I don’t need to explain Wolverine. I don’t think I even need to explain Wolverine to my mom (the woman that looks at my Hellboy library editions and worries I may have joined a cult). Wolverine is, without question, the most popular X-Men character (non-Marrow bracket), and has not only appeared in every X-Men movie, he’s also had a fair few spin-offs. I’m pretty sure he had his own animated series in there, too. The odds of you reading this article (or even just being able to read) and not knowing of everyone’s favorite Canadian are so infinitesimally low, I’m disappointed in myself for even entertaining the notion of having a paragraph explaining the little mongrel.
Wolverine is friggen’ Wolverine. The end.
This was, to a point, even true in 1991. At that time, Wolverine hadn’t yet made his bub-laden splash on the X-Men animated series (to be released a year later), but Wolverine was still the most popular X-Men by a pretty significant margin. Like Mickey Mouse or Superman, I literally can’t remember when I first heard of Wolverine, but, somehow I already knew “that guy” by the time he had this solo adventure on the NES. Heck, he’d even already appeared two years earlier in (the abysmal) Uncanny X-Men for the NES. But, obviously, Wolverine’s original home was comic books, where he starred in an estimated twelve billion issues going all the way back to The Incredible Hulk #180. I still don’t completely understand the appeal (maybe it’s the hair?), but, somehow, Wolverine has become Canada’s most popular export over the last (nearly) half a century.
Now, you have any character running around for decades, and they’re going to pick up a few idiosyncrasies, particularly if they’re written by Chris Claremont. Wolverine is, for instance, Canada’s first samurai. He’s also fought in every war that has ever been, somehow. He hung out with Captain America, Nick Fury, and Black Widow all before they were famous. He has hunted and eaten dinosaurs. I think at one point he wore a nightdress. It’s been a good (“good”) couple of years for Logan, and his claws have diced up everything from robots to aliens to Nazis.
So there’s a pile of material to draw from for X-Men’s most violent mutant. Videogames, particularly of the NES era, were all about running around and wrecking stuff, so Wolverine would be a perfect fit with his menagerie of monsters. Grab a few issues, slap something together, and Sabretooth’s your uncle, we’ve got a game on our hands. Easy peasy.
Wolverine for NES… I guess it tries.
The first level of Wolverine is straightforward, and pretty much what you might expect for “Wolverine 8-bit Adventure”. We’ve got a bunch of platforms to hop around, some random soldiers with guns, and Silver Surfer-looking dudes that disappear, reappear, and shoot energy blasts. Allowing for the silver creatures to be mini-sentinels (or at least generic robots), this is pretty much Wolverine’s world, albeit one with more of an Arcade bend. Wolverine is trapped in some kind of deadly, tailor-made environment, but that seemed to happen to every other hero of the NES era, so par for the course.
Then Level 2, Trial by Air, is straight up a Mega Man stage. I guess the implication is that you’re on the underside of an airship (which did happen in Wolverine & Canuckles 3… wait, that might not exist), but between the disappearing robots, tiny platforms, harsh winds, and friggen magnets pulling Wolverine in random directions, well, I wouldn’t be surprised if some platforms were to cause mouth vs. nose debates a few years later. Why not stick Wolverine on a SHIELD helicarrier, guys? He’s good at those!
Level 3 is Trial by Traps, and it’s a ninja castle. Awesome! Wolverine loves fighting ninja. The game itself doesn’t explain if this is The Hand, Silver Samurai’s hired swords, or just a house full o’ ninja that Wolverine decided had to go, but what’s important are the series of spike traps, guillotines, and dudes in all black tossing around shuriken. This is some amazing Wolverine: Wandering Ronin nonsense, and, honestly, why isn’t this the entire game? We had some good times with ninja in the 80’s, let’s keep that party rolling!
Level 4: Trial by Water kills the momentum and may as well simply be named “The Water Level”. Honestly, as these things go, it’s not absolutely terrible, and I suppose it kind of fits in with the Wolverine motif and themes. He can heal from anything, right? So drowning is a threat, right? I seem to recall Daken having issues with puddles. Only issue is that, for once in all of gaming, Sonic the Hedgehog’s underwater style would make a lot more sense than the typical paddle along, swimming stage. Wolverine has a skeleton made of super dense metal: shouldn’t the backstroke do exactly nothing? The lil’ hairy dude should be sinking faster than Titanic 2: Electric Boogaloo. Bah! Physics aside, though, this is basically a less deadly version of that one Battletoads stage, which, alright, it does make sense for Wolverine to face the same challenges as Battletoads. They’re practically the same characters.
Level 5 is where it goes straight off the rails. Trial by Terror… I don’t know where they got this stage, but it sure wasn’t out of a Wolverine comic. I’ll happily be proven wrong on this, but everything about this stage screams, “transplanted from generic NES game”. There are skull piles, skeletons, slime creatures, and what appears to be some unholy mixture of Frankenstein’s Monster and something out of Plan 9 From Outer Space. There is nothing “Wolverine” about this, and… was there a Halloween issue somewhere? Something with Kitty Pride telling a story or something? I’m thinking not, and this was just an excuse to use a whole lot of skull assets.
Unfortunately, Level 5 also drained all the original ideas out of the game, so Level 6 is just “a cave, but on fire”. It’s hot, hot, hot!… and that’s about it. Try not to melt.
And then we’ve got Level 7 and 8, which are both basically remixes of the first level. “Into the Fortress” and “Defeat Magneto” both pick up the narrative that Magneto is out for blood (or metal?) and Wolverine has to infiltrate the malevolent (this week) mutant’s citadel. This means a lot of bottomless pits, spikes, and generic robots. Maybe the robots are being controlled by the Master of Magnetism? I don’t know. But at least we’re back on track for something that seems like a Wolverine game, albeit a fairly generic one. There aren’t any more slime monsters running around, at least.
Oh, and when you defeat Magneto, he just runs away like he forgot to turn the stove off.
But that’s okay, because the villain behind everything is Sabretooth, Wolverine’s rival that, depending on the issue, is either marginally brain dead or a Machiavellian schemer that never fails to make Logan’s birthday memorable. I suppose the plot here is that he was responsible for all the tricks and traps (and skeletons?) throughout the game, and now it comes down to Wolverine to end the Sabretooth menace once and for all.
You’re… not going to do that.
The idea here is to push Sabretooth off the nearby cliff (because Sabretooth is invincible, natch. Did you think you’d kill him with some magical sword?), but the NES is really not capable of controlling the AI for such a feat. As a result, please enjoy punching Sabretooth forever, and then having the jerk jump back to square one the minute you accidentally whiff a single punch. If you somehow complete this mission without first running out of lives and continues, you’re rewarded with Sabretooth taking a header off a cliff (which has never killed a villain outside of a Disney movie), and Wolverine taking off his own mask. Thanks for playing!
So that’s the entirety of Wolverine for the NES. Is it a Wolverine game? Well, the first and last levels seem to hit that bar, and Level 3’s Ninja Land couldn’t be more Wolverine if it stuck a redhead in there, but aside from that? We’ve got at least half the game that could be any game on the NES (particularly if that game was made by Capcom), and just happens to feature Marvel’s favorite son.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t have any answers on this one. Wolverine has gone through a few mutations of his own over the years, and if Wolverine NES was the next big thing, you better believe those adamantium claws would be slashing up generic gray robots for the next decade of comics. There’d be a crossover with Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and you’d like it, because, hey, Wolverine is in this one.
Wolverine is immortal (except when he’s dead), and, whether he’s fighting Lady Deathstrike or “I don’t know, a fire stage?” he’s always going to be Wolverine. He’s the best at what he does, and what he does ain’t consistent.
FGC #174 Wolverine (NES)
- System: This may surprise you, but Wolverine (NES) is a game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
- Number of players: Two player alternating. Now you can both be Wolverine! A shame this game predates X-23, because a purple palette swap with no other explanation would be boss.
- Spooky Details: The haunted graveyard (or whatever) stage features coffins that read “Logan”. Has that ever been scary? Seeing “your” name on a gravestone? I feel like there have been a number of times this has appeared in various media, but it only ever really seems scary when Scrooge McDuck is involved.
- Past the Censors: Wolverine recovers health by consuming hamburgers and… bottles? What’s in those bottles, Logan? Anything we impressionable children show know about?
- Support Group: Jubilee and Psylocke appear in this game to offer advice and react to things. We’ve also got Havok, Scott’s brother, who can be summoned if you find like one hidden door in one stage early in the game. I missed him, and I’m going to assume he’s completely useless, just like all Summers brothers.
- Did you know? Wolverine’s healing factor doesn’t seem to overtly help much throughout the game, as you’ve got limited lives, continues, and drawing the claws drains your health with every swing for some reason. But! Unusually for a NES game, you respawn almost exactly where you died after every defeat, so it’s kiiinda like immediately healing and coming back after every “death”. Kinda.
- Would I play again: Probably not. It’s not a bad experience, but Wolverine offers nothing new, one way or another. It’s not like I don’t have other X-Men options.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Herc’s Adventures for the Playstation! Let us venture back to an Ancient Greece that featured a number of surprisingly present/pudgy gods. Please look forward to it!