After spending uncountable hours painstakingly choosing candidates and attempting to justify their positions on CBR’s countdown of the Top Ten Best Comic Book Video Games — we barely cut “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” off the list after dwelling some decisions — we finally achieved our goal!
Read on for our list of favorite comic book-oriented games, each of which offers a solid glimpse into the world of some likely — and unlikely — superheroes. Whether you’re a fan of the big, green Hulk, a snarky Magneto (“Welcome to DIE!”) or a peculiar dog and rabbit detective duo, we think you’ll find our choices to your liking. And, if there’s a particular title you think we missed, feel free to sound off on CBR’s Video Games forum and tell us that we managed to miss one of your favorites. For now, on with the top ten!
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time
Since we left the Ninja Turtles’ second adventure off of our previous classic game list where we favored the original arcade release, we decided to pay it a revisit for this, a far greater category. “Turtles In Time” was quite simply a fun, rollicking side-scrolling beat-em-up, where the amphibians traveled through the ages, battling Shredder and his minions while trying to save the city in the process.
Both the arcade and SNES versions were significant for their time. The arcade game not only featured four-player action, but also an interesting intro theme taken from the Turtles’ live tour. As for the SNES version, it featured additional stages and bosses, including the return of Bebop and Rocksteady (who were sorely missing from the coin-op) and an awesome 3-D flying stage, complete with a showdown with Krang at the end. If you can find either of these versions, they’re well worth playing — which is more than we can say for Ubisoft’s “Reshelled” version, which came out for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. It’s just not the same, dude.
9. Sam and Max Hit the Road
At one point in time, LucasArts produced more than just “Star Wars” games, providing fans with such marvelous adventures as “Secret of Monkey Island,” “Day of the Tentacle” and “Loom.” In the midst of its adventure game development was “Sam and Max Hit the Road,” based on Steve Purcell’s cult-hit comic book. In the game, you guide the Humphrey Bogart-ish detective dog and his psychotic rabbit partner as they track a Bigfoot-like character across a number of Americana tourist sites.
The adventure gameplay was entertaining for its time, as players clicked on items to use during the case and interacted with characters. But perhaps the true standout was the game’s sense of humor, which was just as warped as its source material. During the game, Sam and Max constantly trade barbed dialogue with one another, some of it non-sensical, but all of it gut-busting hilarious. Twenty some-odd years later, it’s still quite a delight to listen to, and has also inspired Telltale Games to work on a series of equally loony “Sam and Max” games for PC and PlayStation 3. Perhaps the company should consider a high-definition remake of the original.
8. X-Men: The Arcade Game
(Konami/Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Arcade)
We’ve overlooked the “X-Men” and their foray into arcade gaming before, but for the top ten of all time, we had no choice but to to give them their due. So…”WELCOME TO DIE!” Konami’s six-player brawler was easily amongst its best, thanks to the variety of characters available (yes, we’ll even give Dazzler a friendly nod) and its wild, brawling action. You face all kinds of Sentinel and mutant enemies here, along with bosses including The Blob (“Nothing moves the Blob!”) and Juggernaut.
The game was a blast for all ages, and despite a few cheesy moments — most of them stemming from Magneto’s cornball dialogue — it remains a great multiplayer romp, ideal for repeat 30-minute consumption. Finding a dual-screen arcade unit may be a challenge these days, but a pixel-perfect downloadable edition is available for ten bucks on both Xbox Live and PlayStation Network. Both of them are ideal for parties, as you can play locally with friends or hop online for a full-fledged battle. Either way, the X-Men accomplish their mission.
7. City of Heroes
Even though Sony Online insists that “DC Universe Online” is the superior online superhero experience (mainly because of its licensed roster), “City of Heroes” managed to get the MMO universe right years before, introducing millions of players to an online utopia where supervillains threatened the populations of cities, with only you (and your cohorts) to save them. There was a reason this game became so popular so quickly as NCSoft successfully transitioned a comic book-style approach into an MMO, rather than relying on cheap, game-winning tactics. It actually feels like you’re fighting for something.
What’s more, the company wisely expanded the universe with the release of “City of Villains,” giving players the chance to turn things around entirely and play as the bad guy. This was a pretty big deal, as very few games give you the opportunity to take on the role of a true evil-doer. The games are continuously supported even now, with hundreds of thousands of gamers flying in to save the day from trouble — or stir it up. Even a Marvel lawsuit couldn’t stop its might, having been settled without disrupting the “City’s” daily operations.
6. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
(Activision/Xbox, PS2, GameCube)
The original “X-Men Legends” set a new standard for comic book-licensed games when it was released, and Activision opted to expand that formula with the sequel, “Rise of Apocalypse.” Though some characters were missing the second time around (particularly, the fan favorite Psylocke), the development team at Raven Software more than made up for the loss with an interesting team tactic — having X-Men and Brotherhood characters fight together against Apocalypse and his horsemen. Expansive gameplay options were also introduced, including the ability to switch between more than four mutant powers at once — ideal for larger scale battles.
What’s more, the multiplayer factor really bumped up with “Rise of Apocalypse,” thanks to the inclusion of four-player online play through PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. And after a team managed to get through the game and finally take down the big A, they could go back through again without the need to reset their stats. Yup, that means starting over with all your big powers in hand. Even though the “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” games would expand the formula even further, “X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse” got the ball rolling in a really big way, handily earning a spot on our list.
5. Freedom Force
We mentioned “Freedom Force” once before on our Top Ten Replayable Comic Games list, and for good reason. The real-time strategy game, programmed by the masterminds at Irrational Games, has endless replay value, thanks to its large cast of characters, both super villain and hero, and its infinitely enjoyable gameplay. This is the sort of game where you can actually get involved in saving the city by using tactical advantages while getting the jump on adversaries and staying in one piece.
Part of the credit goes to artist Robb Waters, a video game veteran who knows how to create memorable characters and scenarios. The game’s story takes several hours to complete, and you can go back into it and relive it without feeling any hint of boredom. On a side note, “Freedom Force” was a game that actually inspired a comic book, as Image Comics produced a six-issue series run in 2005.
4. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
(Sierra/Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube)
The Incredible Hulk is no stranger to our top ten lists, but can you blame us? His “Ultimate Destruction” adventure was easily his best yet, a game jam-packed with eye-popping moments that had previously been thought impossible for a video game. Leave it to Radical Entertainment, as they made a chaotic, crazy experience perfectly fitting for the big green guy. Players hurled trucks at helicopters, ran up the side of buildings, flew through the air and knocked supervillains around like punching bags, and that’s just within the first hour.
What made “Hulk” such a sheer joy was being able to do whatever you want, whenever you wanted. It truly set the example for “sandbox-oriented” gameplay wrapped around a superhero. There were missions to complete, but nothing beat relieving an afternoon of work-related stress like grabbing cars, trashing tanks and beating a renegade squadron senseless. You could even trash city buses and traffic jams if you feel like being a real monster — there was no moral judgment to face, aside from bigger and badder squads. This was nothing but a complete Hulk smash in our eyes. No wonder it’s one of our favorites.
3. Spider-Man 2
(Activision/Xbox, PS2, GameCube)
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can. And in “Spider-Man 2”, a game loosely based on the blockbuster movie of the same name, players were doing quite a bit. The masked superhero had his hands full with hours worth of missions throughout an open world, whether it was rescuing some kid’s balloon (because, hey, that’s what Spider-Man does, right?), facing off against gangs, or taking on evil villains such as Doctor Octopus. There was a story structure here, but part of the fun was discovering new missions and enhancing Spidey’s abilities.
And some people overlooked this, but one of the coolest factors to “Spider-Man 2” was the voice acting. Tobey Maguire was actually put to good use here, along with Bruce Campbell, who remains one of the coolest video game narrators out there. (Note to game companies: hire this guy.) It was part of a solid presentation that included a magnificent looking city, along with cool skyline visuals and a heads-up display that made it easy to find objectives and bonus items. If you haven’t gone swinging with this game yet, you won’t find a better time. (Plus you can skip over “Spider-Man 3,” which was a complete dud.)
2. Marvel Vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
(Capcom/Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Dreamcast)
Very few fighting sequels earned their keep like “Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes” did. This wasn’t just a matter of slapping on a fresh coat of paint and adding a new character here and there; Capcom expanded their roster significantly, with over 50 brawlers to choose from across both its own world and the Marvel universe. These included such mainstream favorites as Hulk, Spider-Man, and Ryu, along with long-lost favorites like Cable, Hayato and Amingo. What’s more, the fighting felt much more balanced the second time around, featuring the ability to switch between characters on-the-fly and set up some brutal super combos, draining an energy bar quicker than any normal attack could.
Capcom also went with a nouveau 3-D art style for the backgrounds, while keeping the traditional 2-D animation intact. The results were very well received, creating a gorgeous game that didn’t distract from what was happening on-screen. It was one of the Sega Dreamcast’s best arcade ports, and Capcom made it even better when it released the game for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network — with online play — years later, and for a fraction of the original price. It’s still a big deal today, even with the newer “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” in stores. Fighting fans won’t want to miss this party — ss the character selection screen says, it’s gonna take you for a ride.
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum
(Warner Bros. Interactive/Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
A controversial decision? Some might think so, especially considering “Batman: Arkham Asylum” doesn’t have a multiplayer factor to speak of (outside of leaderboards for the Challenge Rooms). Plus, Rocksteady Games is bound to make a number of improvements in the sequel, “Batman: Arkham City,” when it comes out this October.
But that’s months from now. For now, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is solid proof that a comic book game can be done the right way, provided you have a dedicated development team behind it, along with the kind of resources that would make any driven fanboy drool. In this case, it’s writer Paul Dini, who’s worked on numerous Batman products over the years, including “Batman: The Animated Series,” along with the vocal talents of veterans Kevin Conroy (as Batman) and Mark Hamill (who absolutely killed as The Joker, once again).
Everything just clicked for “Arkham Asylum.” The combat? Smooth flowing and engaging throughout. Batman’s utilities? Perfect, right down to the detective kit and the exploding gel. The visuals? Absolutely killer throughout, even if there was a slight abundance of gargoyles. The gameplay? Stunning in every regard, balancing just the right amount of stealth and action.
Only one moment managed to slow “Arkham Asylum,” and that was a slightly awkward final encounter with a mutated Joker. But even with that bump in the gaming road, Rocksteady Games earned their keep with the best comic book-licensed game ever made, a true testament to the Dark Knight and a product that both casual and hardcore players could enjoy equally. We certainly hope “Arkham City” is this much fun — if not more so.
Be sure to check back with CBR tomorrow as we flip things around and present our picks for the Ten Worst Comic Book Games of all time!