As a general rule, video games that are adapted from other source materials aren’t all that much fun. Video game adaptations of movies are notorious for often being little more than cash grabs, and it’s rare to see a game that does anything particularly groundbreaking with a tie-in title.
Comic books, on the other hand, tend to break the trend – the comic book video game genre is incredibly prolific, and while there are plenty of duds that players should avoid (Superman games, for example, are often very poorly received), there are also many games that adapt comic book characters which work exceptionally well.
Some of the best comic book video games have shined as brightly as any other games of any genre and won notable places of respect in the hearts of gamers worldwide. Here are fifteen of the best video games to utilize comic books as their source material.
The Marvel Vs. Capcom series is a familiar staple of video gaming, and often tops lists of not just the best games starring video game characters, but also lists of the best games of all time. The rosters featured in many Marvel Vs. Capcom games are powerful testaments to the diverse library of characters that fall under the Marvel banner.
What really makes these arcade games shine, though, is that they’re not just all about the Marvel element. Underpinning the colorful comic book characters is a solid Capcom fighting game with accompanying stars from a series of hits.
While it’s difficult to choose just one Marvel Vs. Capcom game for this list (allowing multiple entries from the series would seem redundant), the second game tends to clinch it for most fans – the sequel title offers a wider variety of characters, more impressive graphics, and a faster engine underpinning the game. It’s an experience that has robbed plenty of arcading gamers of their quarters over the years.
Self-aware games aren’t all that common: with the growing scale of gravitas that’s possible in games, it’s rare for a big budget video game to do anything other than take itself deadly seriously, especially when playing with a high profile intellectual property.
Enter Deadpool. The Merc with a Mouth’s transformation to the interactive screen plays exactly as a video game based on Wade Wilson should – it’s irreverent and genuinely funny throughout, while leaving the fourth wall shattered from early on in the game when Deadpool gets his hands on the script for the entire story and starts cutting pieces out and editing things on the fly.
Add in that the game’s titular character is voiced by none other than gaming celebrity Nolan North, and there’s not much that fans can gripe over with this game.
Considering the number of Lego games which have focused on comic book characters, it’s difficult narrowing things down to a single title. There are certainly plenty of fantastic Lego comic book games available, including the current Toys To Life title Lego Dimensions which features multiple versions of Batman for players to face off with.
When it comes to allowing a large roster of characters, though, it’s hard to ignore the contribution to the series that Lego Batman 2 makes. While all Lego games up to this point focused on a single franchise or property, Lego Batman 2 ditched the standard rule and brought the entire DC universe to play alongside the Caped Crusader.
Plenty of Lego games have expanded on this idea in subsequent installments, but as the original instigator of crossover comic book gaming, the second Lego Batman game definitely wins the crown as the quintessential toy/comic/game hybrid.
DC’s attempts to copy the success that Marvel Vs. Capcom has produced have been mixed at best. There have been plenty of fighting games starring the Justice League over the years, including Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which received generally positive reviews but ultimately failed to recreate the comic book-fighting game hybrid.
The most well-received DC fighting game is also the most recent. Injustice: Gods Among Us manages to balance fighters such as Superman and Green Arrow in such a way that it doesn’t seem completely one-sided when the two tango, and the game’s grim aesthetic does a better job of fitting the characters than the gritty Zack Snyder movies, which are no doubt aiming for the same level of maturity.
Add to this the fact that Injustice comes chock-full of insane finishing moves — such as the Flash running around the entire world to knock his opponent the hell out — and this is a game that no true comic book fan can overlook.
In the mid-2000s, the open world sandbox game genre was at the peak of its popularity, and plenty of games looked to cash in on the feeling of letting players go anywhere they wanted within levels, restriction free.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is one such title from this era. The game gives players the opportunity to live out their Hulk fantasies in style, traversing a large open desert which is peppered with killer robots, tanks, and other adversaries. For anyone who ever dreamed of smashing everything in sight, Hulk style, this was a fantastic game.
While critics are divided on the quality of this rare adaptation of a 2000AD comic series, Dredd vs. Death certainly has a loyal cult following. The first person shooter does everything it can to replicate the experience of cruising around a crime-ridden city, dispensing Dredd-brand justice to whoever gets in the player’s way.
Considering how relatively obscure the Dredd mythology is, one thing that Dredd vs. Death has going for it is its attention to detail. Little Easter Eggs fill the game with references to the comics, while the core mechanic of the game punishes players for acting in ways unbefitting of a Judge in Mega-City One. In practice, this means that players can shoot law-abiding citizens civilians if they want, but as is always the case, there are consequences for such actions.
Marvel comics are particularly good at leveraging their extensive roster of characters to create games with a lot of depth that are excellent when experienced in co-op mode. Growing out of the X-Men Legends series, Ultimate Alliance is an ambitious title, with over 140 playable characters that can be unlocked throughout the course of the game.
With so many characters available, it would be mean to force players to stick to a single hero for an entire play through. Instead, players select a team of four characters at the beginning of a level and are able to switch between them at will throughout the level, taking advantage of each hero’s unique skillset. It’s the perfect way to get the most variety of gameplay out of Marvel’s hero lineup, and the inclusion of some incredible obscure characters means that the game series is particularly popular among die-hard Marvel comics fans.
Video games have been trying to capture the magic of comic books for decades, and often feature the most cutting-edge graphics possible in an effort to replicate the beauty of a comic page. This isn’t always necessary, though; some of the most impressive comic book adaptations are ones which rely on relatively simple graphics that nevertheless perfectly recreate the experience of the comics.
Such is the case with the arcade game simply titled X-Men. The game’s graphics make it look as if its art was ripped straight from a comic page, while the experience of pummeling waves of enemies with various mutant heroes feels exceptionally accurate to the comic book, giving arcade attendees one of the earliest experiences of feeling like they were actually fighting alongside comic book heroes.
The original Scribblenauts is a technological wonder. Through typing in any word, the player can conjure up every single possible item in the English dictionary – the time and effort that went into this game is phenomenal, and the fact that players are rewarded for increasing the size of their vocabulary while solving puzzles is genius.
For Scribblenauts Unmasked, this ability to summon any item, animal, or person is extended to include all comic book characters from the DC Universe, including multiple forms of some of the most famous characters, including hundreds of different Green Lanterns and a variety of Batmen in different outfits. The game’s sandbox puzzle-based gameplay, which doesn’t rely on violence, makes Scribblenauts Unmasked a very unique superhero video game.
Spider-Man has had a mixed record when it comes to video gaming. While modern attempts to bring the character to interactive media have left many fans with a bad taste in their mouths, during the mid-2000s, the character had several big hit games that are fondly remembered.
Ultimate Spider-Man features a story written by Brian Michael Bendis, the writer for the comic book series of the same name, and the cel-shaded art style is based heavily on the work of Mark Bagley, the main artist for the comics during the era that the game was made. It’s smart, beautifully animated, and functions as an extended issue of the comic, continuing the story directly from the printed page.
What’s more, Ultimate Spider-Man builds on the popularity of the movie tie-in game for Spider-Man 2, which introduced players to an open-world of web-swinging and crime fighting. Players have the freedom to go anywhere, and controlling Spidey’s left and right webs with the corresponding controller triggers creates an experience that’s the closest most people will come to actually being Spider-Man. Most people.
In the summer of 2010, movie audiences were treated to a cinematic adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s popular Scott Pilgrim comics series. While not the most commercially successful movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has earned cult status among many fans for its faithful recreation of the video game-inspired comic book world.
At the same time that the movie was released, gamers were also treated to a beat-em-up video game adaptation of the comics. If anything, this game is more accurate in its recreation of the comics, using pixelated sprite art that closely resembles O’Malley’s art style and filling every spare pixel of the screen with Easter Eggs and references to the comic universe.
The game is not only a solid adaptation, but it’s also a lot of fun to play, thanks in no small part to the soundtrack provided by Anamanaguchi, a chiptunes band who create music using old Nintendo gaming equipment alongside live instruments.
Considering the popularity of hyper violent video games in the mid-2000s, it’s no surprise that the Punisher adaptation is so fondly remembered. All the stops were pulled out on this game to create something that comic fans would appreciate – comics writer Garth Ennis penned the game’s story, and the game is replete with moments of intense gore as players set the Punisher the task of killing enemies in a variety of gruesome ways.
For many, this level of violence was a lot to handle, even for a video game. The Punisher is the only game to be considered for an Adults Only rating by the ESRB based purely on the level of in-game violence (the rating is usually reserved for sexual content), and the game had to be censored in the UK before the British Board of Film Classification would give it a rating.
With most comic book adaptations, players know what they’re getting into when they start playing. Owing to the established backstories for characters within a comic’s lore, it’s unlikely for anything majorly upsetting to occur throughout the plot of the game, and no game is willing to play around too much with a winning formula.
Telltale’s turn at creating an interactive adventure game based on The Walking Dead therefore took the smart approach of distancing itself from popular comic series and television show. All of the characters the player meets throughout The Walking Dead game are brand new creations, and as such, they’re expendable. This means that the game is able to recreate the immediacy and threat of the source material, while telling a brand new story that fits perfectly within the Walking Dead canon.
Held by many to this day as one of (if not the) most successful video game movie adaptation of all time, Spider-Man 2 was the first game to give players an authentic superhero experience worthy of the source material.
Nicknamed ‘GTArachnid’ at the time of its release, Spider-Man 2 took the approach of copying the open world of the Grand Theft Auto games, tasking players with swinging across an enormous, faithfully recreated New York City. While the game is full of plot-advancing missions, incidental crimes that occur as Spidey's webbing around means that players experience first-hand the most quintessential Peter Parker experience: being late to meet Mary Jane or Aunt May because a disturbance occurred while the player was en route.
Plenty of future fantastic video game adaptations of superheroes, including Ultimate Spider-Man and Arkham City, owe their direction to the success of the tie-in game for Sam Raimi’s second Spider-Man movie. The fact that movie adaptations are almost always critically panned made the unexpected quality of this game all the more triumphant for players at the time.
The Arkham video game series are without a doubt the most popular, widely loved video game adaptations of comic source material. Over the course of multiple games, players have taken on the classic Cape and Cowl for themselves, dealing out justice to the mean streets of Gotham in open world gameplay that absolutely nails the feel of the comics that the games are based on.
All of the Arkham games have a single title to thank for their popularity. While the original Arkham Asylum may lack the scale of later installments, it was the first time that players felt they were really in control of Batman, making use of all of his gadgets and abilities.
A well-built game goes a long way, so it’s unsurprising that, nearly a decade after the release of the first game in the series, the Arkham titles are still going strong.
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Over the course of gaming history, there have been plenty of fantastic titles based around comic book heroes. While not all games have shone equally brightly, many games based around superheroes have gone on to enjoy a long legacy of popularity with generations of gamers.
This list is by no means an exhaustive one, though, and there are plenty more great games out there for comic book fans to try. Did we miss your favorite titles? What comic book games do you think should be on this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section.