Older than our grandparents in some cases, comic-book heroes have stimulated the imaginations of audiences young and old ever since Superman leaped over his first tall building in a single bound back in April 1938. Soon after that, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and the Green Lantern would make their marks known in what would become the DC Universe. In the ’60s, as camp degraded the DC product, competition emerged from the newly renamed Marvel Comics, led by the brilliant mind of one Stan Lieber—aka Stan Lee—which brought the likes of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk. We’ve seen dozens of other comic heroes since then—ranging from ninja turtles to demonic hellspawn—but all of these characters have found ways to appeal to every demographic. So, we at EGM decided to take a look at some of our favorite comic-inspired videogames.
Released: September 1989 – NES
Why It’s a Favorite: Though DuckTales was technically a TV show, it was based on some of the greatest comic books of all time: Carl Barks’ Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge adventures. The Capcom NES game featured the Richest Duck in the World running through five levels, searching for treasure, as he bounced around on his cane like a pogo stick and used it as a makeshift weapon. All of the great characters from the comics showed up—the Beagle Boys and Magica De Spell, to give a couple of examples—to cause trouble along the way. You could tackle levels in whichever order you chose, much like the company’s Mega Man games. Best of all, if you found the two hidden treasures, you even unlocked an alternate ending—rare for the time. By today’s standards, it’s a pretty simple experience, but at the time, it was platforming perfection.
Magic Knight Rayearth
Released: December 14, 1998 – Sega Saturn
Why It’s a Favorite: By December of 1998, those who still owned and actively played their Sega Saturns were mainly two types of gamers: those who were the hardest of the hardcore, or those who were heavy into import gaming. And yet, Working Designs was still committed to releasing games; Magic Knight Rayearth, their final release for the Saturn, also happened to be the final game released in America for the system, period. Designed by legendary Sega staffer Rieko “Phoenix Rie” Kodama (Phantasy Star), Rayearth was a gorgeous adventure-RPG based off the popular manga/anime series by the Japanese all-female comic-creation group CLAMP. As the game to close out the Saturn’s run in the U.S., it was a most fitting goodbye.
-Eric L. Patterson
Released: September 21, 2004 – GameCube, PS2, Xbox
Why It’s a Favorite: Finding the magic formula with licensed content has proven to be a daunting challenge for the average game developer, but Raven Software’s X-Men Legends took a cue from the surprise smash Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, offering a new-school RPG in the form of a top-down “crawler” featuring everyone’s favorite crew of Marvel mutants. This tight, entertaining package proved that, sometimes, simpler is better, leveraging a proven formula that offered a slew of playable characters like Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler; cameos from major villains Magneto, the Blob, and the Juggernaut (bitch!); and a progression system that gave replay value a much-needed shot in the arm and raised the bar for comic-book gaming in one brave stroke.
Released: 1991 – SNES
Why It’s a Favorite: You may have played this shooter back in the arcade or on the Super NES—but you may not have known it was actually based on a Japanese comic book. Area 88 revolved around a group of multinational mercenary fighter pilots based out of a top-secret location in the Middle East, and the game captured that international, globetrotting air of mystery—I mean, you’re running missions for a dude in dark glasses and an X-shaped scar on his forehead! But aside from the expressive art and characters, it was the impressive soundtrack that set U.N. Squadron apart. And with diverse stages that included everything from ginormous tanks to stealth bombers, this was definitely one of the finest 2D side-scrolling shooters of its time—and, in my book, probably of all time.
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Released: September 1994 – SNES, Sega Genesis
Why It’s a Favorite: We’ve seen lots of great comic-book games over the years, but one I still reference in terms of sticking to the story, making you feel like the characters, and just being damn fun is Maximum Carnage, based off the largest-ever Spider-Man story arc. Coming in a classic crimson cartridge to match the bloodthirsty symbiote’s grisly visage, Maximum Carnage offered players not just the chance to play as Spider-Man, but also as archnemesis Venom—the two formed a temporary alliance to take down a massive threat. A second player could also take up the role of Venom, offering local superhero co-op as you climbed up buildings to search for secret items, tied up foes in webs, or called in the plethora of allies Spidey and Venom would accrue over the 14 comic issues represented in the game’s awesome side-scrolling beat-em-up action.