time you approach an enemy, most will lunge at you from a few feet away and score an instant hit. It's not as frustrating as it sounds, but it definitely takes a while to get into the rhythm of the game's combat; otherwise the game provides very little challenge. Dying restarts you exactly where you fell, and unlimited continues put you at the beginning of the relatively short levels.

The fundamentals are sound; even the mine-cart level is inoffensive, and no one likes those. If this kind of action platformer is your thing, go for it. Everyone else... well, they might get a kick out of the game's presentation. The music is fine, if forgettable, and the sound design is the usual assortment of muffled clumps and farts that most Genesis games used, though it does a few digitized voice clips. Sprites are nothing special - bombs just sort of launch out of the character's otherwise unanimated body - but backgrounds are nicely detailed. Of more interest, though, are the amusingly grotesque bosses - more specifically, their death animations. Most of the bosses are pretty large, and hitting and killing them results in some hideous "UGH!" clips. Upon death a boss's body starts imploding, it would seem, as his flesh starts exploding off of him and his guts begin to spill out. In one memorable case, upon "defeat" a boss's stomach gets ripped wide open and its guts start spilling out - chasing after you until you can defeat the boss again. Clean, wholesome fun.

Granted, "not shoddy" is hardly what we'd call high praise, but it sums up the game well enough. The story, which is not worth mentioning, might be amateurish and third-rate - for a comic book in the early '90s. But for a game, it's more than what similar games would offer. But seeing as this was developed internally by the comic publisher's own development branch, the entire game has a ring of authenticity to it. An opening scene establishes an elaborate (for a 16-bit game) backstory, and after each boss you're treated to some text and talking heads, using what looks like genuine character art. It isn't much, to be sure, authenticity goes a long way in a generation full of cheap licensed cash-ins.

All screenshots are my own; box art from GameFAQs.


  1. totally forgot about this game. Looks kind of neat. I always liked the box art.

  2. Give it a try, it's not a terrible game. Fun fact: the box art is ripped directly from the cover of one of the comics.

  3. Definitely going back to give this a shot. Love some eXXXtreme 90s comics shit.