With the recent announcement of “Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite,” one of Marvel Comics’ most beloved gaming franchises is set to return to consoles in a major way. While the flash and bombast of that series has left a lasting impression on generations of gamers and comic fans, some of Marvel’s other gaming ventures haven’t been quite so memorable.
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Now, CBR is taking a look back at some of Marvel’s most forgotten video games. For this list, we’ll be looking back, in no particular order, at Marvel-based games that were released sometime in the last 30 years. While Marvel characters have made cameos in games like “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2” and “LittleBigPlanet,” this hardly comprehensive list is only focusing on games specifically-based on Marvel properties.
15 X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse
In PC gaming, total conversion mods can drastically remix and reshape familiar games into completely different and new experiences. While many mods remain copyright-indifferent fan projects, some mods can garner official releases. In 1997, Zero Gravity Entertainment’s “X-Men: The Ravages of Apocalypse” became one of those mods, with a commercial release officially licensed by Marvel. Based on iD Software’s 1997 blockbuster “Quake,” this WizardWorks Software release was a total conversion that transformed the iconic first-person shooter into a mutant hunting frenzy.
In the game, Apocalypse and Mister Sinister have captured and cloned almost all of the X-Men. The player plays as Magneto’s assassin, who’s charged with slaughtering wave after wave of familiar X-Men characters. With comics-accurate costumes, a faithful recreation of the X-Mansion and a cameo by Gateway, the project recreates the look of mid-1990s X-Men comics fairly well with its limited set of resources. Despite this, reviews for the project were mixed, often citing the game’s advanced difficulty.
14 Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects
Marvel’s Capcom-produced fighting games remain popular almost two decades after their initial release, thanks to their wide casts of colorful characters and endless hyper-combo special attacks. In a strange move, Nihilistic Software and Electronic Arts tried to invert this formula for their cross-platform 2005 fighting game “Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.”
Along with some of Marvel’s iconic heroes, half of the game’s roster is made up of the Imperfects; newly-created EA original fighters. Featuring destructive environments and brutal finishing moves, this game has a dark, distinctive look thanks to Jae Lee’s costume designs. While this game has a relatively limited roster, it remains the only fighting game appearance of Fantastic Four members the Human Torch and the Thing. Thanks to a handful of issues, including an unforgiving AI and simplified combat, the game garnered mostly negative reviews. While Marvel published a tie-in comic series by Greg Pak and Renato Arlem that was supposed to integrate the EA characters into the Marvel Universe, this game and its original characters quickly faded from memory.
13 Blade/Blade II
While the Blade franchise quietly paved the way for the modern superhero movie boom, the Day Walker’s video game adventures weren’t quite so successful. Hammerhead and Activision’s PlayStation slice-and-shoot action game, “Blade,” gave the character an auspicious digital start. Originally released in 2000, the game gives players the opportunity to use the character’s iconic doubled-bladed glaive to decapitate vampires. Despite that inherently cool premise, it received fairly negative reviews due to its control issues and endless poorly-lit corridors.
While Guillermo del Toro’s “Blade II” was the character’s commercial peak on the big screen, Mucky Foot Productions and Activision’s 2002 game “Blade II” was an abject commercial failure. Set between the events of the second and third Blade films, this PlayStation and Xbox game features a unique direction-based melee combat system that was operated by the right joystick. While this mechanism received mild praise for its originality, the game received mixed reviews and its failure was a big factor in Mucky Foot’s 2003 closure.
12 Spider-Man: The Video Game
Some of today’s most fondly-remembered Marvel games are side-scrolling arcade beat ‘em ups like Konami’s “X-Men” and Data East’s “Captain America and the Avengers.” Despite near universal acclaim, Sega’s 1991 brawler, “Spider-Man: The Video Game,” never joined the ranks of those other arcade classics. While the team-based brawlers featured fairly predictable casts, this game features a roster of playable characters including Spider-Man, Black Cat, Hawkeye and Namor the Sub-Mariner.
With the exception of final boss Doctor Doom, the game’s villains all have roots in the pages of Spider-Man’s solo adventures. While it’s mostly faithful to the comics, the title features some strange twists, like Namor’s ability to summon lightning and Venom’s ability to grow to Giant Man-size proportions. In a strange but well-received twist, the game occasionally stops operating like a traditional walk-and-punch brawler and becomes a side-scrolling platformer. Although Sega had tremendous success on home consoles with other beat ‘em up games like “Streets of Rage,” this Spider-Man game was never released for the home market on any platform.
11 The Punisher
While a good number of Marvel’s pre-Marvel Studios movies had video game tie-ins, none of them were as notorious as Volition and THQ’s “The Punisher.” Released across platforms in 2005, this brutal third-person shooter was one of the few games to ever be threatened with the dreaded “Adults Only” rating by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. While the game’s developers avoided this fate by rendering some of the title’s most violent scenes in black and white, its uncompromising look at the world of Frank Castle remains the game’s strongest appeal.
Drawing inspiration for the Punisher’s 2004 film, as well as Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s run on the title, the game follows Thomas Jane’s Punisher as he takes on the forces of the Gnucci crime family and the Kingpin. With appearances from Nick Fury, Bushwhacker, Bullseye and Jigsaw, the game synthesizes various eras of the Punisher into a litany of bullets and blood. Upon its initial release, the high-selling title received decent reviews, largely thanks to brutal interrogation scenes involving Castle’s gruesome, creative kills.
10 Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems
While Capcom is most well-known to comic fans for its Marvel fighting games, the developer made a few action platformers in the 1990s. After a Punisher arcade game co-starring Nick Fury in 1991 and 1995’s “X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse,” the developer released “Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems” for the Super Nintendo in 1996. While it covers much of the same thematic ground as that era’s similarly-titled fighting game “Marvel Super Heroes,” this side-scrolling beat ‘em up stars Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man and the Hulk.
In an adventure based on the cosmic Marvel crossovers “The Infinity Gauntlet” and “The Infinity War,” the heroes are sent by Adam Warlock to retrieve the scattered Infinity Gems and defeat Thanos. With appearances from Nebula, Magus and Alpha Flight’s Puck and Sasquatch, the late-period SNES title delves into some of the deeper corners of the Marvel Universe. Although the game only received mixed reviews on its release, it’s moderately well-liked today, despite its relatively short length.
9 Fantastic Four
While Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Hulk all appeared in side-scrolling brawlers, none of them have the somewhat infamous reputation of Acclaim and Probe Entertainment’s “Fantastic Four.” Originally released for the PlayStation in 1997, this game is generally considered one of the iconic system’s lesser titles. In the game, one-to-four players can play as any of the original members of the Fantastic Four and later substitute member She-Hulk, taking on some of the Four’s classic villains in 3D environments.
While the game is built around fundamentally repetitive side-scrolling action, there are some... odd unique elements, like a blinking piece of cheese that appears in the upper corner of the screen if the same player uses the same move too many times. This has no further effect on gameplay, it's just weird. From that bizarre taunt to a totally incongruent jazz fusion soundtrack and the inability to easily save, this game is defined by its series of increasingly bizarre choices. While the title received some praise for its early multiplayer capabilities, most reviews were not kind to the release.
8 Spider-Man: Web of Fire
As the Genesis began its slide into technological obsolescence in the early 1990s, Sega famously released two add-on peripherals -- the Sega CD and the Sega 32x -- in an attempt to extend the life of the console. While both add-ons became legendary commercial flops, they lasted long enough to accumulate a small library of games. After Sega announced that it would be pulling support for the Genesis, “Spider-Man: Web of Fire” became the final game in the 32x library when it was released in 1996.
Developed by BlueSky Software, this game pits Spider-Man and Daredevil against Hydra and the New Enforcers, a minor villain group that included Dragon Man, the Eel and Thermite. While the game was largely ignored by the gaming press upon its release, it received a handful of moderately positive reviews that praised its graphics. Since the game was released so late in its console’s life cycle, it’s rare enough to command hundreds of dollars in the secondary retro games market as of this writing.
7 Ghost Rider
After an attempt to give the Spirit of Vengeance his own “Castlevania”-esque game for the PlayStation in the 1990s, “Ghost Rider” debuted on the PlayStation 2 in the wake of the character’s 2007 feature film. Serving as a loose sequel to the movie, the Climax Games and 2k Productions title follows Johnny Blaze’s Ghost Rider as he fights supernatural foes like Mephisto, Scarecrow and Blackheart.
With a story by comic writers Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti, the game has plenty of chain-whipping and Penance Stare-based hack-and-slash action. “Ghost Rider” also features motorcycle racing segments, with the PlayStation Portable version even having a “Mario Kart”-esque racing mode. On the PS2, players can also unlock playable characters like Blade and Ghost Rider 2099 after beating the game, with the new characters altering the game’s mechanics and adding a degree of replay value. Despite this, the title received lukewarm reviews and unfavorable comparisons to “God of War” upon its initial release.
6 Captain America: Super Soldier
Each of the films in “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was accompanied by a tie-in video game. Almost all of these cross-platform games featured voice acting from some of their respective films’ stars, featured the only MCU appearances of a few minor villains... and received mostly negative reviews. While Marvel has moved away from this practice for its subsequent films, “Captain America: Super Solider” ended this run of games on a relatively high note.
Released across platforms in 2011, the Next Level Games and Sega production follows Captain America’s campaign in the middle of “Captain America: The First Avenger’s” WWII setting. Christos Gage’s story gives players the chance to take on legions of Hydra soldiers and battle villains like Baron von Strucker and Madame Hydra. While the game’s reviews were not all positive, its combat, atmosphere and shield physics were all praised. Some reviewers even made not-entirely-unfavorable comparisons to “Batman: Arkham Asylum.”
5 The Punisher: No Mercy
Digital marketplaces and app stores have been a boon for comic-based games. For fans who just want the opportunity to play with their favorite characters in an interactive setting, these types of games can scratch that itch in an affordable way. Released exclusively on the PlayStation Network in 2009, “The Punisher: No Mercy” gave Marvel’s gun-loving antihero his most recent headlining role.
In the Zen Studios title, gameplay is centered around arena-based first-person shooting. While there’s a story mode that features art from Mike Deodato, the real draw is a “Goldeneye”-esque multiplayer mode that lets gamers play as the Punisher, Silver Sable, Jigsaw, Barracuda and a few other Marvel mercenaries. The title received mixed reviews, with many calling it a fairly mediocre first-person shooter and criticizing its short length. Since Marvel and Zen’s licensing agreement expired in 2011, the game has been pulled from sale on the PlayStation Network and remains unavailable for purchase.
4 Avengers in Galactic Storm
In the wake of Data East’s successful brawler, “Captain America and the Avengers,” the developer released the 3D fighting game “Avengers in Galactic Storm” to arcades in 1995. While Capcom’s 2D fighter “Marvel Super Heroes” would become a smash hit in arcades later that same year, this lesser-known game was released first.
Based on 1992’s Kree-centric Avengers crossover, “Operation: Galactic Storm,” the game features a small roster of fighters including then-current Avengers Captain America, Thunderstrike, Black Knight and Crystal. With a surprising fidelity to the source material, the rest of the cast is rounded out by fairly obscure Kree villains like Shatterax and Korath. While the game’s reviews were only mixed, the fighter was quietly revolutionary with its introduction of assistant characters. When a player’s assistant meter was full, players could call in other characters like Thor and Iron Man to attack their opponent. This mechanic would eventually become a defining feature of Capcom’s Marvel fighting games.
Mattel’s HyperScan console is generally considered one of the worst video game systems of all time. Originally released in 2006, the discount system was designed to target adolescent boys by combining video games with collectible trading cards. While the games were released on CD, fundamental gameplay aspects like characters and special moves could only be unlocked by using the system’s RFID card scanner to read physical cards, sold separately in booster packs.
Although the HyperScan was only supported for a year, three of its five games are based on Marvel properties. “X-Men” is a fighting game where all of its fighters had to be scanned in by the physical cards. Likewise, “Marvel Heroes” and “Spider-Man” are both side-scrolling brawlers where various characters and power-ups could only be added through the card scanner. Like the system’s other games, these releases were all savaged by reviewers for shoddy controls, incredibly long load screens and rough graphics that wouldn’t have been out of place in the previous decade.
2 Iron Man/X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal
While Marvel’s characters have battled Capcom’s stable of fighters on numerous occasions, licensing deals have made most crossover games between comics companies a logistical impossibility. During the period in the mid-1990s when the video game publisher Acclaim owned Valiant Comics and its characters, they also had a license to create games with some Marvel characters. In 1996, “Iron Man/X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal” became the product of this opportune moment.
Released across platforms, this brawler follows both armored heroes in a 2D side-scrolling adventure as they try to keep their respective villains from combing their home universes with the power of the Cosmic Cube. Despite a decent roster of villains that included Titania, Yellowjacket and Mr. Hyde, the Realtime Associates game received largely negative reviews upon its release. While both Iron Man and X-O Manowar were dead or trapped in a pocket universe at the time of the game’s release, Marvel and Valiant published a two issue tie-in miniseries by Fabian Nicieza, Tom Grindberg and Andy Smith.
1 The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes
While region-exclusive releases aren’t that uncommon in gaming, they usually focus on sports or properties that aren’t necessarily popular on the international stage. The Japan-exclusive “The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes” is an odd exception to that trend. Originally released by Epoch in 1995, this Super Famicom action-platformer followed-up four other side-scrolling Spider-Man games -- including 1994’s classic “Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage” -- that were not released on that console.
Very loosely based on the miniseries of the same name, “Lethal Foes” pits Spider-Man against a mix of classic and minor enemies that included a suit-wearing Dr. Octopus, Beetle and Alistair Smthye. With a wide range of non-playable allies including Venom, Speedball, Iron Fist and the Human Torch, the game displays a surprisingly deep grasp of the Marvel Universe. Upon its initial release, the Agenda-developed game received mixed reviews, largely due to an unforgiving level time limit. In more recent years, subsequent reviews have been quite kind, with some even calling it the best Spider-Man game of the era.
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