Despite the various members of the Avengers being prolific video game stars beginning in the early 80’s and throughout the years since, the total number of dedicated Avengers games can be counted on one hand.
In fact, prior to 2012’s unfortunate one-two punch of a mobile game and a Kinect game, there hadn’t been an Avengers video game since all the way back in 1995 – which was only the third one ever. And technically, that’s only if you count the drastically different NES port of the original arcade game as its own game as compared to it and and its much more faithful Genesis, SNES, Game Boy and Game Gear ports (which I do). As a matter of fact, despite the movies being landmark record-breaking events, the game based on the first film was cancelled and there are currently no plans for one based on the second, which leaves only the upcoming LEGO Marvel’s The Avengers to add to that small tally for the foreseeable future.
So what of those three(ish) Avengers games of the early 90’s? Let’s take a look.
Captain America and the Avengers
Data East released the world’s first Avengers game for the arcade in 1991. Though not quite as much so as Konami, Data East had enjoyed some success during the beat-em-up bubble of the late 80’s and early 90’s with games like Bad Dudes Vs. Dragon Ninja (more commonly known simply as Bad Dudes) and its successor Two Crude Dudes, Sly Spy, and Captain America and the Avengers. As Konami’s classic X-Men arcade game was still a year away, Avengers actually has the distinction of being the first beat-em-up based on a Marvel comic book – though not the first overall comic book beat-em-up as Taito’s Superman arcade game came out in 1988. The Avengers arcade game had two variations: a four-player version where each player controlled a specific Avenger – Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye or Vision – and a smaller two-player-only version where either player could choose any one of the four Avengers. Gameplay was standard beat-em-up fare, largely hand-to-hand but with the added ability to throw items picked up in the environment and a special attack relative to each characters’ super powers. One interesting addition was the ability to pick up special items that called upon an additional CPU-controlled Avenger to enter the fray and temporarily assist the players. These support characters were Quicksilver, Namor, Wonder Man and Wasp. The game’s main antagonist was Red Skull, with the bosses consisting of Klaw, the Living Laser, Whirlwind, Wizard, Grim Reaper, Mandarin, Juggernaut, Crossbones and Ultron. As with most games of its type, the grunt villains consisted mostly of generic baddies loosely themed after the game’s levels and bosses.
Avengers didn’t quite have the polish, visuals or just the overall personality to compete with most of its genre peers, most notably X-Men. However, unlike X-Men which didn’t see any kind of home release for over 20 years, Avengers did get home ports to SNES, Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear between 1992 and 1994. Still, it felt antiquated amongst the various newer made-for-home-console beat-em-ups based on other Marvel properties that were released for the 16-bit systems over the next few years – none of which were based on the Avengers or even starred any of the team’s characters. Much of that was likely due to the exploding popularity of the X-Men during this time, the cooler, hipper, edgier alternative to the old-fashioned, straight-laced Avengers team of the time. Other comics-based games also favored the “cooler” properties of the time, like the Venom and Carnage storylines of the Spider-Man universe. It also says a lot about the state of the X-Men versus the Avengers at the time that when Spider-Man teamed up with another team to form a supergroup in a game, it was the X-Men instead of the Avengers.
Captain America and the Avengers (NES version)
At first glance, it might seem incorrect to refer to the NES Avengers game as a port of the arcade game as the two seem to mostly only share a title and some very basic elements, especially given that all of the other home ports of the game were much closer to the look and feel of the arcade game (though with some notable differences like an updated character roster that now included more relevant characters like Iron Man). However, one has to remember that NES ports were often drastically different than their arcade counterparts – frequently reworking the game almost from the ground up – but were still considered to be “ports.” And as was often the case with such arcade-to-NES conversions, the NES version of Avengers was a better and more focused product than its generic beat-em-up arcade counterpart. Not surprisingly, it was more of a platformer than a beat-em-up, though of course action elements remained. Only Captain America and Hawkeye were playable in this version, however, with the other two Avengers needing to be rescued. Unfortunately, it was only a single player game, with control switching between Cap and Hawkeye as dictated by the game. But as simultaneous co-op wasn’t an especially common feature of NES games, this wasn’t an unforgivable sin in its day. In addition, I would say that Avengers is the better of the Marvel NES games, Uncanny X-Men, The Punisher, Silver Surfer, Wolverine and Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six. But of course, that’s just my personal opinion.
Avengers in Galactic Storm
By 1995, beat-em-ups had mostly given way to one-on-one fighting games, and it should come as no surprise that the next Avengers game reflected this. Galactic was a 2D arcade fighter with 3D rendered graphics, similar to Rare’s Killer Instinct and actually about as visually impressive. That said, the visual style was an odd fit for comic book characters and they came off looking a little bit “off.” Still, for a non-Capcom, non-SNK-developed 2D fighting game of the time it played pretty decently – it was developed by the same team that made Fighter’s History so they weren’t completely without experience in the genre. Bringing over the assist feature from the original arcade game, Galactic is actually one of the first games to have an assist character (it predates Capcom’s first Vs game by a year), and even let you select which character is to be your helper. The helper system was also connected to one of the game’s strangest – and possible one of its most crippling – decisions, with some of the most noteworthy Avengers characters – namely Thor and Iron Man – relegated only to assist character status, with B-team characters like Crystal and Thunderstrike filling out the small roster of playable Avengers. Needless to say, the game got lost amongst a very crowded genre full of far superior competitors (which just so happen to be some of the greatest fighting games of all time), and combined with it never seeing a home port it quickly faded into obscurity. And apparently so did the Avengers’ video game career in general, as the world wouldn’t see another Avengers game for a whopping 17 years.