Another day, another precise but uninspired 2D fighting game from Capcom: this was the feeling that had clouded the arcades recently, specifically Capcom-loyal arcades where CPS2 fighters, each only slightly different (and rarely better) than the last, lined the walls in force. One notable exception had been X-Men: Children of the Atom, which combined the DarkStalkers animation style with bizarre, wacky physics that suited the characters perfectly: thirty-foot leaps, 1-button projectiles, 50-hit supers, and, most importantly, the ability to speed up, armor or heal your fighter. X-Men did extremely well in American arcades, and the sequel, Marvel Super Heroes, did even better, finally allowing Capcom to compete with Midway and the new champion of the arcades, Namco. Meanwhile, Street Fighter III was still in development, what was expected to be the best entry in a series whose name is still spoken with reverence among elite fighting game wonks like me. Capcom had two very different series, each successful, that appealed to very different audiences. Thus when I saw, on a fan-based Capcom webpage, pictures of a new game called X-Men vs. Street Fighter, which appeared to consist of characters from Street Fighter Alpha superimposed onto screenshots of X-Men, I assumed it was a prank.
As you know if you've been paying attention, it wasn't; the game came out and continued Capcom's hot streak in American arcades. The critical establishment, a.k.a. the specialized press, a.k.a. the elite fighting game wonks mentioned earlier, who had been hoping it would be closer to a pure-bred Street Fighter game, panned it as being a retread of the X-Men engine with SF characters carelessly thrown in. X-Men fans loved it because, well, it appeared to be a retread of the X-Men engine with SF characters carelessly thrown in. In reality, Capcom did a marvelous (if you'll excuse the pun) job melding the two engines; about half of the things that made X-Men so distinctive were included, the result being that Cyclops played a little more like Ryu, Ken played a little more like Wolverine, and neither group of characters had any unfair advantage over the other. Eight X-Men and eight Street Fighters, plus Akuma, who had appeared in both games, plus Apocalypse, a massive Mega Man-style boss, made up the cast. And it was good.
That was the arcade version. The Saturn version is, as a conversion, perfect. I didn't get to play the arcade game as much as I would have liked, but as far as I can tell, even Juggernaut has all his animation frames, the sound (a sore point in previous CPS2-Saturn ports) is identical, down to the accents on the characters. So, I'm not going to waste your time going over every category. You're playing the arcade version, no more, no less.
No less is great news, but no more is kind of disappointing; like Capcom's previous 4MB masterpiece, Vampire Savior, there are no training or tournament modes; more importantly, there's no 1-on-1 mode, which would have been nice. On the plus side, beating the game without continuing (don't worry, it's easy) opens up 2 new colors for every character and the ability to choose two of the same guys on one team. The AI seems a little bit easier than the arcade, but can still be kind of annoying.
Ultimately, these are the four main reasons to play the game, in descending order: Gambit, Cammy, Rogue and Sabretooth. Cammy's been missed every since her last appearance in SSF2T, and the other three seem to have been designed with fighting games in mind. As with Vampire Savior, the characters make the game, and these guys are a joy to play as.
Underrated by the critics, X-Men vs. Street Fighter succeeds beautifully in adding some depth to X-Men and some flash to Street Fighter. This is even more amazing when you consider what an bizarre idea it is. In terms of pure, visceral, get-hopped-up-on-caffeine-and-battle-your-friends-until-dawn enjoyment, this is the best either series has ever seen.
-Peter the Malcontent