This game is filled with hate… and it might be accidental.
Ex-Mutants is a 16-bit videogame for the Sega Genesis. Right off the bat, you’d probably assume this is some manner of Donkey Kong to X-Men’s King Kong. The videogame industry has a long and storied history of committing light plagiarism on the way to making an extra buck, and for every Enter the Dragon there are about six hundred videogame “homages” (and, oh yeah, the entire fighting game genre). It wouldn’t surprise anybody that, in an effort to get a chunk of that Fox Kids pie, someone cut off a slice of the X-Men, and renamed the thing to be just confusing enough to trick grandma into a purchase. Little Timmy really enjoys those Ex-Mutants, right? Better get this game featuring Gambo, Jaguar, and One-Eyed.
But the Ex-Mutants were not created to rip off the X-Men for videogame gains. No, the Ex-Mutants were created to rip off the X-Men for comic book cash. Back in 1986, Ex-Mutants was created to be, basically, a parody of the X-Men franchise. This was a sort of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles situation, wherein the original premise is kind of reversed or otherwise distorted (reminder: TMNT is a Daredevil parody that took on a life of its own), and a completely different animal emerges from the… mutation. In this particular case, in a world of mutants, five “genetically pure” humans are cloned and released into the wild. The humans are supposed to bring a message of hope and humanity… but with four women and one man, it winds up being a sort of goofy Tenchi Muyo-esque affair with an excuse for Ron Lim to draw pretty ladies every other page. What’s important is that the tone isn’t all that serious, and it wasn’t really meant as a “competitor” for the X-franchise any more than any other comic book. Oh, also, there were like ten issues, total, so it didn’t exactly set the world on fire.
But then came the ridiculous comics boom of the early 90’s. For reasons no one has ever quite understood, comic books suddenly became collector’s items for a period of about seventy minutes, and the entire industry made a mad dash to publish any old crap and slap sixteen holofoil covers on said crap. Malibu picked up Ex-Mutants, and then the series ran for a solid eighteen issues (over a year!), before being cancelled forever. In case you’re curious, this Genesis game was based on the Malibu incarnation.
At this point, I’d like to describe the Malibu Ex-Mutants series for you… but, for some reason, there is a dearth of information available on the net regarding that particular failed franchise. Basically, every description of Ex-Mutants I can find is focused exclusively on the original series, and I guess nobody cares about the Malibu incarnation. This… may be for the best. From what I can tell, Malibu Ex-Mutants was much more of a dedicated X-Men/Gen 13 affair, and featured an even division of men and women. But don’t worry, Ex-Mutants did remember its roots, as the cover of issue 2 was already leaning pretty heavily into the cheesecake…
Of course, without some helpful Ex-Mutants wiki, those kinds of covers are all we have to go on for this series. It… looks serious? I mean… could it be when their prime villain is a giant slug named Sluggo? But these covers are practically indistinguishable from the X-Men 2099 line, and those were the most serious comics that ever happened. Oh, Ex-Mutants, we hardly knew ye.
But perhaps looking to the Genesis tie-in game will provide some answers. The Genesis X-Men games were some of the best on the system, and, for those of us that didn’t read comics, were an excellent introduction to the series. This is Gambit, these are his powers, and check out his rad stick. Here’s Wolverine, he’s got claws, and aren’t they cool? Ex-Mutants could do the same for its parent franchise, and the game does do a great job of introducing the premise right off the bat. Here’s a fun fact: the Ex-Mutants are racist!
Okay, this might be a problem with being a dedicated X-Men fan for decades, but when the concept is that mutants have “polluted our gene pool” and only “pure” humans should be the future… Like, that’s something the nefarious Senator Robert Kelly says before he’s proven to be a sentinel plant, right? This is exactly what Magneto was afraid of, and he’s usually right when he’s not secretly Hitler. But X-bias aside, there is the little matter that the “genetically pure” examples of the human race are… a little pale. The guys are certainly all white guys, and… I think we maybe have one Asian woman? Other than that, we have tan-white and super-white. I realize that this was kind of a standard for the 90’s (including “maybe Asian”, this is technically a gang that is actually more diverse than the cast of Friends), but it becomes something else when you’re talking about “genetic purity” and “the future of the human race”. The original Ex-Mutants included an African-American (… does that term still apply to ex-mutants of the future?) woman, I’m not sure why her and her entire race got ditched for the reboot.
But, fine, let’s just chalk that one up to white defaulting and move on. Ex-Mutants for Genesis lamely chooses to follow the Battletoads route to success: there’s a full team of six Ex-Mutants, but all but Player 1 and Player 2 have been captured, because there is only so much sprite budget to go around. This is forgivable, but it does the franchise no favors, as we have no idea if the other Ex-Mutants are unique and beautiful humans (Princess Daisy) or just professional kidnap victims (Princess Peach). Then again, all we learn about the two playable characters are that Ackroyd has an axe, and Shannon has an ass. Not exactly a great way to get a neophyte into the franchise (unless you’re Sir Mix-a-Lot).
But we do get some information on Sluggy the super villain and Professor Kildare, the leader of the Ex-Mutants. Sluggo is a giant slug mutant… and that’s all we need to know about that. But Professor Kildare, now there’s a character! He’s a brilliant scientist and a cyborg! Who apparently runs on batteries! And, since he’s your boss, you have to find a fresh battery for him somewhere in every level, or you must repeat the stage! But it’s worth it! Because if you didn’t have Professor Kildare around, you wouldn’t have his great tips… on where to find his batteries. … This is cyborg slavery!
But don’t worry, the fun doesn’t end there! Ex-Mutants plays very similarly to the Genesis X-Men titles, but, while those could be generally difficult (or marginally impossible) because they were built to be difficult, Ex-Mutants is a pain in the ex-butt because of various places where the traps are ambiguously impossible. Alternating disappearing platforms are just fine in Mega Man because they’re precisely timed, in Ex-Mutants, you’re likely to jump around like an idiot because it will take a solid thirty seconds before all the platforms actually line up properly… and then you’re greeted with a deadly buzzsaw! Bosses, naturally, are no better, as they have long, long periods of invincibility or patterns wherein it’s impossible to even approach their general proximity without taking a hit. And, just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, there’s a mine cart stage! And it goes without saying that you get absolutely no invincibility frames after being hit.
This all adds up to… a less than enjoyable experience. Maybe Ex-Mutants started as a parody. Maybe the Malibu Ex-Mutants videogame was supposed to be an amusing spoof of similar videogames. Maybe this game was supposed to popularize the Ex-Mutants for the 16-bit generation. Maybe the game was supposed to be, in some tiny way, actually fun. Unfortunately, Ex-Mutants fails on all these points, and all that is left is a lousy platforming/action game that kinda looks like an X-Men title if you squint really hard. If you don’t squint, though, all you’ll see is hate. Hate for the player, hate for the franchise, and hate for the poor schlub that thought that was Scott Summers on the cover, and not some dork with an axe.
Ex-Mutants is hate for your Sega Genesis.
FGC #333 Ex-Mutants
- System: Sega Genesis. It’s the most Ex-system.
- Number of players: Just one. You have your choice of Ex-Mutant, though.
- Preferred Ex-Mutant: Between Ackroyd and Shannon, I’ll take Shannon. Ackroyd seems to do more damage, but Shannon is faster, and, like in other games, speed is king. Come to think of it, is that why the platforming bits were so difficult? Because Shannon moves faster than the “default” character? This is another reason this game is hate.
- Because you Suck: Or maybe I just don’t like this game because it actively insults you for losing.
Thanks, playable character! Cram it!
- 16-Bit Geography: As far as I can tell, this game takes place in a city, The Amazon Rain Forest, and then another city. Either that, or Central Park has gotten really overgrown in the future.
- Did you know? The original Ex-Mutants protagonist was named Belushi. The second incarnation featured the heroic Ackroyd in the leading role. I’ll let you figure that one out.
- Would I play again: Not for all the Ex-Mutants merchandise in the world.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… NBA Jam Tournament Edition for the Super Nintendo! Way to go, ROB! You’re on fire! Please look forward to it!