Superheroes are all about wish-fulfillment. We get to imagine that regular people like us can be truly extraordinary and defend the regular citizens from the terrifying and catastrophic events that happen. You would think that this would translate seamlessly to video games, as they allow you to control characters and go on adventures with (generally) extraordinary people or beings. However, it’s not that simple. Some superhero games are fantastic and can truly immerse you in this fantastical world or give you a raucous good time. However others are soulless, painful to play, and hurt to look at.
There’s a lot that goes into making a good game. You need effective yet intuitive mechanics, creative gameplay, an engaging story, an attractive art style, and that intangible soul that comes from a certain combination of these elements. We want to feel like a superhero (or supervillain) when we put in hours on hours into these games. If you have clunky mechanics, players will get frustrated while playing. If gameplay is boring or repetitive, you get Superman 64. If you lack an engaging story, people will lose the urge to continue playing. And if you have an unattractive art style, people probably won’t buy the game in the first place. All of these elements work together to give a game its own identity which develops into its soul. And a soul is what separates a cash-grab from a game that the company actually cares about. With that, here’s the 10 Best Comic Book Video Games (And the 10 Worst).
20 BEST: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
Despite being 13 years old, Ultimate Spider-Man still looks so good. The cel-shaded art style is incredible and gives the game a unique look that allows it to last through the ages. Many of the cutscenes actually take place in comic book panels.
But beyond the style, the game was actually a lot of fun as well. One of the greatest features of the game was the ability to play as both Spider-Man and Venom. Ultimate Venom is different enough from Spider-Man that they actually felt like different characters with different play styles. This made gameplay diverse and boss battles engaging.
19 WORST: FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER
This game’s most egregious offense is the fact that, on the surface, it appeared to have potential. The first movie’s tie-in video game was bad, but it was bad primarily due to lack of effort, not the IP. Therefore, when Fantastic Four: Rise of the SIlver Surfer and its video game tie-in were released, people could hope for it to improve on the first one like Spider-Man 2 did.
However, they were disappointed by a game that was even more boring and unimaginative than the first one. Classic villains like Terrax and the Skrulls were introduced but were wasted in a soulless game where you wander around the screen and hit the same three buttons over and over.
18 BEST: BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY
Batman: Arkham Asylum introduced an incredible new world that Batman: Arkham City then perfected. Arkham City was incredibly layered and remarkably well done. It had a twisting narrative, involving many of Batman’s greatest foes, that left us breathless by the end of it. On top of that, Arkham City successfully introduced Batman’s complicated relationship with Catwoman as well as introducing more characters from Batman’s universe like Hush, Mad Hatter, and Mr. Freeze.
The gameplay is also amazing. It brings back the classic counter-based “Freeflow” fighting style, detective vision, and Batman’s utility belt. However, it expands on all of those aspects while including much more increased verticality during traversal. There’s a reason this game won Game of the Year in 2011.
17 WORST: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
When will studios learn that slapping the name of a movie onto a game and getting a couple of actors from the movie to voice their respective parts doesn’t make a good game? This was a sloppily done game that lacked a soul. Every boss fight was essentially the same, platforming was awkward, the characters lacked anything that would make them a likeable character, and the game was just boring.
On top of that, the stealth segments were some of the most frustrating in a game due to wonky A.I, odd vision cones, and a lack of stealth mechanics. Their biggest sin, though, was ruining Carnage by removing all menace from Cletus Kassady and making his final fight like all the others.
16 BEST: MARVEL: ULTIMATE ALLIANCE
Do you want to play as Spider-Man? Deadpool? Black Panther? Thor? Do you want to put them and other Marvel characters in a team to see how they’d fare? Then Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is the perfect game for you.
This game was so much fun to play and it allowed you to bring your favorite characters into a squad of four and battle enemies across legendary Marvel locations: Asgard, the Shi’ar Empire, Atlantis, Castle Doom, and more. This game was a fun love letter to the Marvel Universe. With a very diverse cast of heroes and foes alike, fun gameplay, and endless paths for you to chase, this game brought us back to a very special place from our childhood.
15 WORST: SUPERMAN 64
Who thought it was a good idea to release this? When you think of Superman, you think of flying at breakneck speeds, lifting heavy things, shooting laser eyes, and putting out fires with freeze breath. Well this game diminishes all of that and, instead, has you perform Superman’s favorite pastime: flying through colored rings before time runs out.
This game was so poorly done that it’s up there with Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing and E.T the Extraterrestrial as one of the worst video games ever made. It was impossibly buggy with some of the worst graphics ever seen by modern man. The A.I was asinine and the plot left a lot to be desired. This one physically hurt to play.
14 BEST: THE WALKING DEAD
Telltale must have a way of feeding on our tears, because no other game on this list made you anywhere near as emotional as this game did. The heartbreaking tale of survivors Lee and Clementine successfully drew us into an emotional roller coaster whose intensity was only rivalled by that of the comic it was based on.
However, the elation of making it through challenges and the pain of losing people in tough situations is made all the worse by the fact that everything that happens is your fault. This game hinges on what the comic does best: forcing the characters into impossible choices. An amazing story, layered characters, and diverse gameplay make this an unforgettable experience.
13 WORST: CATWOMAN
What a surprise! The video game tie-in to the insultingly awful Catwoman was bad? Well actually it was worse than bad, it was unplayable. The graphics were worse than that of the movie, the combat was horrendous, the stages were frustrating -- there was just so much wrong with it
If there was a game that was functionally broken, this would be it. The gameplay mechanics are excruciating and maddening. With a fixed camera and combat that consists primarily of pouncing and an awkward, crouched fighting stance, this game makes it impossible to see what exactly is going on.
12 BEST: X-MEN LEGENDS: RISE OF APOCALYPSE
The X-Men: Legends series was an important for comic book video games as it’s responsible for the creation of the Marvel:Ultimate Alliance series. The first game in the RPG series was good, but sits firmly in the shadow of its far more popular younger sibling: X-Men Legends: Rise of Apocalypse.
This sequel does everything a sequel is supposed to do: kept what made the first game good but made it bigger and better. It retains the fun, top-down gameplay from the first game, the huge array of unique mutants to play with, and the in-depth progression and customization. However in this game, you could play as Brotherhood of Mutants too, and it features a compelling story with one of the X-Men’s most powerful foes in Apocalypse.
11 WORST: IRON MAN
Iron Man took the whole world by storm in 2008, as nobody expected a relatively unknown superhero to do so well in a movie. So, of course, Sega wanted to profit off of this success and they made Iron Man the game. They just forgot to make it good.
This world and this character were bland and that’s the last thing that an Iron Man should be. Iron Man lives in a world full of technological marvels, cunning men trying to consolidate power, and intense battles with technology. Movie tie-ins aren’t often very good games, but Iron Man smells like a cash grab. Iron Man controlled awkwardly and was blasting around one of the most boring worlds with one of the worst graphics for the time.
10 BEST: THE INCREDIBLE HULK: ULTIMATE DESTRUCTION
There are games with a deep, layered story designed to draw all manner of emotions out of you. And then there’s the games that celebrate wanton destruction by letting you jump around fully destructible environments as a giant green rage monster. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, obviously, was the latter.
This game allowed you to control Hulk and you could either follow the storyline to uncover the plot or you could simply rampage around various environments, destroying the buildings and battling increasingly difficult foes. The best part of a superhero game is wish fulfillment and no other Hulk video game made you feel like the jade giant like Ultimate Destruction.
9 WORST: BATMAN: DARK TOMORROW
Batman should theoretically be one of the easiest superheroes to adapt into a good game. He doesn’t have any incredible superpowers, just his skills and his gadgets. But Batman: Dark Tomorrow makes it seem like Batman is honestly unadaptable.
People struggled to play this game. Batman: Dark Tomorrow was one of the most poorly done games to come out on the GameCube or Xbox. The gameplay was nonsensical because the gadgets all had some counterintuitive stipulation, the camera was maddening, and the combat was a joke. Every enemy you knocked down got up after a few seconds, forcing you to stop and handcuff each bad guy you knock down. It’s just a shame that Dark Tomorrow’s great story was wasted on this mess of a game.
8 BEST: INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US 2
NetherRealm took time and care to craft a true masterpiece of the fighting game field. With a plethora of characters, beautiful graphics, an incredible story, and perfected mechanics, Injustice 2 has proven to be one of the best fighting games ever.
In this game, you get to play with characters as beloved as Wonder Woman and as obscure as Captain Cold while you take on Brainiac in a world that’s both heartbreaking and astounding to be a part of. Each character is very unique and has a playing style that will appeal to somebody. The use of meter burns and clashes add another, strategic dimension to the conflict -- you truly feel like the character you’re portraying.
7 WORST: MARVEL NEMESIS: RISE OF THE IMPERFECTS
There’s nothing wrong with introducing new characters to an existing universe. In fact, if done well, this can lead to these characters appearing in the source material, like what Batman: The Animated Series did for Harley Quinn. However, if the characters are boring with not much to offer from a design or combat standpoint, then it’s a little harder to deal with having them forced into a game with an already-existing universe.
The Imperfects were the villains introduced in Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. But neither their story nor the characters themselves were interesting in the least. Combine that with boring stages, awkward movesets, and physics that were only fun a couple times out of the whole game, then you have a game that’s a chore to play through.
6 BEST: LEGO MARVEL HEROES
The LEGO games started out as games for the same children that played with LEGO playsets. But then LEGO decided to put effort into being creative and now it’s a lucrative franchise with their games being considered AAA releases and their movies getting consistent theatrical releases. Lego Batman 2 may be the first game to feature a cast consisting of major players from their comic book universe, but Lego Marvel Superheroes took the best parts of that and made it better.
With a massive roster of both characters and vehicles, deep cut references, and a plot that seemed at home within the pages of a comic book, Lego Marvel Superheroes made a sidesplitting game with nearly infinite replay value.
5 WORST: SILVER SURFER
The Silver Surfer is an entity that wields a portion of the power cosmic which grants him incredible power. So why is one hit from ANYTHING in the Silver Surfer game enough to reduce him to a slumped over state of shame? Yes, this is a legitimate question for this dumpster fire.
As previously stated, one hit from anything would kill you. This vulnerability extends to the environment as well. Because if you so much as touch anything in the environment, you’re dead. And the terrible graphics make it nearly impossible to tell what’s actually a part of the environment. Combine that with screen-filling enemy fire and terrible controls and you’ll be rage quitting after a few minutes on any of the levels.
4 BEST: SPIDER-MAN 2
This is one of the rare times when a movie tie-in actually turns out to be a phenomenal game. The original Spider-Man game was fine, but Spider-Man 2 stepped it up big time with improved mechanics, a better story, fun combat, and more innovative use of Spidey’s powers. Spider-Man games being produced now are still trying to match the fluidity of the swinging mechanics in this game.
This game was one of the first popular open world games. With a wide-open Manhattan and plenty of side missions, this game could keep you busy for ages. As you swing around the massive city completing the side and story missions, you’ll marvel at how much you actually feel like your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
3 WORST: AQUAMAN: BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS
It takes a whole lot of effort to ruin Atlantis. Just the concept of a grand city nestled in the depths of the ocean already has a sense of grandeur and intrigue. But Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis manages to ruin all of this by simply not caring.
This game looks like they just wanted to make it because they had the rights to Aquaman. Atlantis is soulless and devoid of character -- it’s the polar opposite of Bioshock’s Rapture reveal. On top of the massive environmental disappointment, the mechanics are clunky, the A.I is just stupid, and the game just isn’t fun to play. Even swimming is a chore. To put it in perspective, it’s like if walking were a pain in a land-based game.
2 BEST: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES THE ARCADE GAME
Sometimes the classics provide some of the most fun. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the arcade was an incredible co-op experience for all ages. The 1989 game started as purely an arcade game but was so popular that it was ported to the NES.
This most important aspect of a game is, obviously, the gameplay and TMNT nails that. Each character is rendered vibrantly and each plays differently, with each of them having different attack speeds and ranges while also having a special move. The enemy AI was challenging but not insurmountable and the environmental takedowns, acrobatic movements, and flashy fights made this so much fun to play.
1 WORST: THE UNCANNY X-MEN
Yes, this was the first X-Men game, but that doesn’t excuse it from being a terrible game. It may have come out in 1989, but The Uncanny X-Men was a poor excuse for a game even back then. You were allowed to play as six X-Men: Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Iceman.
That would be a nice start if it weren’t nearly impossible to tell who was who. On top of that, the game catered heavily to ranged characters. So if you played as Cyclops, Storm, or Iceman, you could breeze through the game. Meanwhile, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus were essentially useless.