It was inevitable that video games and comic book superheroes – two of the most beloved hobbies of children young and old – would cross paths, and ever since the first hero or villain was adapted into pixel form, comic fans have been lining up to see these icons in action. Unfortunately, not all of the combinations have been winning one. In fact, there are likely more failures than successes.
However, the tide seems to be turning. With superheroes taking over the box office, video game dominance may not be far behind. So to honor those that have yet to come, we look back at those which proved the genre could thrive in the first place.
Here is our list of the Top 10 Superhero Video Games.
(10 of 10)
City of Heroes
Although it wasn’t a direct adaptation of any specific comic book universe, or its characters, City of Heroes was one of the first games to prove that a superhero MMO was a recipe for success. Since its release in 2004 (until its unfortunate demise in 2012) both Marvel and DC have attempted to capture its success with the power of established heroes, but they simply couldn’t hold a candle.
Giving players the chance to craft their own hero in the fictional Paragon City, villains demanded players from around the world team up to bring them to justice. With 23 free updates, the game remains one of the best superhero games in terms of fan service, if nothing else.
(9 of 10)
It’s difficult to name any single superhero game the ‘best ever,’ but if you ask gamers over a certain age which comic book video game holds the most youthful nostalgia, most are likely to name the original X-Men arcade game chief among them. Released back in 1992, the game enjoyed a multiplayer component like few ‘2.5D’ beat-em-ups ever had, letting 2 to 6 players control fighters onscreen at once (oh, how the times have changed…).
The gameplay may be somewhat simple, with players able to move, attack, and unleash ‘mutant powers,’ but the overall charm and fun Konami managed to include made it a must-play for any comic book fan. It may be a product of its time (and hard to hold up these days), but its place in history is beyond debate.
(8 of 10)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Anyone familiar with X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Uncaged Edition knows that the game’s success defied virtually all odds and expectations. Raven Software gets all the credit for making a diamond from the dirt – the film released alongside the game was largely panned by critics – and delivering a bloody, adult, tongue-in-cheek guilty pleasure. In other words, what many fans always hoped for from the big screen adaptations of the clawed superhero.
With the new-found family-friendly success of Marvel’s superhero films, the game represents what will likely be gamers’ only chance to give in to Logan’s darker side. The gruesome executions, finishing moves, and wounds healing in real time helped make the game a delight for movie fans, gamers, and comic book die-hards alike.
(7 of 10)
Turtles in Time
While they aren’t usually lumped in with other ‘superheroes,’ the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created as an amalgamation of several costumed comic heroes, so they certainly apply. Fans of the animated TV series from the 1980s were treated to an arcade game incarnation courtesy of Konami in 1989, but it was the sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time that perfected the formula.
Up to 4 players at once (in the arcade version) could fight as their favorite hero, beating the Foot Clan and their leaders into a pulp as they worked their way from side to side. Turtles in Time refined every aspect of the original, and is one of the best beat-em-ups arcades ever witnessed.
(6 of 10)
Superhero video games aren’t what come to mind when someone mentions Irrational Games, a studio most well-known for System Shock 2 and its spiritual successor BioShock. But back in 2002 – a full 2 years before City of Heroes took action-based superhero gameplay online – Irrational had success of their own with Freedom Force, letting players control an entire squad of superheroes in the world of Patriot City.
The core gameplay was sound enough, but it was the clear love for the Golden Age of comic books that made Freedom Force a hit with comic fans. With original heroes like the patriotic Minuteman, and villains like Nuclear Winter and Time Master, the artists and writers captured something few video game adaptations attempt: the spirit of comic heroes, not just the action.
(5 of 10)
In the realm of Spider-Man video games, there is no question that Treyarch’s work on the movie tie-in game for Spider-Man 2 receives the most accepted praise – and with good reason. In many ways, it set the stage for what most superhero games would be: a freely explorable, expansive open world filled with people in need. But in our minds, that success makes their work on Ultimate Spider-Man even more impressive.
Instead of trying to reinvent or top their success, Treyach added another dimension: they would adapt not a film, but the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic series, aimed at a younger audience with a clearer sense of humor. Add in an art style that captured the comic perfectly, and include both Spider-Man AND Venom as playable protagonists? It’s every bit as polished as the movie tie-in, but with a superhero feel torn right from the comic.
(4 of 10)
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
It’s true that Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 may be the most difficult to master among the games on our list, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive on nearly every front. Bringing some of the most beloved characters from both Marvel Comics and Capcom’s video game roster into one colossal battle, it’s genuinely shocking that so many superheroes and villains could be adapted so faithfully.
The game may have been the source of controversy among die-hard fighting game fans, due both to Capcom’s use of locked on-disc content for microtransactions and the fact that the game is an upgraded version of Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Regardless of its business model, no one can argue the game’s overall polish and technical precision. It’s arguably one of the best fighting games of the last decade, so the fact that it includes superheroes is simply a bonus.
(3 of 10)
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
Over the years, the development team at Traveller’s Tales has produced some of the best licensed video games around, bringing the world of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and both DC and Marvel Comics into the realm of LEGO. Letting players reenact some of the films’ most iconic moments in toy form has proven a successful formula (to this day), but if we had to choose one, the team truly outdid themselves with LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes.
Swapping corridors for an open world, and doing fan service (and justice) to the likes of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman – you name it – resulted in not just one of the best video game focused on DC Comics, but arguably the best LEGO video game as well.
(2 of 10)
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
The original pitch for X-Men Legends was simple enough: it’s an old-school, isometric dungeon crawler, but starring the X-Men instead of warriors and wizards. The finished game proved just as promising as its concept, and the developers at Raven Software delivered a surprise hit for every Marvel fanboy (or fangirl). A sequel would soon arrive on the PS2 and Xbox, before the team moved on to develop a next-gen successor in the form of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.
Players were once again allowed to construct a team of 4 Marvel characters of their choice, each possessing unique abilities and attacks. With over 140 comic book characters appearing from start to finish, and a wealth of unlockable fighters and costumes to keep completionists engaged, Ultimate Alliance remains one of the best superhero dungeon crawlers a Marvel fan could hope for.
(1 of 10)
Batman: Arkham City
It was a fact taken entirely for granted by video game and comic fans everywhere: there was simply no way of making a good game starring Batman or Superman. That was, until Rocksteady Studios decided to shock the world with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Following the dark knight in his fight against one of Joker’s twisted traps, Asylum let players experience the thrill of being Batman for the first time. Raising the bar seemed nearly impossible, but Rocksteady surprised once again with Batman: Arkham City.
The two games share much in common, ranging from their cast of villains to the third-person combat system (which was quickly adopted by nearly every competitor). Players are sure to have their favorites – the tight plot of Asylum, or the open world of City – but by writing a truly inspired Batman tale while removing restrictions, City remains a tentpole for superhero games as whole.
Just as everyone is sure to have their favorite superheroes, so too are they likely to have their favorite superhero games – and with more on the way, even the most beloved could be challenged before long.
These are the ones which we believe were impactful, refined, or inspired enough to earn their place in history, but be sure to offer up your own selections (or arguments) in the comments below.
Written by Andrew Dyce for gamerant.com