Once confined to comic books and Adam West, super heroes rule the world these days. They star in the biggest movies like X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Man of Steel, and, more importantly, they’ve starred in some of the best games ever. After bringing together a carefully selected group of nerds and dweebs, we ranked the top 25 superhero games of all time in this very list. Convenient, right?
We tried to keep things varied by avoiding using too many games from the same franchises, and focused instead on titles that provided unique experiences--expect to see your favorite characters show up a few times, albeit in slightly different forms. Well, what are you waiting for? Let's fight some crime.
25. The Punisher (arcade)
Some sidescrolling beat-'em-ups seem too afraid to give the player powerful weapons, limiting them to throwing knives, baseball bats, and the occasional grenade. But not The Punisher. In this 1993 classic, Frank Castle and Nick Fury team up to take down the Kingpin and his mob of violent thugs--and you better believe they're packing heat. Though there's just as much fisticuffs as there are gunfights, The Punisher is one of the few beat-'em-ups to give you a pistol and let you pump entire waves of enemies full of lead.
The graphics and gameplay are arcade to the core, reminiscent of other excellent Capcom brawlers like Cadillacs and Dinosaurs or Alien vs Predator. But it also captures some of the grittiness of the comic series, with The Punisher deploying the same take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to wiping out crime.
Those following Champions Online's development expected it to be a next-gen version of City of Heroes, but that didn't end up being the case. Instead, it was an above-average MMORPG with incredible character customization and a focus on public quests, in an era when that simply wasn't enough. While that might've been disappointing at the time, the game has seen a resurgence since going free-to-play, with developer Cryptic slowly adapting it into an MMO that any comic book fan should try out.
And the insane character customization can't be ignored--being able to truly craft whatever hero or villain you wish is astounding, and absolutely worth checking out, even if you don't really care for the genre. Seriously, we made a Dig Dug analog that was so true to the actual character that we couldn't help but play it for a few dozen hours. That's normal, right?
Humor can go a long way in making up for gameplay failings, and Comic Jumper knows how to be funny. The clever back and forth between Captain Smiley and his sidekick Star are great at stringing together the eclectic set of levels that range from platformer to on-rails shooter. The old school action has more hits than misses, and it really shines when its love for super heroes is at the forefront.
In its best moments, Comic Jumper is a humorously loving tribute to so many different comic genres, from Silver Age beat ‘em ups to black and white manga. And the game constantly breaks the fourth wall to make sure players are as in on this super hero send up as the characters are. Even when some levels get a bit too repetitive, the developers’ excitement for comic book history keeps the energy up.
22. Justice League Heroes: The Flash
It's not surprising that there haven't been many games to include DC's The Flash--capturing his power in a video game is no easy task. Unlimited speed isn't really as easy to comprehend as, say, super strength, and it wasn't until recently that consoles really had the power to pull off the speed of the fastest man alive. But that didn't stop WayForward from making Justice League Heroes: The Flash in 2006 for the Game Boy Advance, and it sure didn't stop them from making it one of the best superhero games of all time.
At face value, it appears to be your typical beat-em-up, but being able to dash between enemies using super speed totally changes the pacing of the game. Activating Flash's super speed was also unique, and slowed down the world while allowing him to maintain speed, really selling the idea of being absurdly, incredibly fast.
The early '90s were great for beat-em-up games--nearly every month had a new brawler where you'd slowly walk to the right and punch the hell out of bad guys. Most faded into obscurity, but 1992's X-Men game stayed with us for a long time. It wasn't that complex, and it didn't include any groundbreaking mechanics that set it apart from the rest, it was just... better than the others. Cleaner. More fun. Oh, and it let six of us play as the X-Men, and that's a huge plus.
Most gamers of that time have fond memories of running into an arcade and slapping down a roll of quarters, playing X-Men with friends for hours (while barely making any progress). And when it was re-released on Xbox Live and PSN recently, we were shocked to find that it was actually still pretty good!
20. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
For years, comic book fans had to watch as Wolverine's claws slashed bloodlessly through enemies in video games. He has unbreakable knives on his hands, for crying out loud--how is that even fair? X-Men Origins: Wolverine finally fixed that, giving the gruff mutant the game he was born (or, rather, genetically enhanced) to get.
Combat was fast and bloody, with Wolverine's claws finally being given the respect they deserve. Cutting up enemies in slow motion was a dream come true, and watching the hero's body be torn apart by enemies--only to slowly regenerate--was absolutely incredible. Plus, the first ten minutes of gameplay are still better than the entirety of the film it's based on, and that has to count for something, right?
Scribblenauts started with the ambitious concept of conjuring any word you could imagine, and it has only grown from there. In 2013, the series’ massive dictionary got even larger by making almost every person and item in DC Comics’ history available to the players. Now the scribbling protagonist Max could summon Batman to solve his problems, or even a dozen different Batmen to deal with a new logic puzzle.
Unmasked has a massive DC-themed vocabulary, and the encyclopedic collection of names you could summon doubled as a Wiki that gave you background on every single DC term included. Even the most devoted comic nerd will learn something new from this game. It’s such a thorough celebration of DC’s past and present that the gameplay itself would almost feel unnecessary if it wasn’t so much fun.
It's rare that a game that sets out to be funny actually ends up being, you know, funny--but High Moon Studios' Deadpool absolutely hits its mark. The third-person hack-and-slash drops you into the red-and-black boots of the Merc with a Mouth and lets you loose on hordes of disposable, meat-filled enemies in a raucous, bloody action game.
As we said in our Deadpool review, the combat gets a little stale by the time the credits roll, but it's more than made up for by a stellar script and wonderful comedy. Deadpool's meta, fourth-wall-breaking antics are enjoyable from beginning to end. Plus, there's a scene where you're able to slap an unconscious Wolverine for a solid three minutes, and who doesn't want to do that?
From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings, Traveller's Tales' Lego franchise has proven that everything is better in brick form. We said in our Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes review that the game continued this trend to make for one of the best in the series, and we stand by it. The game expanded the already impressive roster of the original Lego Batman to include the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of DC's top super heroes, and adding new variety the already diverse gameplay to include flying and other awesome super powers.
But while that addition was impressive, the most wonderful surprise came from the voices. In previous games, characters simply pantomimed actions in a style any student of silent films would love. While some (us included) worried that adding voicework might overcomplicate things, that couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, it gave more life to the plastic characters, making Lego Batman the beginning of a new, fantastic era for the franchise.
Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, is different than your average superhero. He doesn’t have a cape, tights or an inherent sense of justice. Instead, he has a trench coat, combat boots and a heady mixture of guilt and irrepressible rage to keep him motivated. He’s probably the only Marvel character with an active NRA membership, and his PS2/Xbox game is one of a handful of M-rated superhero titles.
It was the Punisher game we deserved, but maybe not the one we needed back in 2005. The ESRB almost gave it a rare AO rating for violence, and several countries demanded edits before allowing its release. It’s hard to blame them, the game played like an ultra-violent hybrid of Dead to Rights and Manhunt. As Frank, players could drown a man in a toilet, crush a skull in a piano, use a piranha-filled aquarium as a dunk tank, and even play matador to a rhino, using a bad guy as a cape. But what made it a truly special super hero game were all the Marvel cameos: fighting Yakuza alongside Iron Man, storming a beach with Nick Fury and killing Russian mercenaries with the Black Widow.
MOBAs are all the rage currently, so if League of Legends can garner millions of fans all over the globe, why can’t the Justice League? Infinite Crisis is DC’s entry into the competitive world of DOTA clones, and even though it’s still in beta, this super approach to the genre is already gaining an audience. And one of Infinite Crisis’ best features is how thoroughly it embraces DC’s long tradition of alternate realities.
Many people want to play as Superman or Batman, but why use the traditional versions when the heroes are recast as vampires and robots? Each version of the characters play very differently, and though the maps have the standard DOTA layout, the 5v5 arenas translate well into famous settings like Gotham City. The level of fan service is enough to make Infinite Crisis the first MOBA for many comic readers.
14. Marvel Heroes
Part Diablo, part Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and--well, let's throw another part Diablo in there for good measure--Marvel Heroes is what became of the long-rumored "Marvel MMO." In the end, it didn't turn out to be as much an MMO as it did an online hack-and-slash adventure, but there's still plenty of fun to be found looting the streets of the Marvel universe.
Most surprising is the decision to eschew typical character creation. Instead of allowing you to make your own super-powered avatar, the game gives you the ability to don the costume of your favorite heroes, letting you choose between the likes of The Thing, Iron Man, Wolverine, and plenty more. Sure, you might be upset that you won't be able to spend ten hours customizing your hero's costume like you can in City of Heroes or Champions Online, but be honest--you were just going to try to make Spider-Man anyway.
Through much of the 2000s Activision found a real niche for itself publishing dungeon crawlers based around comic book super stars. After increasingly well made adventures like X-Men Legends and the first Ultimate Alliance, the series reached its loot collecting, team of four apex with Ultimate Alliance 2.
MUA2 featured a huge roster of stars from all over the Marvel Universe, had the best visuals in the series to date, and was built around the hero vs hero megahit Civil War storyline. It had its flaws, but if you and for friends want to explore hallways and punch Magneto, this is easily your best bet.
Before Hollywood discovered the Avengers, the turtles were the world’s most fearsome fighting team. Enter Konami’s quarter-muncher; with its jumbo size cabinet, up to four players could sacrifice their laundry money to rescue April from Shredder and his foot goons throughout the time stream. The game was ported to home consoles, but the arcade version’s four-player mode made it the most authentic turtles experience short of busting out your Halloween costume.
Konami’s game was based on the insanely popular TMNT cartoon, featuring enemies like Krang, Tokka and Rahzar. It got all the little details just right: pizza was health, the turtles said “Cowabunga,” Krang was gross. Though we played the first arcade adventure more, the level variety and sophistication puts Turtles in Time in the lead of this turtle race.
How did it take this long for Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men to get the Lego treatment? This 2013 game is a long overdue brick makeover for the Marvel super heroes, but the Lego adventure made up for lost time by including almost every Marvel character possible. Yes, even Moon Knight.
The all-ages adventure had the action-packed co-op you’ve come to expect from developer Traveller’s Tales, all set in Marvel’s unique vision of New York City. And because it covers nearly all of Marvel’s characters, you get to witness combinations normally unseen in games. How many other games have She-Hulk, Human Torch, and Ant-Man team up to fight Thanos?
DC Universe Online attempted to do something that comic books have done for years--mash together a number of different worlds and universes into one coherent experience. And it nailed it. The action-based combat suited the massively multiplayer online RPG well, giving a physical feel to the DC Universe that other MMOs often lack.
But beyond that, Sony Online Entertainment did a fantastic job of not only letting you make your own character, but having it fit into the DC Universe splendidly. Our character was enveloped into the lore perfectly, feeling right at home battling alongside (or against) the likes of Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. It’s absolutely jam-packed with lore and fan service, and being a part of it is a grand experience.
If you’re asking, “Is this really a super hero game?” allow us to reply with some questions of our own. Does Saints Row 4 star humans with incredible powers like super speed and energy projection? Do those individuals use their unique abilities to save the world from evil? And do these gifted gang members wear matching outfits to battle the creatures that have conquered Earth? So yes, Saints Row 4 is definitely a super hero game.
Despite the franchise’s humble beginnings as a GTA clone, Saints Row 4 transformed the post-modern sandbox into a profane riff on The Matrix. You’re faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, exploring the virtual city of Steelport just like Superman would--were he a sociopathic, deposed President that loves Biz Markie. After this sequel made the Saints such an insanely powerful mob, it makes you wonder just how far they’ll go in the inevitable sequel.
Henshin-a-go-go, baby! You don't need to star in your own comic book to be a superhero--you just need the kind of optimistic bravery of the average Joe. Capcom and Clover Studio invented one of video gaming's most beloved heroes with Viewtiful Joe, a helmeted, spandex-wearing goofball whose powers were derived from visual effects in films. Able to slow time like The Matrix or move with the blazing Mach Speed of a sped-up fight scene, Joe's array of super powers let him pummel his way through hordes of evil goons.
Viewtiful Joe is also one of the most deceptively difficult games around, easing you into its mechanics before throwing you into the fray against some brutal (and imaginative) bosses. But, just like Joe, you won't give up, and the sensation when you finally track down Captain Blue is nothing short of glorious.
Ol' Web Head has been in his share of video games, from movie tie-ins to comic book story rehashes and everything inbetween. Not all of them did Spidey justice, but one of the games that really nailed the feeling of being the webslinger was Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. Sure, Ultimate Spider-Man (also on this list) is fun, but for a totally different reason. WoS once again dropped Spider-Man in an open world, filled with petty criminals to bust, escaping vehicles to chase, and (most importantly) supervillains to fight. But, you weren't limited to Spidey's traditional powers and web abilities, you could also don Venom's black symbiote suit for a change of pace.
Web of Shadows might not have had the most original storyline or voice acting talent, but encountering fan favorite heroes, like Wolverine and Black Cat, and doing battle with the Vulture and Rhino, was a thrill for Marvel fanatics--especially those who have been waiting years for Venom's return to gaming.
inFamous 2 isn't based on a comic book or a movie, and it doesn't feature a beloved protagonist with roots in 1940s Americana. Instead, Sucker Punch's protagonist is a new one, created just for gamers. Cole MacGrath was a typically-gruff street messenger before being imbued with the power to control electricity - a power that gives him the power to save (or destroy) the lives of the people around him. While the first game was good, it wasn’t until the second that Sucker Punch perfected the formula, creating one of the best super-powered games of all time.
Controlling MacGrath gave us the feeling of truly controlling a super hero. His powers grew to near-absurd levels by the end of the game, and few titles have ever given us the feeling of raw power that inFamous 2 did. Leaping from atop a tall building and smashing onto the last car of a caravan before throwing a tornado of lightning into the rest is an unrivaled experience, and one we won’t forget anytime soon.
What happens when the biggest heroes and villains of the DC Universe thrown down in an interdimensional battle royale? Glorious, unadulterated chaos. Netherrealm Studios, the minds behind the legendary Mortal Kombat franchise, proved they could craft a stellar fighting game sans gore with Injustice. The story revolves around an alternate timeline in which Superman murders the Joker in a vengeful rage, bringing forth an age in which heroes are now tyrannical, godlike figures. This parallel universe collides with the Metropolis we know and love, meaning that DC's iconic heroes and villains have to duke it out to set things right.
Not only does Injustice offer an epic crossover worthy of an actual comic series--it's also a fantastic fighting game, with all the competitive trappings you'd expect from the genre. Each character plays distinct from one another, and the use of stages as weapons, via "interactables" strewn throughout your surroundings, is a novel concept for a 2.5D fighter. Plus, the wealth of unlockable costumes are chock full of references that will delight DC fans. It's one of the most faithful, hard-hitting brawlers a comic lover could hope to own.
The Incredible Hulk is one of the most popular heroes in the world, but his record with games was pretty spotty, including some misfires that seemed to think players would want to play as puny Banner instead of the Hulk. Seriously, Banner! Who wants to play as that guy? Hulk finally found his way in Ultimate Destruction by focusing on what he does best: being the strongest one there is.
Hulk beat the crap out of everything and everyone, embracing the ridiculousness of the whole thing by making boxing gloves out of cars and surfing on buses. Pseudo sequel series Prototype built on that foundation marvelously, but no game since has better reflected how Hulk is the strongest one there is. Also, how's that for a fitting, accurate name? Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. It doesn't get any more appropriate than that.
Irrational Games took the real-time tactical strategy genre, which had been reserved for old-school PC gamers, and made it brilliantly accessible with this colorful world of original comic characters. The game’s aesthetic perfectly captured the look of the Silver Age comics, and if we didn’t know they were designed by Robb Waters, we’d have thought that Jack Kirby himself generated the game’s retro vigilantes. From their tongue-in-cheek origin stories to the spiffy costumes they donned, each member of the heroic Freedom Force felt as alive as any “real” comic book character.
Best of all, the FF members were non-copyright-infringing counterparts to our favorite Marvel and DC crusaders. The mind-manipulating Mentor was a cross between the Martian Manhunter and Uatu, and the Minuteman--the patriotic pugilist who hated Commies as much as Captain America ever could--was incredibly lovable. Besides the lovable squad of heroes, the gameplay itself was thoroughly fulfilling: the pause-when-you-want combat scenarios made us really think about which abilities would best neutralize a threat. Everything about Freedom Force made us feel heroic--not just in terms of granting us extraordinary powers, but in demonstrating the deliberation that goes into using them.
MvC2 might’ve had more superheroes in its roster, but nothing comes close to UMvC3 in terms of sheer fan service. Working closely with the advisors at Marvel, Capcom crafted each hero (and villain) with care, making sure to include instantly-recognizable moves and ridiculously obscure references alike. When Rocket Raccoon gets a spot on the Marvel squad, you know you’re dealing with bonafide experts. Each comic book character plays just as you’d imagine they would: Spider-Man nimbly dashes around the screen, Phoenix transforms into her Dark incarnation upon death, and Storm is the queen of controlling airspace.
But what really puts it over the top are the finer details. Dr. Strange’s projectiles could’ve easily been labeled as fireballs, but hearing him cry out “Daggers of Denak!” and “Flames of the Faltine!” brings joy to our inner comic geek. Deadpool breaks the fourth wall with his usual bravado, insulting the player if they manage to make him lose. And hearing Iron Man’s fellow Avengers call him “Tony,” or watching a special intro between Wolverine and X-23 drives home that the devs never missed an opportunity to give a nod to the hardcore comic fans.
What else could it be? All the other games gave legitimacy to titles based on comics, but the Arkham releases were the first to be game of the year caliber packages. Arkham Asylum understood Batman like no game before, embracing and perfectly recreating the character at his best. He was a warrior, a detective, a stealthy predator, and most importantly, a hero. Showcasing alongside that was Batman’s stellar rogues gallery, characterized similar to the amazing animated series from the 90s.
Arkham City expanded and somehow improved on all that, filling in the one missing piece by giving Bats a city to stalk. He could hunt down criminals in alleys and patrol rooftops, stopping crimes both mundane and world altering. When playing that game we were vengeance. We were the night. We. Were. Batman! And you could be too if you played it. We can think of no better gift a game can bestow.
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