Comics are great. They’re a visual medium which can inspire creativity and allow artists and writers to tell epic stories with great characters through an observable aesthetic. Video games are great too. They’re structured storytelling devices which allow room for the elements of choice, participation, and stimulation. However, two good things can’t always become greater than the sum of their parts and comic book video games have always been either hit-or-miss. Companies keep trying though, desperately throwing ideas on the wall to see what sticks.
There’s no greater perpetrator of this than Marvel, who has released over a hundred games since 1982. Many of these games were flew beneath the radar of video game culture. Some, like the 1992 X-Men arcade game, managed to become sincerely beloved video game classics. Unfortunately, a fair number of games produced under the Marvel label were fundamentally bad games, with only a few of their number ascending to the “so bad it’s good” pedestal of irony-based pop culture. While console releases have slowed down, seeing as most of their games of the last few years are relegated to mobile, it’s important to remember that given Marvel’s mistakes in the past, it’s probably a good thing we never got an Avengers console release.
15. FANTASTIC FOUR (PC, PS2, XBOX, GAMECUBE)
Released in 2005 to correspond with the cinematic abomination unleashed in movie theaters that same year, the Fantastic Four game fared no better then its direct source material. Unlike the famously colorful and creative visual style established by the great Jack Kirby, both the movie and the game suffer from lackluster aesthetics which fail to capture the innate spectacle of the Fantastic Four.
The controls are wonky at best and the game design is largely disrupted by an over-emphasis on the environments. In multiple places quick-time events are obstructed by cars or buildings, sacrificing bad gameplay for bad visuals. It would be easy to call this game a disappointment to the franchise, but we’ve never had a good Fantastic Four property outside of the comics so this is pretty much par for the course on that account.
14. THOR: GOD OF THUNDER (PS3, XBOX 360, Wii)
It’s like God of War except with Thor, not nearly as good-looking and not even half as fun. As far as depressingly sub-standard movie tie-ins go, Thor: God of Thunder stands out as something that hypothetically could have worked but failed due to poor execution and a mishandling of any goodwill the property had to begin with.
Depicting Thor on a merry jaunt through the nine virtually identical realms, the game lets you fight three kinds of Frost Giants, the small ones, the medium ones, and the slightly-bigger-than-medium ones. It’s repetitive to a fault, but we’re just repeating ourselves here. The graphics are unimpressive but are bogged down further by numerous glitches and bugs. Thor’s move set is small and unlockables are few and far between.
13. CAPTAIN AMERICA IN: THE DOOM TUBE OF DR. MEGALOMANN (ATARI ST, COMMODORE 64, OTHERS)
We doubt there was anything with a more silly name in 1987. Anyway, Captain America in: The Doom Tube of Dr. Megalomann or CAi:TDToDM as we will call it now and forever, tells the story of the titular Captain as he infiltrates a base in the Mojave Desert called the Doom Tube where Dr. Megalomann is going to launch chemical weapons because if were named Megalomann, we’d probably do something like that as well.
The platforming game style is made obsolete by chunky graphics and even more so by repeating sections and levels. The game generally feels unfinished, with even the audio coming out as overly-crunched and poorly amplified noises. For some reason, the B-side of the tape contains an ’80s synth pop song, which is as fitting a symbol of this game’s confusing existence as any.
12. SPIDER-MAN AND THE X-MEN IN ARCADE’S REVENGE (SNES, GENESIS)
Any retro gamer worth their salt will shiver terror whenever they see the unholy trinity of letters and deceptive rainbow logo of the LJN game company. Singlehandedly responsible for some of the worst video games of all time, LJN also produced Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge, which raises the bar for bad. The story has players playing as Spider-Man and the most marketable of X-Men as they try to escape Arcade’s Murderworld. Each character gets their own stage and, with the exception of Wolverine, only one piece of health.
Additionally, each time the game is restarted or a character dies, the player is forced to replay the opening puzzle level from the beginning of the game. Imagine if every time you turned a Pokemon game back on you had to sit through the unbearable tutorial every single time. Suddenly, the replay value drops considerably.
11. THE PUNISHER: NO MERCY (PS3)
In theory, it should be easy to make a good Punisher game. The character’s basis in urban-guerrilla warfare should make for a perfect transition into a GTA or Just Cause style of first-person shooter. For some reason though, nobody has managed to pull off a competent Punisher licensed game. The closest anyone has come is this 2009 title where Punisher hunts down Jigsaw in an arena shooter.
Spiced up with cameos from other Marvel properties, the game is unfortunately far too short and suffers from combat that feels like someone hacked the Quake engine to pieces with an axe only to reassemble it with rubber cement. Despite being released on the PS3, the graphics fall short of even the original PlayStation’s standards. Thankfully, the game is no longer available due to developer Zen studios losing the characters licensing to Marvel.
10. IRON MAN (PS3, XBOX 360, Wii)
It says a lot about how bad a game is when even voiceovers from Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard can’t save it. Arguably one of the worst movie tie-in games of all time, Iron Man is a fascinating trainwreck. The controls were insanely counter-intuitive, the graphics were game-breakingly bad, and the all-important gameplay was bogged down by forcing as many NPCs onscreen at all times.
Flying around as a human tank should be an enjoyable experience, but this game made it almost impossible to control yourself as you dart around the screen desperately trying to find your next target. The linear level design helps somewhat, but the fact that we’re actually endorsing linear levels should tell you just how deep this game dips. Again, and we don’t think we can emphasize this enough, Robert Downey Jr., the human charisma machine, couldn’t save this game.
9. FANTASTIC FOUR (PLAYSTATION)
It has She-Hulk as a playable character. That is the best endorsement of this game that any thinking human could possibly give. But you won’t want to play as her because her sprite appears less like one of the most popular Marvel characters of all-time, and more like the jaunty mascot of a bankrupt frozen pickle factory. On top of everything looking cheap, the game moves almost too slow to function.
Combat animation takes a full ten frames for each move, virtually guaranteeing you’ll be hit multiple times every time you try to execute a simple punch. There’s also a marked delay in response time between the game and the controller, suggesting some fundamental coding flaws baked into the game’s source. When the game isn’t outright terrible, it can’t rise above the level of “bland” with repetitive level design and unexciting environments.
8. X-MEN: DESTINY (PS3, XBOX 360, Wii)
The hype for this game when it was released in 2011 was crazy. It was billed as an RPG where you could create your own customized mutant, interact with X-Men characters, level up with branching skill trees, and make effective decisions about the world around you. However, instead of character customization, you got to pick from three pre-made templates. X-Men interactions were dull and few and far between. And those Bioware-style, world-changing decisions you were supposed to be able to make? All of them were binary and inconsequential.
The hack-and-slash combat quickly devolved into standard button mashing fare, and while the graphics were at least up to date with the times, it was nothing spectacular. The best thing about X-Men: Destiny is that you can’t get it anymore. The game was recalled due to developers Silicon Knights having stolen the Unreal Engine for their code.
7. SILVER SURFER (NES)
Some games are bad because of poor level design. Some games are bad because the gameplay is broken. Some games are bad because you play as a living embodiment of phenomenal cosmic power and you can be killed by a rubber duck. Such is the case of Silver Surfer for the NES, which is actually pretty decent to play. The controls feel natural and responsive, the graphics aren’t half bad, and while it does often feel like a Contra clone, that’s not a bad thing.
The problems arise in the difficulty. Apparently, Silver Surfer, the avatar of the Power Cosmic, is super weak to everything. One touch from enemies, environments, or even the screen edges trigger an instant death. It doesn’t help that the Surfer himself is an unusually large sprite and his hitbox is huge.
6. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (PS2, PS3, XBOX 360, Wii, PC)
The Incredible Hulk video game from 2008 suffers from two distinct disadvantages. First off, it’s a tie-in with the movie of the same name which is arguably the most forgettable movie in the MCU. Second, it attempts to follow 2005’s well received Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The game tries to emulate its predecessor by copying the open-world design, control layout, and movement mechanics, but fails to live up to Ultimate Destruction‘s legacy in part due to mediocre graphics, inconsistent camera controls, and a stunted combat system.
There’s a bit of fan service with the game’s inclusion of interesting Hulk enemies such as U-Foes and the Enclave were nice touches, but couldn’t outbalance the lazy gameplay. The game isn’t bad, it’s just disappointing, which any child will tell you is a hundred times worse.
5. MARVEL NEMESIS: RISE OF THE IMPERFECTS (GAMECUBE, XBOX, PS2)
When you have “Imperfects” in your title, you’re really just asking for ridicule. Having the audacity to kill off two of your primary characters in the first 20 minutes of your story mode doesn’t help. That’s right, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects starts by killing Captain America and Hulk and it’s all downhill from there. The rest of the fighting game surrounds a slapped-together story where Marvel licenses have an excuse to fight Imperfects, a lineup of characters EA created specifically for the game.
Because why would we want to play as Spider-Man and fight Spider-Man characters when we could have him fight Paragon? Or Hazmat? Or Niles Van Roekel? Aside from a lukewarm plot, the environments are benign, the combat system was watered down, enemy AI made the game a breeze, and the arena sections had poor animation compared to the actual fighting segments.
4. THE INCREDIBLE HULK: THE PANTHEON SAGA (PLAYSTATION, SATURN)
Based loosely on the comic of the same name, The Incredible Hulk: the Pantheon Saga starts with the Hulk getting captured and taken to a high-tech base in the desert with the entirety of the game being Hulk’s escape. Sounds simple enough for a game about a green behemoth of rage, but the game still manages to fail. The fixed camera angle makes everything look tilted and disrupts depth perception.
Hulk himself looks like a smoothed over Jolly Green Giant with no outlined pixels or defining features. The backgrounds are 3D renders but all foreground and tactile objects are 2D, causing a very noticeable headache-inducing contrast. On top of all that, the combat, which is admittedly quick, is mind-numbingly repetitive with puzzles so simple a third grader would mock them.
3. X-MEN: MADNESS IN MURDERWORLD (COMMODORE 64, AMIGA)
With a name like that, how do you make a game that’s anything less than utterly badass? Well, with a fluctuating difficulty curve, enforcing a permadeath system, and having a mediocre story. The story itself is one from a Mario game, with Magneto and Arcade playing the part of Bowser, Professor X as the evening’s Princess Peach, and a handful of the X-Men as defacto Marios, each with their own skill set needed to progress beyond obstacles unique to them.
This becomes a problem when one of your characters dies early in the game and you need them to remove a barrier just before the final boss. The game also suffers from weirdly inconsistent level lengths, which allows for a longer runtime but lessens enjoyment of certain sections.
2. THE UNCANNY X-MEN (NES)
1989’s The Uncanny X-Men is the perfect symbol for how awful LJN was as a developer. The sprites are all super crunched down figures that barely resemble the characters they represent and are amost indistinguishable from one another. The top-down camera style is clearly meant to resemble Zelda or Metal Gear but the glaringly bright reds and greens of the backgrounds assault the eyes so badly that it’s an insult to mention these in the same breath. Movement and combat controls are sloppy at best and nonexistent at worst.
The game is programmed as a shooter, so good luck if you want to play as Wolverine or Colossus who are limited to short range attacks. Once you figure out that Cyclops can spam his way through the game, the whole thing can be over in an afternoon, which would be a waste of a perfectly good afternoon.
1. FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (PS2, PS3, XBOX 360, Wii)
Fantastic Four was a bad movie. The Fantastic Four video game was a bad video game tie-in to a bad movie. The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer movie was a bad sequel to a bad movie. So Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer the game is a bad video game tie-in to a bad sequel to a bad movie that had a bad video game tie-in.
All the problems in the original Fantastic Four game are back only this time they’ve come with a vengeance and have a criminally short runtime, graphics ten years out of date, and cluttered gameplay. But aside from the game’s overall terribleness, there’s an overarching sensation of confusion that centers around it. Nobody’s going to return Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer because that would mean admitting you bought Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Did we forget to mention any other bad Marvel games on our list? Hit up the comments and let us know!
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