Video games and superheroes seem like the perfect combination on paper. Both mediums serve as an audience power fantasy (to a certain extent) so it seems like translating one to the other should be a fairly straightforward task. However, this is seldom the case. For some reason, games developers really seem to struggle to adapt our favorite comic heroes into compelling gaming experiences, and as a result, the genre is littered with piles of terrible titles. There are high points, don’t get us wrong, but for every Arkham Asylum, there are about 20 awful licensed games in existence, ready to take the money of unsuspecting kids and devoted fans alike.
With this list, we intend to name and shame some of the worst superhero video game offerings ever. This one goes out to every dreadful game out there that failed to make us feel like superpowered badasses. Here are the 15 Worst Superhero Video Games Ever, Ranked.
15. X-Men: Destiny (2011)
A semi-controversial pick to start, but whichever way you cut it, X-Men: Destiny was seriously disappointing. To be fair, Destiny is at least playable, unlike some of the other list entries here, but it’s the sheer wasted potential behind this one that feels like a slap in the face. The game was an Action RPG where the player took control of a user-created mutant and could choose to join the heroic X-Men or the dastardly Brotherhood of Mutants. As the player progressed, they could level up their mutant abilities and choose how the story unfolded. To the game’s credit, it featured an impressive roster of mutants and fan-favorite characters that the player could interact with.
This was all well and good when printed on the back of the case, but actually playing the thing was a different story altogether. Graphically, the game wasn’t exactly a looker, with many reviews of the time noting that it looked like a PlayStation 2 title. That’s not exactly impressive in the generation that switched to HD in a big way. Not only that, but the supposed player free agency boiled down to boring linear choices that barely had any impact on the story whatsoever. These things could have been excused if the gameplay was fun, but alas, it was also a shallow button masher that pitted you against the same enemies from start to finish, with little variation in between. Bad games are nothing new, but the ones that had the potential to be great and ended up bad sting that little bit more. X-Men: Destiny is one of those games.
14. Catwoman (2004)
Based on the ill-advised movie of the same name, the Catwoman tie-in video game released in 2004. Whilst terrible movie tie-ins are mostly par for the course, Catwoman managed to be a special kind of bad. The fact that it was based on a complete turkey of a movie shattered its ankle straight out of the gate, but the pre-rendered cutscenes managed to be even worse than their live-action counterparts. This was mostly down the the distractingly bad performances turned in by usually talented actors like Jennifer Hale and Jeremy Renner (!)
As far as the gameplay went, it was about 80% awkward platforming and 20% stupid combat. Forget Sharon Stone’s villainous Laurel; your biggest enemy in the Catwoman game is the camera, which refuses to play ball. Most of the time, your platform failings will be down to the game’s uncanny ability to choose the absolute worst angle for the player to proceed with. When you are able to see what’s going on, it’s hard to care, whether it’s by-the-numbers platforming or the insultingly easy combat which will cause enemies to literally hurl themselves into walls or environmental hazards if you didn’t dispatch them quickly enough. Couple in the fact that on top of everything else, the game controls with all the precision of a drunken pig, and you’ve got yourself a hefty hairball of an experience that we’ll let you all get back to forgetting about.
13. Watchmen: The End is Nigh (2009)
Making a simple game from the extended and complicated Watchmen universe isn’t the best idea. Watchmen: The End is Nigh was a two-part downloadable title released in 2009 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It boasted a canonical story written by the comic’s original editor, Lee Wein, with input from co-creator Dave Gibbons. The player either chose Rorschach or Nite Owl to brawl through levels and solve puzzles.
The game wasn’t well received. It got mixed to negative reviews when it came out, with many of the nastier critiques focused on the game’s repetitive nature. The story of how Rorschach and Nite Owl end up going their separate ways is an interesting one, and it’s presented with slick motion comic cutscenes voiced by the movie’s actors. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to care after hours of mind-numbing combat and mediocre puzzles that a 5 year old could solve. Plus, turning Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal work into a shallow beat-em-up pretty much misses the whole point of Watchmen, and did little to mask it from appearing like a cheap cash-in.
12. Silver Surfer (1990)
Lastability and giving gamers value for their money has always been a concern for game makers. NES games could only fit so much content into their limited cartridges, so games had to get clever. One of the ways games were made to last longer was by amping up the difficulty. After all, it doesn’t matter if you only have six stages when most people can’t get past the first. Enter Silver Surfer, one of the most notoriously hard games from the 8 bit era.
The game was a side-scrolling shooter that had various power-ups and enemy types strewn throughout the levels. So far, so standard. However, anything and everything could hurt you, and you died in one hit. Even benign things like rubber ducks and bits of the background could knock you off your board and force you to start over. Making a tough game is fine if the experience is tailored around it like the original Castlevania or the more recent Dark Souls series, but Silver Surfer‘s difficulty was less of a curve and more of a brick wall. Hard games have always existed, but Silver Surfer took it to the controller-snapping, frustrating extreme. The soundtrack was undeniably awesome, though.
11. Superman Returns (2006)
Of all the superheroes on this list, the Man of Steel has the worst reputation of all of them when it comes to video games. Superman Returns, based on Bryan Singer’s movie, aimed to buck the trend, but predictably ended up adding to the ever-growing pile of garbage Superman titles (a pile we’re not done rummaging through yet on this list). Warner Bros. and EA teamed up to give us what turned out to be an underwhelming Superman simulation that was pretty much universally slated by the press at the time.
The graphics were dated, the mission variety was a joke, and crucially, it failed to make the player feel particularly super. The game presents us with an open-world Metropolis, but very little to do, unless rescuing cats to unlock concept art is your bag. Random disasters or enemies can spawn in at any time, and if you don’t take them out quickly enough, it can lead to an abrupt game over. Superman Returns wins a solitary gold star for cleverly dodging the issue of playing as an invulnerable hero by having a Metropolis health bar instead, but it wasn’t enough to stop the game from feeling like a demo for a much larger, more satisfying experience.
10. The Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga (1997)
Marvel’s big green guy has had his fair share of bad games, but none have plumbed the depths like the PS1/PC/Sega Saturn title The Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga. The game was pig-ugly, even for a PS1 title, and the controls were way too awkward to gain any real sense that you were in control of Banner’s smashy alter-ego. The game mostly drew from the Pantheon story arc in the Hulk comics, but fudged the execution, leading to a boring and confusingly told story that’s hard to get invested in.
Gameplay was mostly consigned to beating up various enemies. Most of your time with the game is spent unleashing your rage on the same cookie-cutter baddies and smashing barriers and control panels to open up more rooms filled with the same tedious enemies. What little challenge there was in the game came from the finicky way you had to line up your attacks with the enemy to ensure you could actually hit them. The animation was also as choppy as anything, and at times resembled a Powerpoint presentation more than an actual video game. If you’re looking for the definitive Hulk experience, give this one a huge body swerve and go play Ultimate Destruction instead.
9. Spawn: The Eternal (1997)
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn seems like a perfect fit for gaming, but the character’s various video game appearances have been less than stellar. However, the absolute worst of them all has to be Spawn: The Eternal. Even for the time, the game was an ugly mess, with horrible textures and animations. Gameplay was limited to shallow exploration and repetitive, groan-worthy combat.
One of the oddest choices made in the game came to light every single time you had to fight an enemy. The in-game camera would switch from being behind Spawn to more of a side-on fighting perspective. Not only that, but the controls also switched without warning, meaning that unprepared or new players may find themselves crouching uncontrollably or hugging the edge of the screen when it came time to lay the smack down. It was a painful experience that not even the cursed or the damned should have to play, despite an admittedly sweet move where you rip off an opponent’s arm and beat them with it. Apparently, if you put the PS1 disc into a regular CD player, a lengthy interview with Todd McFarlane would start to play. A frank and honest apology from the game’s creators and detailed refund instructions may have been a better idea.
8. Iron Man 2 (2010)
Marvel properties haven’t been getting the big budget releases they used to. Despite the popularity of the MCU, there have been very few recent releases outside of the LEGO games and mobile free-to-play titles. Phase One did get a few adaptations, like the underrated Captain America: Super Soldier, but the nadir was arguably reached with Sega’s Iron Man 2. Whilst critical opinion is divided on whether the first Iron Man was worse or not, they all seem to agree that neither game is particularly good.
All the hallmarks of a rushed movie tie-in are here. The game is glitchy, with some truly nasty and distracting texture pop-in, and the whole game feels like a tech test for a bigger and better experience that never happened. You could play as either Iron Man or War Machine, but the differences are minimal. The game also has bland combat which forces you to fight the same enemy types over and over again. Hope you like avoiding heat-seeking missiles, because that’s what you’ll be doing for the majority of your time with this misfire. Marvel is apparently getting back into the “AAA” game market with their Spider-Man PS4 game, so let’s hope Shellhead gets a proper game worthy of his name in the future.
7. Fantastic Four (1997)
It’s hard to express how bad 1997’s Fantastic Four game is without forcing each and every one of you to sit down and play the wretched thing. Developer Acclaim chose to make their title a side-scrolling beat-em-up, in the same vein as Golden Axe and Streets of Rage. An odd choice for sure, but it could conceivably work if it weren’t for the sluggish gameplay that makes every punch and kick feel like an absolute chore.
Players had the choice of any of the four members of Marvel’s First Family or She-Hulk, but despite a few different moves here and there, it was basically the same rotten experience with different lumpy pixels. As a unique quirk, the game enabled you to play a fun rocket car racing mini-game between the frequent and long loading screens. When your mini-game is more entertaining than your actual game, you know you’ve screwed up big time. Even at the time, reviews weren’t shy about calling it one of the worst games ever, and that reputation has only been compounded in the decades since.
6. The Crow: City of Angels (1997)
Man, 1997 was a ghastly year for superhero games. It’s a shame that The Crow’s one and only video game appearance had to be this stinker. The Crow: City of Angels is a loose adaptation of the woeful 1996 sequel. Instead of Eric Draven, you play as the boring Ashe Corven. The aim of the game is to basically walk around and fight people. Well, in theory. Both the walking and the fighting present their own challenges. The game opts for Resident Evil‘s “tank controls”, but doesn’t pull it off with nearly the same skill. Camera angles change on a whim, so a good portion of your time will be devoted to finding out exactly where Corven is on screen.
As for the combat — oh dear. You can pull off some decent martial arts moves, but you’ll be lucky if you manage to hit anything with them thanks to the awkward controls and stubborn camera doing their very best to ensure you walk away miserable. That’s not even mentioning the game’s horrible hit detection, meaning that even if the stars align and you manage to both face your opponent and hit them, your fists or feet can glitch right through them for no damage. Sounds fun, right?
5. The Uncanny X-Men (1989)
LJN’s Uncanny X-Men, aka Marvel’s X-Men for the Nintendo Entertainment System, is a notoriously obnoxious game that earns its place on this list ten times over. It’s a top down action game where you choose 2 of an available 6 X-Men to slog through the levels with. The unappealing graphics and sluggish controls are the least of the game’s problems, with some seriously baffling design choices making the whole thing painful to play from beginning to end. The enemies in the game have nothing to do with the X-Men, unless we missed a stint in the comics where Xavier’s mighty mutants face an endless parade of robots, centipedes, spiders, and mice.
Much like the later and equally awful Wolverine game made by the same people, The Uncanny X-Men features a frustrating and counter-intuitive element where using your various abilities actually uses up your health, meaning that you can’t freely shred stuff with your claws or happily “BAMF!” your way about the place as Nightcrawler without putting yourself in danger of getting a game over. It’s like the game is purposefully ensuring you can’t have fun. What is the point of an X-Men game that actively discourages you from using your cool mutant powers? What a waste of such a great license.
4. Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis (2003)
Poor old Aquaman has a bit of an image problem when it comes to the general public. The character and his less-than-impressive abilities have been a pop culture joke for a long time now, and the unfinished ramshackle mess that is Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis didn’t do the character any favors.
Gameplay boiled down to swimming around a mostly empty ocean fighting divers and defusing bombs. The most accurate comparison is with the infamous Superman 64, but this title is a special kind of awful all on its own. The graphics are blurry and tough to look at and the sound is patchy, with no voice acting and a reliance on static screenshots and text boxes to tell the humdrum story. Battle for Atlantis was released as a budget title, but even with that concession in mind, it’s hard to think of any amount of money that it’d actually be worth.
3. Batman: Dark Tomorrow (2003)
Before the critical darlings Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were released, the Dark Knight had a patchy track record in the gaming sphere. Back in 2003, developer HotGen teamed up with Kemco and released Batman: Dark Tomorrow for the Xbox and Gamecube. Whilst the game had appealing graphics for the time, the same old bad game bugbears reared their heads in this title. Controls were atrocious, the camera angles were arbitrary and confusing, and it simply wasn’t much fun to play. It’s hard to accurately roleplay as the Bat when you find yourself constantly running into walls or plummeting off rooftops.
When the game was revealed at E3 2001, a much different experience was promised: an open-world Gotham for players to explore. However, delays and budgetary concerns got in the way, and Dark Tomorrow ended up being a compromised linear experience that showcased the absolute worst in game design. The end product was so bad, it inspired and subsequently received Electronic Gaming Monthly’s “Shame of the Month” award, as well as having the PlayStation 2 port of the game unceremoniously cancelled.
2. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
Not to be confused with the much better Batman: Return of the Joker game for the NES and Sega Genesis, this Batman Beyond game is arguably the worst Batman game that has ever been released. Why? The same reasons most of the other games on this list are. It’s a dull, uninspired beat-em-up with wonky controls and questionable design choices that seem to be out to cause the player the maximum amount of pain and anguish. The player takes on the role of Terry McGinnis, a rebellious teenager who takes over the Batman mantle when Bruce Wayne gets too old to dole out street justice.
As Batman, McGinnis must trudge up and down the same corridors looking for thugs to punch and keys to unlock more identical corridors filled with the ever-present punchable thugs (or robots). The gameplay is as exactly as tedious as it sounds. The only interesting mechanic is the fact you get a choice of suits at the start of each mission, each with their own unique abilities. However, you’ll soon learn that the choice of suits does little to break up the monotony and barely affects the how the game is played. To be honest, there isn’t much in it when comparing Dark Tomorrow with Return of the Joker, but the deciding factor is the fact that it adds insult to injury by besmirching the good name of the legitimately great animated movie it’s based on.
1. Superman: The New Adventures aka Superman 64 (1999)
You knew it, we knew it. As Superman 64 is considered not just one of the worst superhero games, but one of the worst games ever period, it was always going to be a lock for this list. The game is legendarily bad. Titus Software’s Superman game is so notoriously terrible that it’s become shorthand for a game that does everything wrong from the ground up.
The “story” of the game is that Lex Luthor has trapped you (Superman, naturally) in a virtual version of Metropolis and is forcing you to take part in asinine tasks like flying through colored rings or finding your way out of a maze. If that wasn’t enough to get your pulse racing, how about the fact that Superman controls like an errant shopping cart, or the fact that everything is so muddy and awful that it’s hard to tell where anything is or what you’re meant to do. According to producer Eric Caen, many of the game’s limitations, such as the virtual world setting, was down to to DC/WB’s refusal to let Superman punch and kick “real” people. No matter what the backstory is, the cold, hard truth of it all is that Superman 64 sucks and is easily the worst superhero video game ever made. Fingers crossed it isn’t beaten out any time soon.
What other superheroic stinkers out there did you waste your hard-earned gaming money on? Let us know in the comments.