Ten Great Superhero Games

Superheroes have been saving the world in various media since early last century, with characters such as Superman, The Shadow and The Phantom all appearing in the 1930s, and several arguable heroes coming before. We’ve had comics (obviously), novels, radio plays, TV series and, of course, films. Even if you’re not a big superhero movie fan, you’re bound to have noticed films such as Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in your local cinema listings.

Never wanting to be left out, video games have staked their own claim on the superhero genre in their own unique fashion. In the history of gaming there have been some utterly atrocious superhero games - I suspect quite a few people are already thinking about Superman on the Nintendo 64 - but today we’re going to be looking at the ones that exceeded expectations. Note that not all of my choices come from comic books, but all are superheroes of one type or another.

 

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Created by Treyarch (who you may know from various Call of Duty games, or not, depending on your level of taste), Spider-Man 2 follows the plot of the reasonably good film and converts it into one of the best superhero games ever. While other games had done a passable job of pinning down the web-swinging action of Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2 gave you full access to roam freely around New York, taking down criminals, exploring and generally climbing around like the friendly neighbourhood superhero. Some critics described it as “Grand Theft Spider-Man”, citing the freedom of movement and the joy of exploration as two of the best reasons to play the game.

 

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Spider-Man 2 was ported to pretty much every system available at the time, including the Game Boy Advance, PlayStation Portable and even the N-Gage, but it was the GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions that really shone. Although technically dated by today’s standards, the game is still great fun to play, and might help the superhero addicts among you to stay calm while waiting for the new Spider-Man: Homecoming film (due next year). Just don’t play the Mac or PC versions; those are dull and too easy, and completely outshone by the console versions. Do yourself a favour and dig out your PS2 instead. 

 

 

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

While the recent Batman v Superman film may have left a lot of fans with a nasty aftertaste, the same can never be said for the Arkham series of games. Arkham Asylum is my personal favourite, though Arkham City and Arkham Knight are both great, and even Arkham Origins is enjoyable if a little generic.

 

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Batman has always been one of the darker superheroes committed to print, and Arkham Asylum really captures the ethos of some of the more famous comic books. Starting with the capture of the Joker (who inevitably escapes and causes havoc), you get to fight through the Asylum beating up goons and using gadgets, which is what being Batman is all about. At least, I imagine it’s what being Batman is all about; I don’t have a superhero alter ego. Honest.

With voices by the stars of the animated series, including a masterful performance by Mark Hamill as the Joker, Arkham Asylum does a fantastic job of putting you into the world of the Caped Crusader. When you’re swooping from the shadows, taking out henchmen and using your detective skills to find clues, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more authentic superhero experience.

 

 

Viewtiful Joe (2003)

Something of an unorthodox choice for a list like this, Viewtiful Joe was developed by the fantastically insane Clover Studio for the GameCube and PlayStation 2. While not based on a comic, film or any other source material, Viewtiful Joe is still very much a superhero game.

 

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When Joe’s girlfriend is kidnapped by a monster that lives inside a movie, he becomes Viewtiful Joe and must fight his way through Movieland to rescue her. Joe can punch, kick, jump and dodge as he fights enemies, and also gets various movie-styled powers, such as speeding up or slowing down time. The plot is absolutely ridiculous, but knowingly so, and the whole game brims with a gleeful silliness.

In a reversal of the usual course of things, Viewtiful Joe went on to be adapted into a cartoon TV series, which was inevitably mediocre. Do yourself a favour and play the game if you want a truly bizarre superhero experience.

 

 

Turtles in Time (1991)

In the late 80s and early 90s the Turtles were everywhere. They are well remembered for their appearances in the TV cartoon (as adapted from the comic books), but they were also toys, lunchboxes, duvet covers, shampoo and cereal. It was a very strange time to be a kid.

 

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Outside of the comics and cartoon, probably the most fondly remembered Turtles adaptation is Turtles in Time, a 4-player arcade game. Working together, four players could take on the roles of the Turtles and fight through the Foot Clan before taking on Shredder himself. This might sound quite pedestrian by current standards of gaming, but at the time it was a radical combination of popular characters, tight gameplay and 4-player co-op, which was a rarity.

Turtles are of course making a comeback in cinemas, with the second movie due out soon. For this we can all blame Michael Bay and his unerring ability to squander promising source material.

 

 

X-Men (1992)

Commonly referred to as “the X-Men arcade game” and fondly remembered by arcade gamers, X-Men allowed up to six friends to play as a team, which seems to me a case of one-upmanship over games such as Turtles in Time with their paltry four players.

 

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Developed by Konami, X-Men allowed you to play as Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler or someone called Dazzler, who was inevitably your only remaining choice if you were the last to get to the machine. While the gameplay was decent, it was the incarnation of the comic book characters that made the game worth playing. All had different powers, making playing the game a real team effort with different characters demanding different play styles and handling situations in varying ways.

Perhaps most memorably, X-Men produced some wonderfully badly-translated lines, including “I am Magneto, master of magnet!” and the delightfully ridiculous “Welcome to die!”.

 

 

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (2011)

Although not exclusively a superhero game (as you might have guessed from the title), Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 features a great roster of Marvel characters including Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Deadpool and Storm, taking on rivals from Capcom games such as Resident Evil, Street Fighter II and Viewtiful Joe.

 

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The great appeal of UMvC (which should not be confused with the Ulster Military Vehicle Club) is in resolving those childhood arguments about who would win in a fight between Storm and Morrigan, Wolverine and Chun-Li, or Iron Man and Jill Valentine. What do you mean, you didn’t have arguments about any of that as a child? That’s hardly my problem. Players choose three fighters each and then (as far as I can tell) press buttons at superhuman speeds until literally everything is happening on the screen, and then someone wins.

Okay, so I’m not a fighting game expert.

The fun of the game can’t be denied, and while the MvC series has its serious players, for casuals gamers there’s still a certain cathartic joy in pulling off tremendous combos between Wolverine, Rocket Raccoon and Phoenix Wright.

 

 

The Wonderful 101 (2013)

Sadly, this is the game on this list that you’re least likely to have played, mostly because hardly anyone out there has a Wii U. I say sadly, because it’s a wonderfully inventive (if flawed) game from PlatinumGames, developers of Bayonetta and MadWorld, among others.

 

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The Wonderful 101 puts you in control of a hundred superheroes all at the same time, employed by the UN. You have to fight off the Geathjerk Federation Armada by combining the superheroes into bridges or giant swords, and if that sounds insane to you, then you’re starting to get a feel for Platinum’s trademark style. By drawing shapes on the GamePad you can instruct the superheroes to take different forms, solving puzzles as well as fighting enemies. The game is impressively difficult, as is usual for Platinum, but was well-received by critics and is certainly worth a try if you find yourself in possession of a Wii U.

Platinum have also developed a Transformers game and have a Turtles title due for release in a few weeks (at the time of writing). After the due diligence they gave Transformers, there’s hope that the new Turtles game can wash away the horrible taste of the recent movies. Or even the old movies, which were terrible and only nostalgia prevents people from saying so.

 

Freedom Force (2002)

Taking a different approach to superhero gaming, Freedom Force is a tactical role-playing game, rather than a straight-up action game. Missions consist of choosing a team of four superheroes (either created by the game or born of your imagination) who can fly, have super strength or climb walls, and then beating villains up with your bare fists, lamp posts, trees, cars and other improvised weapons.

 

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As you progress through the story, your heroes gain new powers and abilities, so gameplay never becomes stale. The entire game is a clear love letter to classic comics, with bright colours, SWOOSH and KER-SMACK effects and a penchant for being overdramatic. Smashing giant robots has never been so charmingly entertaining.

While it’s a little tricky to get the game to run on modern machines, Freedom Force (and its sequel, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich) is a joy to play once you get it going and will have all fans of comic book heroes giggling like giddy schoolgirls.

 

 

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006)

I’ve tried not to include too many Marvel games on this list at the expense of DC games, but DC really hurt me with that Superman game on the N64, so I’m including one last Marvel title. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance allows you to choose a team of four heroes like Freedom Force, but this time they’re all recognisable to Marvel fans (or in most cases, anyone who has been to a cinema in the last decade).

 

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While Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 managed to squeeze in 48 characters, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance features a mind-boggling 140, with alternate versions and costumes for many of them, meaning you can make the team you always wanted. Alternatively, you can be really boring and just pick Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor.

Ultimate Alliance ticks all the right boxes for a superhero game, with satisfying combat and more characters than you can shake a vibranium shield at. The latest Captain America movie may incorporate a dozen of Marvel’s most famous characters, but it’s got nothing on Ultimate Alliance. Until 20th Century Fox sell the X-Men back to Marvel, you’re not going to see team-ups like this on the big screen and will have to settle for creating them yourself.

 

 

Saints Row IV (2013)

The Saints Row games have always pushed the envelope of craziness, but Saints Row IV brought things to a natural conclusion by having your character elected President of the USA and given superpowers, just in time to fight off an alien invasion.

 

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Saints Row IV is an open-world game in a similar style to the Grand Theft Auto games, but gives you the ability to jump over tall buildings, outrun vehicles and shoot fire and ice. Grand Theft Auto never got quite that silly. As you play through the game, you unlock more and more superpowers and become more powerful, providing wish fulfilment for all the superhero wannabes (which includes me, of course).

Saints Row IV came out quite soon after its predecessor, but the series has since gone quiet. This may be an indicator that there’s really nowhere to go with the ridiculous escalation of the games, with this instalment ending with the player character tearing off the alien leader’s head and taking over his empire, then reviving Jane Austen from cryogenic stasis to narrate the game. I think we can all agree that while superhero games are usually outlandish nonsense, Saints Row has to be a contender for the most insane of all.

 

 

So, those are ten of the best superhero games ever made, but with decades of history in both the superhero genre and in gaming, there are bound to be several that I’ve missed. That’s where you come in! Do you think I should have included any of the Lego Marvel or DC games? Did you love Batman on the Amiga? Let me know! You can get in touch with me through the comments below, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or email dave@homeleisuredirect.com.


Written By: Dave Morgan

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