Top five superhero video games of all time

Feb. 25, 2010 | 3:16 a.m.

Tmnt Mark Milian returns to the Hero Complex with big talk about some heroic games — it’s his list of the five best superhero video games ever.

Any gamer will tell you that games tied to a superhero or movie franchise (or, worse, both) are inherently bad. If we had to bet on whether “Iron Man 2: The Video Game” will be any good, we know where our chips would go. (Fun fact: There hasn’t been a good Superman video game. Not one.)

But during those magical times when the stars align and the game developers strike the right mix of brain-soothing Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, out comes a game truly worthy of the superhuman character its name is attached to.

5. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (SNES, Genesis)

Before this game hit Nintendo and Sega game consoles in 1994, superhero games were synonymous with repetitive beat-em-up sequences and stupid or nonexistent story lines. The Maximum Carnage game rewrote the book.

This action-adventure was based on the series of 14 comic books by the same name. While the fighting dynamics, like its sibling hero games, can feel monotonous after a while, the game is worth playing just to experience the enthralling story.

4. Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Superheroes (Dreamcast)

Why settle for one superhero when this game offers you the pick of the litter? It’s a shame so many people missed out on this great fighting game — the best incarnation in the Marvel vs. Capcom series — due to its home on Sega’s oft-ignored Dreamcast system.

Players pick from a stable of Marvel juggernauts including the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine and, oh yeah, the Juggernaut. The game adapts well to player expertise, so if you and your friend stink at it, you can still mash buttons and have fun.

Marvel vs. Capcom predates the recently released Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which is also a pretty good combination of heroes of comics and gaming.

The countdown continues…

3. Batman: The Video Game (NES)

Forget plot. This Batman game is an extremely well-crafted presentation. With dynamics that are similar to Ninja Gaiden, another popular action game at the time, this short adventure can be played several times without getting boring.

The new Batman: Arkham Asylum is worth an honorable mention. Lego Batman: The Video Game, too, is quite good. Though it seems like every Lego-based franchise is a hit.

Spider-Man 2

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)

After gobbling up countless quarters in arcades, this one landed on the Nintendo Entertainment System and became an instant classic. You and a friend (or three, if you pick up Nintendo’s four-player adapter) can choose from the four Ninja Turtles and battle your way through the linear levels. Once you hop on your skateboards or fall through a manhole, you’re hooked.

The predecessor to this game is also fantastic. It’s radically different (for starters, it’s a one-player affair), but almost equally as memorable.

1. Spider-Man 2 (PS2, Xbox, GameCube)

For the first time, players could actually feel like they were living the life of a superhero rather than acting in a movie. What a difference it makes.

Along the lines of Grand Theft Auto, players could take Spider-Man through a sprawling metropolis, swinging from rooftop to rooftop at their own free will. You could practically go anywhere. It was incredibly liberating and radically fun.

Sure, the fighting mechanics get stale and the missions can be boring at times. But the shift from a point-A-to-point-B playing style, which was so tied to superhero games before, to Spider-Man 2’s wide open world was, when it came out in 2004, groundbreaking.

Did we leave something off the list? Drop your picks in the comments.

— Mark Milian


Arkham Asylum

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Capes, tights and bytes: Champions Online

SILLY VIDEO: Meanwhile … in the Batcave

A round up of “Arkham” game reviews

Top vintage Bat-toys…including a somewhat lewd watergun

Photo credit: Top, Britt Selvitelle via Flickr


17 Responses to Top five superhero video games of all time

  1. Bob says:

    "The new Batman: Arkham Asylum is worth an honorable mention"? I don't mean to be harsh but, are you out of your ever loving mind?
    While part of me wants to relent and say it's just "my" opinion that Batman: Arkham Asylum is far and away the single greatest superhero video game of all time, I have Guinness Records and over 3 million copies sold to back it up.
    The sheer fact that you would even mention games like "Batman: The Video Game" (which was a total let-down to gamers around the globe), and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game" within the same breath as Arkham Asylum is laughable at best, and a slap in the face of Rocksteady Studios and Eidos at worst. I hate to tell you but, having Arkham as a mere afterthought exemplifies your ignorance on the topic of gaming as an industry and a culture.

  2. Dan H says:

    For you to not have Batman: Arkham Asylum makes your list worth less than price of the paper it was printed on.

  3. Dan H says:

    And Marvel Ultimate Alliance (The first one) belongs on the list as well. Hulk Ultimate Destruction was good too.

  4. Cool list! Now I don't know if you guys were including arcade games, but the old 1992 X-Men arcade game with the six controllers would make my list above the Maximum Carnage NES game.
    And, who could forget the Spider-Man arcade game with that weird combination of being able to play as the Black Cat, Hawkeye or …wait for it… the Sub-Mariner.

  5. Tom Daylight says:

    Really? I liked the innovation of Spider-Man 2 but there was a lot in it that felt rather lacking. I thought the whole idea was implemented better in the follow-up, Ultimate Spider-Man.

  6. Dipen B says:

    I agree with Bob. Arkham Asylum is by far the best superhero game I have ever played.

  7. I'm agreeing with Danny Sanchez.
    X-Men by Konami (1992) is definitely an all-time best. A giant three-screen cabinet with six simultaneous players, and as far as I can tell, the only video game appearance of disco queen superhero Dazzler!

  8. Phil says:

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of what is good, but I think in your search for a list of "top 5" anything, if you feel the need to use the words "monotonous" and "boring" to describe them, they're probably not worth putting in the top 5.

  9. Norman J. says:

    The NES Batman did not "rock the industry" in any way. Arkham Asylum, meanwhile, can legitimately make that claim and has several Game of the Year awards to back that up.
    The only Batman game that had an impact on the NES was the Return of the Joker, which produced the most advanced visuals of any NES game toward the end of the system's lifespan.
    Also, leaving out the likes of X-men Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance leads me to believe you probably haven't done much gaming since the late 90's.

  10. Arkham looks awesome, but alas, I've not played it yet. So what I have played is:
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (arcade) – Sure all the characters fought nearly the same, a big step down from the NES version, and sure the animated style was far more reminiscent of the cartoon than the comics, but man with four players it was FUN.
    Ultimate Alliance(PSXBOXPCWIIOMGWTFBBQ) – Cool, realistic looking superheroes with cutscenes that make you wish they'd do a movie like THAT.
    X-Men (arcade) – Like Turtles, a mindless bash-'em-up but with SIX (6!) players! Awesome, but it got expensive REAL fast.
    Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (arcade) – Awesome fun, terrific character designs, and as mentioned before, you could mash buttons and do some pretty crazy stuff. But 52 characters! That's amazing!
    Marvel Super Heroes (arcade) – Simply put the greatest superhero game ever. Incredible character designs, (They're been recycling that same Cap for years!) voice acting taken from the current animation projects and designs influenced by the best talents working on the comics at the time. The matchups were comic-y put not DC vs. MK impossible (Well, Iron Man vs. Magneto seems a LITTLE unfair…) and the kind of stuff you love arguing about as a kid. Wolverine vs. Captain America. Hulk vs. Iron Man. Thanos vs. EVERYONE!
    But the best part, and why this gets the top of the list, is the combat system. Capcom gave it "Street Fighter II" level depth and made the AI a little less unfair than "Children of the Atom". Every button, every move was well thought out, even the way characters got hit, and picked themselves up off the ground. The game was infused with a love of the source material that seemed to be missing from "Ultimate Alliance", which I wanted to love so much more. In the end, even with the shallow roster, "Marvel Super Heroes" wins because the six-button fighting system, ditched for the more button-mashing friendly "Vs." series of games and excellent character balance keeps GAMEPLAY as the most important thing. Over a decade later, I still play this.

  11. Josh says:

    The NeverSoft developed Spider-Man for the PSOne/ Dreamcast was much better than Maximum Carnage which was essentially a Streets of Rage/ Final Fight clone.
    The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction should also be on that list for being the single game that actually captured the essence of the ultra-powerful incredibly angry green goliath.
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time for the SNES was head and shoulders better than TMNT and finally, Arkham Asylum was not only one of the best games of 2009, it is THE best superhero game ever.
    Sounds like the writer of this list may be wearing those nostalgia goggles.

  12. Steve says:

    I'm sorry, your list is kind of terrible. Batman (NES) was a version of Ninja Gaiden. Not saying it was terrible, but it wasn't the mind blowing game, no where near the great Arkham Asylum. Spider-Man 2 was not the best. The story mode was no where near as impressive as Batman, and all the open environment missions were boring after the 15th time. Combat in Arkham made you feel like Batman, made you feel like a hero. It never got old, the combat was immersive, and there is a REASON it won Game of the Year awards. I'd have to agree with Tom Daylight that Ultimate Spiderman was a better follow up to the formula of Spiderman 2.
    Just because a game drops point a to point b mandatory progression doesn't mean it's great. It's about flow. Yeah you could stop to beat up some car thugs in Spiderman 2 inbetween missions, upgrade your abilities and what not… but the fact that it all got stale REALLY fast, made you NOT want to stop the story and just keep going. It got to the point where people would scream for my help and I'd ignore them. What kind of game makes you NOT want to be a hero? Spiderman 2! It's not a game you'd go back to play because you enjoyed it. Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of those games you WANTED to go back and play because it was fun. You wanted to beat up more bad guys and show off that you were batman. You wanted to go back and face off against those thugs and supervillains.
    And why would you pick Turtles 2, when most people agree that Turtles in Time was the superior version of the game? And why would you say Turtles 1 was fantastic? Seriously? That game was terrible! Have you played it recently? There's a reason I played it for 5 hrs back in the day and never touched it again. The game was impossible to get anywhere! It was one of those games that infuriated and annoyed every single nintendo owner (except you for some reason). I'm beginning to think you have some large nostalgia issues, or have no idea what you're talking about.

  13. Local Man says:

    You have overlooked two important contributions to superhero video games simply because (a) they are not based on DC, Marvel or other established characters and (b) both were PC only. But both are great games.
    Freedom Force was a cheesy take off of the comic book genre that even used faked comic book covers as loading screens, but it was a fun-filled game with a lot of customization. The sequel, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich was also a lot of fun.
    The most successful superhero Massive Multiplayer Online game is City of Heroes. It has been around for over six years, and will be releasing a new expansion in August. It allows for amazing customization of your characters, and allows you to play either a hero or a villain. The new expansion will allow the player to take your Heroes and change their morality into Vigilates and then Villains, or turn your Villains into Rogues and then Heroes. There is a huge amount of content from 17 free "issues" of additions to the game.

  14. puppycrusher says:

    batman isnt a superhero…he is just a pumped up fireman

  15. chesssetsuk says:

    Though I disagree with a few of your choices, I believe everyone has the freedom to make their own choices. Truly, Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the best superhero games ever made, according to all the critics and sales number, and should have deserved a place on your list. But that may change soon, because the sequel is coming out pretty soon and it promises to be better.

  16. dMan says:

    Seriously? Where is Batman: Arkham City or X-Men Origins: Wolverine?! You could even have inFamous on that list! Those games were awesome!!!
    Here's my top 5:
    #5: Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
    #4: inFamous
    #3: Batman: Arkham Asylum
    #2: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
    #1: Batman: Arkhan City

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