While a lot of comic book games can be fun, only a few are great enough to offer the kind of replay value that you can return to again and again. Several come to mind, including “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” the 2009 movie tie-in release that CBR News recently revisited.
Developers don’t necessarily need to pack on the extras in order to produce a classic game, though collectible comic book covers, alternate costumes and other goodies don’t hurt. No, it’s the combination of the gameplay and presentation that keeps us returning to some cartidges and discs more than others. Here, now, are CBR’s ten primary picks for comic book inspired games that may be a few years old, but are just as fantastic to play as they were the first day they came out. Try ’em out — you’ll probably feel the same way.
In 1989, we thought Tim Burton was a genius when he released his big-screen version of Dark Knight with a movie that leaned towards the hardcore style of the comic book while maintaining a sense of whimsy going throughout. (Having Jack Nicholson living the role of the Joker didn’t hurt either.) At the same time, Sunsoft released an NES action game that combined some of the better elements from both the films and the comic books, resulting in an exciting platformer with a few gameplay techniques that live on today in current Batman releases.
The player takes control of the Dark Knight as he leaps off walls, throws batarangs and punches his way through goons and other members of the Joker’s army, all in an attempt to bring peace back to Gotham City. The controls really work quite well, especially when it comes to wall jumps. Batman rebounds off of structures with relative ease, helping him reach higher-up areas and items. The punching/projectile attacks work well too, especially during the boss encounters where you’ll take on the likes of a rocket pack-wearing thug, a factory loaded with technical terrors and — finally — the Joker himself, who isn’t so easy to put down.
Aside from that, the graphics were impressive for NES at the time, and the music is one of the best 8-bit soundtracks we’ve ever heard. This is truly a big stepping stone for the Dark Knight, and a great starting point for better games to come.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
(Sierra Entertainment, PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube)
Games featuring the Incredible Hulk haven’t been all that great over the years — until the release of “Ultimate Destruction.” Most of the time, the jade giant’s abilities were limited, forcing you to do many things without feeling completely in control of the big green guy. Those times changed in 2005 when Sierra Entertainment and the developers at Radical Entertainment managed to finally get it right — you could control the Hulk, and everything he could possibly do.
The title says it all — this is a game all about Ultimate Destruction. There is literally no limit to what you can destroy in the game, from throwing objects at helicopters to bring them crashing down, to running up the sides of buildings and punching enemies out of mid-air, to ripping a car apart with your hands and turning the halves into an oversized pair of boxing gloves. The controls are flawless in nearly every regard and the game never loses its sense of fun. Even after the story’s over, you can still go back and mess up the city something fierce.
It’s too bad Radical Entertainment isn’t working on the Hulk franchise anymore. Sega has since taken it over, releasing a game based on the 2008 film that pales in comparison to “Ultimate Destruction.” Still, this one’s worth a revisit, and if it makes you feel any better, Radical’s next project, “Prototype 2,” will feature a similar style of “go anywhere, destroy anything” thinking.
Captain America and the Avengers
(Data East, Arcade/Sega Genesis)
In 1991, Data East took a huge stride forward in the arcade market with a game based on Marvel Comics’ Captain America and the Avengers. The development team chose the four playable characters carefully, including the laser-shooting Vision, the heavily armored Iron Man, the arrow-weilding Hawkeye and, of course, Captain America, who can hurl his shield at enemies from afar when he’s not punching and throwing them around. The game also featured appearances from other Avengers, including Quicksilver, Wonder Man and Wasp.
The game features two types of playable levels. The first involves side-scrolling fighting, with Captain America and his team beating up the forces of Red Skull using punching, jump kicking and projectile attacks. The second are side-scrolling shooting stages, where the group takes down airborne adversaries with a continuous stream of gunfire and shields. Both of these combined brilliantly, engaging groups of up to four players at once across numerous stages.
Home versions followed, but most of them were produced by Mindscape and were rather poor — especially the slow, underdeveloped SNES version. However, Data East did manage to pump out a faithful two-player version of the game for Sega Genesis, complete with all of its sound quotes. Our personal favorites are “Thank you…Wonder Man!” and “You can’t escape! You will be the one escaping!” Track down a copy and check it out for yourself. “Okay, go!”
X-Men 2: Clone Wars
(Sega, Sega Genesis)
A lot of great X-Men games have come out over the years, particularly the arcade game, which Konami re-released for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network a couple of months ago. If we had to pick just one, though, it would have to be “X-Men 2: Clone Wars,” a tremendously fun action/adventure developed by Sega for its Genesis console. Featuring six playable characters (along with an unlockable Magneto), the game challenges you to master all of their gameplay techniques as you attempt to stop the Phalanx, who are attempting to overtake the Earth.
Each of these characters — Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Nightcrawler, Psylocke and Wolverine — utilizes a different, personalized ability, from lasers to jumping attacks to special techniques. But no matter which one you choose, you’ll find a surprising amount of balance with each one, and feel compelled to go through it again with someone new after you’ve beaten the game. You’ll also run into a number of familiar adversaries over the course of your adventure, including Sentinels, Exodus and Deathbird, among others.
Along with terrific graphics (which have been improved over the original X-Men game for Genesis), Clone Wars features a soundtrack conducted by Kurt Harland of Information Society. Don’t worry, though — you won’t find any synthesized pop here; only top-notch comic book style music that suits the X-Men almost perfectly. Hunt down a used copy if you can, bub.
The Death and Return of Superman
(Sunsoft, SNES/Sega Genesis)
Video games haven’t exactly been kind to Superman over the years (just look at the hideously bad Superman 64 if you need a prime example), but Sunsoft’s tribute to the legacy of the Man of Steel wasn’t half bad, due in large part to the fact that you could play as multiple versions of him throughout. The story is loosely based on the comic storyline, though some characters have been omitted for the sake of pacing. Trust us, you won’t miss them.
The game features Superman, The Cyborg, The Eradicator, Superboy and Steel. The player plays through the game, switching between the different characters as you smash enemies using a number of abilities. These include projectile attacks such as telekinetic flashes and flash bombs, as well as punching and diving techniques to stop them, should large groups gather around you. The general nature of the game doesn’t go beyond its basic beat-em-up style, but fans of the genre will no doubt be satisfied with what this game provides.
Two versions were released, one for the SNES and Sega Genesis. For the most part, they’re the same, though the SNES version has the advantage of mildly better visuals and sound. No matter which one you snag, though, you’re in for a Super treat, especially if you loved the comics its based on.
Alien vs. Predator
Though we’re big fans of the Capcom arcade game of the same name (as well as the moderately decent Sega reboot that came out for PS3 and Xbox 360 last year), “Alien Vs. Predator” for the Atari Jaguar will always remain our favorite when it comes to the popular crossover series. Sure, the multi-button controller isn’t going to suit everyone (too! many! damn! buttons!), and the lack of multiplayer is noticeable. However, this classic still has a lot going for it, even 17 years after its initial release.
First off, you can play as different character types, including the lowly Marine, the technical Predator or the bloodthirsty Alien. Each one has different moves and abilities, all of which prove useful when it comes to dispatching enemies. Secondly, the graphics are really atmospheric, setting a standard few Atari Jaguar games could touch following this game’s release. Third — and most important — it’s simply fun to play, no matter which role you tackle. (If we had to choose one, though, it’s Alien. All the way.)
With three unique ways to play through and plenty of bloodthirsty fun to be had, “Alien Vs. Predator” is a first-person shooter that remains surprisingly fresh today. You might have to go to great lengths to play it nowadays — hunting down a Jaguar system and a copy of the game — but fans will agree that it’s time well spent. Especially when you use the Alien’s jaws. Sick.
(Activision, Xbox/PlayStation 2/GameCube)
A few of you were upset that we didn’t give “Ultimate Spider-Man” a fair shake when we counted down the webslinger’s top ten video game appearances. It was a close call, though, so we decided to bring “USM” back for this Spider-Man list, just because it’s so entertaining. That, and you can play as Venom, running amuck on city streets, sucking up little kids to drain them of their energy, then spitting them back out. Clearly, he’s not a Citizen of the Year candidate.
The game intermittently changes between a young, spry Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Venom, giving you just the right amount of “good” and “evil” factors to keep you interested. Events in the game take place between issues #71 and #72 of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic and involve a number of familiar characters, including Rhino, Shocker and Green Goblin, as well as special characters like Human Torch and Wolverine. (As a side note, Wolvie’s battle with Venom in a tavern is incredible.)
Featuring two gameplay types and hours worth of comic book-related goodness, “Ultimate Spider-Man” is a web-slinging good time for fans of the series and casual players alike. The fact it uses a cel-shaded graphic engine to look even more like a living piece of comic art doesn’t hurt either. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a copy, as it usually goes for around $10 or less over at Gamestop. Enjoy, true believers!
(Electronic Arts, PC)
If you’re a PC owner, the closest thing you’ve probably come to being a super hero was playing “City of Heroes.” Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that, but you might have missed out on Irrational Games’ glorious 2002 release, “Freedom Force.” Featuring a number of playable characters and rich, real-time, tactical role-playing gameplay, it attracted a solid fanbase, which continues to follow Irrational today as it works on its latest and greatest project, “Bioshock Infinite” (set for release next year).
In the game, you control Minuteman, Microwave, Liberty Lad, The Ant and a number of other characters as they battle supervillains, including Nuclear Winter, Pinstripe, Shadow and more. The large battles are thrilling to watch, and the fact that you take command of it all is really quite cool — even if you somehow end up on the losing side. Relax, you can always return and make sure justice prevails.
A series of Freedom Force comic books, scripted by Eric Dieter and featuring artwork by Tom Scioli with some influence from the great Jack Kirby were eventually published through Image Comics. However, if you prefer to simply play the game, it’s available for purchase now on both GOG.com and the Steam service. Drop a few bucks and prepare to save the world!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(Konami, Arcade/Xbox Live Arcade)
“Cowabunga!” really does say it all. At the height of their popularity (and near the release of their first live action movie), Konami snagged the rights to make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video games and produced hit after hit. After debuting on the NES, the company released an arcade game, where up to four players could team up with the Turtles — Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello and Raphael — to take on the Shredder and his dreaded Foot Clan.
Featuring an art style similar to the animated series popular at the time, TMNT produced lots of beat-em-up thrills, letting you take on bosses including Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, Krang and, in the final battle, Shredder. The game was an immediate success, and Konami produced a home version for the NES, which came out a year later. Though lacking in visual quality (we are talking an 8-bit processor here), the NES game fared very well.
These days, finding the NES copy is a bit of a stretch, but there’s a much cheaper — and more faithful — alternative. You can find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game on Xbox Live Arcade for only 400 Microsoft points, about five bucks. Not only that, the game is practically arcade perfect. You can play with up to four players either locally or via the Xbox Live service. We can’t tell you how many Foot Soldiers ate shell with all of our gameplay sessions. Check it out now — and save us some pizza, dude!
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2
Finally, we come to one of the best fighting games ever made, Capcom’s epic crossover of both its own world and the Marvel Universe. “Marvel Vs. Capcom 2: New Ages of Heroes” features an unprecedented 56 characters, many of which are recognizable to avid comic book fans. These include Cable, Wolverine, Iron Man, Magneto, Juggernaut and other, more obscure ones like Marrow and Blackheart. (The Capcom side is equally stacked, featuring Jill Valentine from “Resident Evil,” several “Street Fighter characters” and Mega Man.)
The 2-D style of fighting meshes extraordinarily well with the gorgeous 3-D backgrounds, and the ability to chain together combos, crossover attacks and super combos is staggering. Even if you’re unfamiliar with fighting games, you’ll find a style that’s relatively easy to adapt to — though it may be hard to truly master. And with so many characters to choose from, there’s no question you’ll get a favorite. (Our team of choice right now is Hayato, Cable and Wolverine — just try and stop us.)
After its wildly well-received arcade release in 2000, the game was ported to numerous consoles, including the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Sega Dreamcast. But Capcom skyrocketed its popularity in 2009 with a downloadable release for Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, complete with online play. It was a move that would regenerate interest in the series, leading to the release of “Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds” earlier this year. Though that game is outstanding, we still consider “New Age of Heroes” to be our favorite. There are simply so many more characters to choose from, and the fighting never gets old. Like the character select screen sings, it’s “gonna take you for a ride.”