By: Steve MacDougall, contributor
As a comic book reader for about 30 years now (good lord) I knew exactly what topic I wanted to cover in my Top Five Friday column. To coincide with the release of today’s Avengers: Age of Ultron movie, I am spotlighting the top 5 video games based on comic books. To make things interesting, I am only counting the games that are not based on any other medium – so no games based on comic book movies or animated TV shows. There aren’t any actual Avengers games in this list. If you read Chris’s Throwback Thursday column yesterday you’ll know why. But there are plenty of great games about other comic book characters.
5) Spider-Man (2000, PlayStation / N64 / Dreamcast / PC)
Back before Neversoft committed some unknown heinous sin and were subsequently punished by only being allowed to work on Guitar Hero sequels, they made some pretty great games. Case in point: Spider-Man for PS1. There have been a lot of Spider-Man games before and since this game. This was the first 3D Spider-man, and basically the first Spiderman game that wasn’t a simple side-scroller beat ‘em up. And man, did it deliver. Not only is the web slinging and wall-crawling here, but you could do things like immediately zip to the ceiling and crawl around stealthily to sneak past enemies. You could use your webs to merely stun an enemy while you made your away across the room to them, or you could incapacitate them entirely. The game also has a bunch of humorous and bizarre moments, such as Spider-Man playing Poker – er Go-Fish – with Daredevil, Punisher and Captain America (the source of the silly picture we used for the cover image of this article). And this isn’t a nostalgia pick, as I went back to this game for this column to see if it still held up. Okay, it doesn’t hold up graphically, it is a PS1 game after all (that’s the version I primarily played) and the graphics haven’t aged as well as the 16-bit games, but the gameplay makes up for it and the game still delivers there. It’s a game I still have trouble putting down even today.
4) The Walking Dead (Multiplatform, 2012+)
Telltale Games has had a long history of adventure games such as Sam & Max, and licensed properties like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future that had been released to average reviews. With The Walking Dead, Telltale finally mixed the formula up. Rather than focus on puzzles as nearly all their games had up until that point, they instead decided to explore characterization, tension and suspense. They created two main characters and created an engrossing and emotionally stirring story following them. In the games that have followed TWD, Telltale has been criticized for sticking to close to their new formula and not really having decisions make a difference, but this game was a welcome, invigorating change, and players were compelled to keep playing to find out what would become of Lee and Clementine.
3) The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (2005, PlayStation 2 / Xbox / GameCube)
There was a time in the mid 2000’s when seemingly every game was trying to clone Grand Theft Auto. While the open world sandbox elements were an awkward fit with some games, they proved to be a natural fit with the Hulk. In 2005, companies were still struggling with how to make comic book games stand out on their own merits and take advantage of the source material. Ultimate Destruction let players feel like they were really playing as the Hulk. They could leap to the top of buildings, throw cars with ease and push enemies back with the Hulk’s thunder clap. The Hulk’s enemies are in the game too, for what that’s worth – nobody is going to be excited to fight Mercy or whatever a Devil Hulk is. I realize The Hulk doesn’t have the best villains in the world, but they seriously couldn’t include the Leader in this game?
2) X-Men Legends (2004, PlayStation 2 / Xbox / GameCube)
Raven Software made four dungeon crawling games starring Marvel Characters, first the two X-Men Legends games and then two Ultimate Alliance games. They’re all excellent, and my biggest struggle of the column was deciding which game to choose from that group. For starters, this was the first of the four games, so it was the freshest experience. The other games made improvements, but they were mostly small tweaks with the exception of the online play that Ultimate Alliance introduced. I liked that X-Men Legends let me play as lesser known characters like Magma and Jubilee. The game’s story felt more focused – it felt like a legitimate X-Men adventure and not just a mishmashed excuse to feature all the most popular Marvel characters. I loved upgrading my characters and choosing which powers I wanted to use. It was always exciting to get to upgrade my characters – normally in games of that I completely forget to do it, but I was always aware of how many levels I needed to go to upgrade my most used skills.
1) Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009, PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC)
When this game was announced I barely noticed it. It kept getting featured in magazines and on websites and I didn’t pay attention. It’s not because I don’t like Batman – I have tons of his graphic novels and comics. But Batman has had probably more games based on him than any other comic character, and the best of these may be the 1989 NES game based on the movie. Some time around Rise of Sin Tzu, I just gave up. But then a funny thing happened. It came out to absolutely glowing reviews. I hadn’t expected that at all. Even though I had no plans to buy it, I bought it almost the day it came out and was mesmerized. This is the Batman game we needed and deserved! It was perfect. Trapped in an asylum with all of your deadliest enemies, with every room a danger and having nowhere for Batman to escape. Some seriously awesome stealth game play. How awesome was it flying around the rafters, swooping down and stringing up crooks? The combat was satisfying, the gadgets were cool and useful, and if you had read the comics for 30 years, there were little tidbits put in the game for you to appreciate. Rocksteady completely raised the bar of fan expectations. Why can’t all licensed games be this glorious?