There is something about comic book heroes, a surreal quality that people love. Whether it’s as icons of the page, or on big and small screens, many of us see a quality in these characters and stories that captivate us. Because they have been around so long and continue to make money in various markets, the years have given us plenty of comic book-based games. At the recent E3 conference, one of the most touted games at Sony’s presentation was a new Spider-Man title, and it has us thinking about some of our favorite installments featuring the comic legends that inspired them.
Large sprites, small sprites, beat ‘em up action and platforming. Spider-Man: The Video Game provides wonderful multiplayer action across a four-player arcade cabinet, which used to litter arcades across North America in the early 1990’s.
Whether playing as Spider-Man himself, or selecting another hero like Hawkeye, Prince Namor (Sub Mariner) or even Black Cat, this colorful masterpiece provides loads of fun for gamers of all ages.
That is, if you have enough quarters.
Your life bar is depicted by a number value and depletes as you’re attacked, naturally, but it also ticks away with each passing second of time. It’s a tactic that forced you to be armed with as many quarters as possible and while you can pick up health boosts as you traverse along, additional credits are the only way to truly advance through this game.
The graphics are bright and crisp and bring the comic book action to life in a very satisfying way, complete with on-screen ‘action text’. (think: WAM! VOK! POW!) It’s simplistic in its gameplay, but still enticing enough to enjoy when compared alongside the likes of a Final Fight or Streets of Rage. You punch, jump and inflict special attacks, all the way through sixteen levels of face-smashing fun and boss battles.
The villains from the Marvel comic universe are there as well, specifically those that interrupt Spidey’s world on an issue-by-issue basis: Scorpion, Venom, the Green Goblin and more. All the big names are there for the most part, and as a comic book fan of that era, it keeps to the source material nicely.
Between the up close beat ‘em up style to the zoomed out platforming goodness, Spider-Man: The Video Game is a great time, which you can still enjoy today through MAME emulators and is good for a satisfying evening of quips and…THWIPS.
The Wolf Among Us
The Wolf Among Us (TWAU) is a mystery thriller from TellTale Games based on the Fables book series. While the concept of making things ‘dark’ has become vastly overused in media genres, TWAU takes the concept to a whole new, refreshing level. In a nutshell, TWAU is about old, fable characters we all heard about as children: Little Red Riding Hood, the 3 Little Pigs, Snow White, etc. The catch is, however, that these characters are set in a ‘real world’ city and must live/hide among regular humans. In doing so, most of them have turned away from their innocent fable backgrounds and had to get their hands dirty to make a living. For example: Beauty and the Beast live in a well-furnished, upscale apartment, but got in debt with the mob to be able to maintain their lifestyle.
As if stuff like that wasn’t intriguing enough, the player assumes the role as one of the main villains from the children stories of old; Bigby (Big-Bee), aka The Big Bad Wolf. Just as some innocent characters have turned to seedy ventures to support themselves, Bigby has also made a 180 in life and become the sheriff of this Fable Town. He now serves and protects the same characters he hunted years before. The overall story arc in TWAU is about solving the mystery behind a series of murders happening in the city.
TellTale Games did an amazing job bringing this world to life on screen. The best way to describe the aesthetics is that this seedy city seems to be bathed in a neon glow with patches of darkness, each with its own secrets; the musical score also reflects this atmosphere in a very interesting way. If you are a fan on TellTale Games, or other story-based clickers, The Wolf Among Us is definitely one to check out; especially with the sequel just being announced!
The Punisher (XBox)
Frank Castle has always been one of my favorite characters in Marvel’s books, but I often find it hard to convince others to read his titles. There is a stigma that he is one-sided, all about the violence and gore that make him the cool old man anti-hero, but there is so much more to the former soldier. It’s just subtle. The same could be said for his video game; action-packed and bloody, but with subtle hints of character that is simply beautiful. It’s a story that starts out with some cheesy cutscenes and a typical story that expands and blows up into an all out war that only the Punisher can end.
The gunplay is a lot of fun, reminding me of something close to Max Payne but with more polish. The level design and setups for many of the sections were done well, and boss fights were decent. New York and the other locations are mostly drab, but many of the details and colors pop out. The game holds plenty of references back to the comics and some extra content for those that truly embrace it. There is certainly some cheesiness to it, but I love listening to Thomas Jane reprise his role as the iconic vigilante. There is something about the violence of it all for sure though, the comic book style with such over-the-top killing that is more of a comfort than any type of disturbing imagery, but that is balanced out by the torture mini-games, which can be a bit jarring at first. It’s an experience I loved and continue to pick back up so often, as it holds a ton of replay value. Even though many skipped this title, not expecting much, it has a dedicated group of fans that know there are never enough bullets.
Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage (PS3)
When I first discovered the anime Fist of the North Star back in 1996, it was love at first sight. The over-the-top bloody violence was right up my alley and I simply could not get enough. I wanted more, more, MORE!
Since anime hadn’t quite hit its peak in the mainstream yet, Fist of the North Star media was hard to come by. Luckily, a year later, combing through a warehouse-sized Mile High Comics I discovered the manga in all its black and white glory, translated into English, which was just what I needed to curb my fix. Now if only a decent video game could be created to do the franchise some justice. Let’s be honest—Fist of the North Star on the NES and Last Battle on the Genesis just didn’t cut it.
Who would’ve guessed that fourteen years after I had initially salivated to heads exploding, my prayers would be answered? Fist of the North Star: Ken’s Rage was released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 in November of 2010 and was everything that I had ever hoped for. Finally, the game I had dreamed of for years was now a reality. “You’re already dead.”
Never in my life have I ever played a game that was so faithful to its source material. Well, maybe Maximum Carnage, but Ken’s Rage even gives that game’s narrative a run for its money. Ken’s plight to rescue his beloved, Yuria, from his former best friend, Shin? It’s here. Ken’s first encounter with Bat and Rin, rescuing them from Zeed and his evil goons? Check. Kenshiro’s sibling rivalry with Jagi, Raoh and Toki? Yep, it’s all there, too, sprinkled with brotherly resentment. For fans of the manga and TV show, Ken’s Rage is an absolute dream come true!
Tre X. Larkins
Marvel Ultimate Alliance (PS3 / 360)
Some people might tell you that videogame adaptations of comic book heroes or vise versa never pan out and sometimes they’re correct, but, Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the other hand is the right formula at the right time. Going back to the game only strengthens what this action role-playing adventure gets right and serves as a reminder that Marvel truly understands and appreciates fandom. Having been released on a multitude of consoles over the years (PS4, XBOne as of 2016), what they got right in this game was simple: fan service. At a time where “Hero flicks” were beginning to swell, and “geek culture” was transitioning into “Pop Culture”, Marvel hit the nail on the head with this back in 2006. Ultimate Alliance is exactly the level of fan service in this “pretty good” title. Players had access to a plethora of heroes, complete with not only background information, but hero specific missions which upon completion would usually reward you with an unlockable of sorts. The game also features customizable moves sets, abilities, and alternate skins that pay homage to their classic adventures and outfits. It’s also fun teaming up your favorite heroes or recreating a classic team (which usually ended up in a stat boost for said team, ie Fem Fatal or Avengers), taking on villains like Galactus or Doom in epic dungeon crawler-esque levels, or performing flashy “Ultimate” moves solo or together with your teammates.
In short, by no means is this the holy grail, but it’s a damn good Gauntlet-styled game. Ultimate Alliance served as a playground for Marvel fans as players interacted with some of their most loved comic book characters, were given glimpses into Marvel’s history and got to customize and tailor their favorite Marvel super hero teams. It’s no juggernaut, but if you’re a diehard Marvel fan, this game is a must have.
I bought Neversoft’s Spider-Man in the summer of 2000. I am not certain, but I think it might have been the first Playstation game I actually bought, not really having a PSX prior to marrying the gamer-girl tomboy who stole my heart. On first blush, I remember being really impressed with the cinematic feel of the game; and really tickled with Stan Lee’s narration. It was great fun, instantly making the game relatable. Gameplay began with a tutorial level that barely feels like one, as the training exercises are nearly seamless with the story. Now I know lots of folks who find tutorial levels anathema, but I have always been a mediocre gamer at best, so I appreciate them!
Well, back in the day I played the hell out of this game. I played it when my wife was at work and almost every time she fell asleep first. I played it so much that more than once I had to remind myself that web-zipping was not an option for getting around the call center. But that was years ago, and years that I have played little else but Lego Star Wars. (And Fallout4. Since December ’16 I have played an ungodly amount of Fallout 4.) How would Spider-Man hold up?
Hang on. I’ll be right back.
Well, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun! The controls remain just shy of intuitive, with 3D navigation only really hindered by lack of camera controls. The voice acting is fun, and the animation, while rough and y2k-polygonal, remains evocative. The story is engaging aside from a few blatant if forgivable holes, and it is packed with fun guest stars that make it feel like the marvel universe, while giving the player some between chapter treats! I hadn’t touched this game in years, but it seems pretty clear a full replay is in order!
X2: Wolverine’s Revenge (PS2)
Many comic book-based video games paved the way to be improved upon in later sequels, like Batman: Arkham Asylum. Some set the bar so high that subsequent games fail to escape their shadow, like Spider-Man 2. And then there’s X2: Wolverine’s Revenge, an often overlooked one-off game created by Genepool. While X2 was marketed as a movie tie-in game for X2: X-Men United, it more directly follows the events in Wolverine’s comics. Level 1 bridges the gap between the first two X-Men films, playing out Wolverine’s escape from the Weapon X facility. Then it deviates from the movie plot as Wolverine focuses on tracking down Weapon X before a failsafe they put in place kills him.
It’s clear this is comic book Wolverine: he’s five foot tall by five foot wide and wears his outfit from the New X-Men comic series. There are collectible comic books hidden in-game that unlock outfits so the player can brutalize as their favorite Logan (or wear the latex motorcyclist getup from the movie). Regardless of the outfit, Mark Hamill provides the voice for Wolvie’s rage while he slashes through enemies. What really stands out is the combat system and how the game gives the player the choice of head-on action or using animal instincts with stealth mode. X2 features parry-based combat called “the Strike system” that cuts to an animation of Wolverine taking out 1, 2, or 3 enemies, depending on enemy position relative to Wolverine; getting a Triple Strike is incredibly satisfying. Later comic-based games incorporated similar parry-based combat, so it’s not a stretch to say that the aforementioned games likely took inspiration from X2: Wolverine’s Revenge. Its downfall was the combination of long levels that require memorization, high difficulty, and no checkpoints. It’s worth picking up, but run it in an emulator with save states if you’re not up for repeated level playthroughs.
Spin Dash, Nerd Rage Renegades
Taking inspiration from not only the entire history, but mainly from the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee titles of the early 90’s, X-Men on Sega Genesis was and is to this day one of my favorite Comic Book related video games. The Danger Room has been infected with a Virus and now the simulations have turned deadly for the X-Men. Traversing through levels such as the Savage Land, Excalibur’s Tower, and the Shi’ar Empire, it is up to you to stop this virus and find who is responsible.
Completely destroying the previous outing for the X-Men on NES, the Genesis game allowed you to play as the members of the X-Men Blue Team: Wolverine, Cyclops, and Gambit as well as Excalibur member Nightcrawler. The members of the X-Men Gold Team: Storm, Rogue, Archangel, Iceman, and Jean Grey, serve in a support capacity as summoned attacks, while classic X-Men adversaries try to hinder your momentum towards the final showdown with Magneto such as, Sabretooth, Juggernaut, Mojo, and Apocalypse.
With fantastic graphics and easily recognizable stages to any fan of the comics, this game had my attention for weeks after I got it. I enjoyed testing the various characters on each stage to see which one would fit best, when to use their mutant powers, when to summon support and the best strategies for bosses. This game is not easy, it has its share of difficulty and also the infamous RESET mechanic that had many of us wondering what to do in order to progress (and finding out you can’t progress if you are playing the game on a SEGA Nomad). However, it had a great soundtrack and even spawned an equally great sequel in X-Men 2: Clone Wars. Pick up this game and also pick up the Claremont/Lee X-Men trade at your local Comic Shop.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
When asked about my contribution for this piece, my mind went to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These characters were an intrinsic part of my childhood growing up, and so all Turtle media was snapped up by me as often as possible, including the comics and video games. Luckily for me, there were also a lot of really outstanding TMNT video games around at the time as well. But I’ve gone with TMNT: Tournament Fighters for the SNES. Why? Not because I’m a contrarian jerkface but more for what the game represents to me personally.
As far as the game itself is concerned, it’s a pretty middling 2D fighter, and that’s perhaps being kind. It isn’t exactly the worst thing on the planet, but it’s also not what folks would consider a fighting game classic. Still, I also remember renting this game numerous times when I was young because I was eyeballs-deep into the comic books at the time. And TMNT Tournament Fighters had Karai, one of my favorite characters of the canon. To me, the thing about both the comics and the game is not that they were great because they were great, but they were great because they were mindless, dumb fun. And if we’re honest, the concept of turtles being exposed to a mutagenic compound and learning a loose version of ninjutsu is just damned silly. So why shouldn’t the games reflect the same?
Sure, the Arcade Game for the NES and Turtles in Time for the SNES are just two particularly strong examples of excellent TMNT games that stand out as games, but Tournament Fighters represents a simpler, stupider time in my life, and that kind of sits deeper in my heart precisely for that reason.