Video games and comic books are both embraced by the lovable geeks of the world, so it makes sense that the two mediums can’t seem to stay apart. This year continues the tradition with games like Injustice: Gods Among Us, Deadpool, and the newly-announced Batman: Arkham Origins. While there are a large number of companies printing comics, there are two powerhouses behind the majority of comic book games: Marvel and DC.
Fans have been debating the merits of both publishers since the 1940s, but were hoping that by focusing on just games we might finally be able to decide a winner. By definitively judging the best entries in increasingly random genres, well see if the home of Spider-Man has had the best history with games, or if Batman and his friends are the top heroes in digital adventures.
The first games
Superman (Atari 2600): 1978s Superman game is one of the earliest home console titles there is, and it shows in how painfully primitive it is. Superman is made out of less than ten pixels, and he has the rather boring task of searching an ugly Metropolis to repair a bridge. The goals are confusing, the gameplay is almost non-existent, and it looks pretty hideous even when compared to other hideous Atari games of the time.
Spider-Man (Atari 2600): Spidey brought Marvel into gaming four years later with the simple title Spider-Man, and much has changed since Supermans title. Spideys game focuses on the simple goal of climbing buildings to deactivate bombs, and while the web swinging barely works, it kept things simple enough that a kid could at least follow it.
Winner: Spider-Man The Marvel adventure at least resembles a game, what with its defined enemies, goals, and the existence of a soundtrack. Superman was just the beginning of a long line of disappointment for fans of the Man of Steel. Plus, Spider-Man undoubtedly had the best commercial.
Marvel Super Hero Squad (PC): Marvel Super Hero Squad was an attempt to get cute versions of Marvel heroes in the faces of children everywhere, but the project has pretty much disappeared after Disney bought the comic company. This browser-based MMO is one of the last vestiges of the series, and while its got a large roster and is surprisingly reverent of continuity for an online game aimed at kids, its hard to compare it to other upcoming MMOs.
DC Universe Online (PC/PS3): DCUO dropped players into the world of DC as envisioned by superstar artist Jim Lee. You stalked the streets of Gotham with Batman, hung out in space with the Justice League, and teamed up with numerous other DC characters in the continually updating title. The game also deserves some credit for taking a more active approach to MMO combat, and the fact that it only got better after going F2P, ranking high in ourbest free MMORPG list.
Winner: DCUO Super Hero Squad aims too low to even compare to a title as massive as DCUO, so its the easy winner. However, were interested to see how DCUO will stack up to the upcoming Marvel Super Heroes MMO.
Movie tie-ins featuring Ryan Reynolds
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (360/PS3/PC): Wolverine is a tough as nails killer that normally has to hold back in T-rated super games, so the M-rated Origins let Wolvie puts his claws to good use. Here he chopped up bad guys in increasingly novel ways, though the early promise of the game starts to wear thin the more it commits to the plot of the film. By the time you fight Reynolds Deadpool at the end, much of the charm had worn off, but the God of War-style grisly gameplay at least stood out from his Marvel friends.
Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters (360/PS3): Ryan Reynolds takes the starring role in this game based on the box office disappointment Green Lantern. Set after the film, Reynolds must defend the Lantern home world of Oa from an invasion of deadly (and clichd) killer robots. The devs find unique uses for GLs trademark energy constructs, and the graphics are good, but it keeps things way too routine.
Winner: Wolverine Perhaps you can blame this on one having less Ryan Reynolds than the other, but Wolverines extreme violence lends itself to more creativity. Wolverine also offered up fan service that fans actually wanted.
Most accurate game (to the comics)
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (PS2/Xbox/GameCube): After the previous ill-conceived Hulk title that spent too much time as puny Bruce Banner, Ultimate Destruction fully embraced the smashing fun of being the Hulk. You spend the entire game as the green one, bashing everything into rubble, and you just keep running in the big open world until you can smash no more. Ultimate Destruction got how fun it must be to cut loose as the Hulk, particularly when youre surfing on a flattened bus towards a tank just asking to be smashed.
Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis (Xbox/GameCube): Few have played Battle for Atlantis, so its probably news to you that it was ripped straight from the comic page. Aquaman was wearing his then-current combo of a scraggly beard and hook hand, his enemies were the same ones he was facing in the comics, and the futuristic version of Atlantis was correct down to the metallic, underwater cars. None of this distracted from how awful the game was, but you couldnt doubt its authenticity.
Winner: Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis In all the infinite Earths, there isnt one where wed play Battle for Atlantis over any Hulk game, but the Aquaman game appeals more to our inner continuity nerd, which wins it this category.
Best open world game
Batman: Arkham City (360/PS3/PC/Wii U): Batman is an agent of justice that hunts criminals to avenge the death of his family, and Arkham City was a hunting ground worthy of the Dark Knight. It took the combat, stealth, exploration, and detective work that Arkham Asylum did so well, refined it even more, then set the Caped Crusader loose in his first truly open world. No game made us feel more like Batman than Arkham City, which might be the greatest compliment we can bestow upon a game.
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (360/PS3/PC): Spidey has been swinging free in New York City for years, and Web of Shadows was his most memorable trip around the Big Apple. Telling an original plot centered on Venom and the fan favorite black costume, the game saw NYC slowly transformed by an invading alien force. There was also a new combat system to go along with this fresh take on Manhattan, one that embraced Spider-Mans agility to create some intense, mid-air combos.
Best dungeon crawler
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (360/PS3): MUA2 was the last in Marvels long line of RPG co-op adventures, and it retold one of companys most controversial stories. After politicians threaten to arrest masked vigilantes, heroes choose pro- and anti-government sides, turning Avenger against Avenger in a massive civil war. In addition to the topical story, the team-based battles remained fun with up to four players, and it had one of the most expansive playable rosters in a Marvel game to date.
Justice League Heroes (PS2/Xbox): DC Comics must have liked Marvels approach to Baldurs Gate-style action, because they tapped Baldurs dev Snowblind to make an adventure for the Justice League. You played as some of the most famous JLA members as they fend off attacks from would-be world conqueror Darkseid. It was a good encapsulation of the late-90s to early 00s JLA comics, but it could have used a little more variety.
Winner: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 Justice League Heroes was a good first effort, but Ultimate Alliance was the result of years of refinement. And Marvel had a much bigger toy box to offer, as MUA2s roster makes the Justice Leagues seem paltry in comparison.
Best crossover fighter
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (PS3/360): Fans had waited years to see Marvels cast of characters battle the men and women of Capcom again, and the third game ended up being worth the wait. The action was fast, furious and deliciously unbalanced, in keeping with the core 2D combat we loved in MvC2. We also admired that the Ultimate version threw a wide for its roster net, including stars like Spider-Man and Iron Man along with obscure creations like Rocket Raccoon and Taskmaster.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (360/PS3): When the Mortal Kombat franchise made the jump into current gen with MKvDC, it was a welcome return to 2D, but the addition of the Justice League ended up hurting the game. Since DC wasnt cool with the idea of Sub-Zero ripping out Batmans spine, the brutality got toned down for a T-rating. But as long as you could suspend your disbelief that Superman would have any trouble beating Liu Kang, it was a more than competent fighter.
Winner: Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 One is a dream project that lived up to years of high expectations, the other is a compromised, if serviceable, crossover. Nuff said.
Best non-crossover fighter
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth (360/Wii U): Based on the Secret Wars stroyline instead of the billion dollar film that came out around the same time, Battle for Earth has a good collection of heroes and villains, and they use many of their signature moves. However, youll likely only pull them off 60 percent of the time thanks to predictably inaccurate Kinect controls. A good fighting game needs the kind of precision that a Kinect is incapable of giving, which made this Avengers game feel like your standard quick cash-in.
Injustice: Gods Among Us (360/PS3/Wii U): At the time of writing this is based solely on the public demo of the game, but this tougher approach to the Justice League really appeals to us. Superman has gone fascist and the heroes of the world must join him or risk getting punched into outer space. The fighting reminds us of sister series Mortal Kombat, only with the special moves taken to cartoonish extremes.
Winner: Injustice Seriously, the demo of Injustice is more fulfilling than the full Kinect game, so were siding with DC on this one.
Best downloadable FPS
The Punisher: No Mercy (PS3): Punisher was one of Marvels more popular post-Silver Age creations, likely because of his striking costume and relaxed attitude towards murder. Punisher would seemingly be a great candidate to star in an FPS due to his only super power being his lack of remorse in killing criminals, but No Mercy proves otherwise. The stripped down FPS was far too bland and shallow, and did little with the Punisher license. Only Punisher obsessives found anything to like in this one.
Gotham City Impostors: Youd think Batman would be the last hero to base an FPS around, what with the fact he refuses to ever use a gun, but that didnt stop Monolith Soft. The FEAR developer used the Dark Knight as a starting point for a team-based shooter starring a group of unhinged imitators of the Batman and The Joker. Gadgets and a sense of humor made for light fun, which is what youd expect from a downloadable.
Winner: Gotham City Impostors A little personality goes a long way for Impostors, as No Mercys boring action cant compare.
By our count that makes the score five to four in favor of DC, so for now it can be considered the king of comic book games. Do you think our judgments were off here? Or do you feel like the remaining Marvel and DC games of 2013 were shift the balance the other way? Tell us in the comments and you might just win a No Prize.