Wham! Pow! Bang!
You don't have to look far these days to find a pack of crime-fighting superheroes out to make the world a safer, but also more explosion-filled place. The Avengers have become Hollywood's biggest darlings, and the Marvel party isn't ending for the foreseeable future. Superhero toys are moving millions of dollars a year. Even the comics themselves, which were ailing in the early 2000s, are on the upswing. And yet in video games, the one medium where you can actually be Captain America or Superman, it seems like there's a dearth of good superhero titles.
That's an injustice we can't let stand. For those in desperate need of a superhero video game fix, we've gathered the best of the best here. Their mission: to make sure you have a super good time. Whether magic powers, technical gizmos, or just flat-out smashing things is your jam, the gang's all here. Time to get to work.
13. Justice League Heroes: The Flash
It's not surprising that there haven't been many games to include the Flash - when your name isn't Sonic the Hedgehog, unlimited speed as a game's central focus can be a hard sell. Plus, for a long time consoles just didn't have the processing power to let the world's fastest man run free. But that didn't stop WayForward from making Justice League Heroes: The Flash in 2006 for the Game Boy Advance and making great use of the world's fleetest feet.
At face value, The Flash looks like a typical brawler, but having the power to dash between enemies using super speed completely flips the script. Activating Flash's super speed slows the world down while allowing him to maintain velocity, so you can see what it looks like from his point of view when he goes full-blur and puts his enemies in the ground. This game takes a concept that could get dull after a Flash-time minute and makes it into a lot of fun, where you really do get to feel like the fastest man alive.
12. Scribblenauts Unmasked
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 including every person and many of the items from DC Comics history in its lexicon (including Bloodwynd and Kryptonian, but sadly not League of Shadows). Now the scribbling protagonist Max can summon Batman to solve his problems, or a dozen different Batmen to deal with a new logic puzzle.
Unmasked has a massive DC-themed vocabulary, and in addition to letting you summon the entire Green Lantern Corps to help you solve a riddle (without overloading the game, somehow) the encyclopedic collection of names you can summon doubles as a Wiki that gives you background on every single DC term included. So, hey, it's educational! Its such a thorough celebration of DCs past and present that it's hard not to feel all the joy it's putting down, like waves of transformative radiation.
11. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
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 did the good work of creating addictive (if simplistic) superhero adventures, the series reached its loot collecting, team of four apex with Ultimate Alliance 2.
While in many ways Ultimate Alliance 2 repurposed the formula from Ultimate Alliance almost note for note, the incremental adjustments it does make establish it as the pinnacle of the franchise. It features a huge roster of stars from all over the Marvel Universe, has the best visuals in the series, and is built around the hero vs. hero megahit Civil War storyline, making its plot a bigger draw than you might expect. It has its flaws, but if all you're looking for is to sprint down dungeon corridors and punch Magneto in the face, you've found your game.
10. The Wonderful 101
Platinum Games has superheroism in its blood. Bayonetta and the Transformers Devastation may be lacking in capes and Kryptonite, but they prove how skilled Platinum is at working with the sorts of giant explosions, eye-catching aesthetics, and giddy heart that make superheroes so beloved. So it's not surprising that when Platinum tried its hand at a literal superhero game - The Wonderful 101 - it hit the nail on the head with a building-sized hammer.
In Wonderful 101, you control a 100-strong team of superheroes as they battle against a powerful alien force trying to take over the world. In proper Platinum form, you fight battles that both look and feel larger than life, but with a twist: the mass of superheroes under your control combine to create gigantic weapons that you use in battle, letting you feel just as big and powerful as the things you're fighting. While the game does stumble in places - the Wii U gamepad is occasionally crowbarred in with painful results - its silly affection for everything superhero-y makes it difficult not to love.
It's rare that a game that sets out to be funny and actually pulls it off, so High Moon Studios' Deadpool is quite the treasure indeed. This third-person hack-and-slash drops you into the boots of the Merc with a Mouth and lets you loose on hordes of disposable, meat-filled enemies in a bloody action game that never misses the chance to crack a joke.
It's a good thing, too, because while the combat starts to get a stale by the time the credits roll, that stellar script and wonderful comedy more than make up for it. 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?
8. Lego Marvel Super Heroes
From Star Wars to Lord of the Rings, the Lego games have proven that just about everything is better in brick form. That trend continues in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, which comes at the Marvel universe with easy to grasp adventure gameplay and the sort of lighthearted humor that Lego games have long since become famous for. Seriously, where else is Dr. Doom actually going to call his world-annihilation device a "Doom Ray of Doom"?
Playing Spiderman as he teams up with Black Widow to defeat Venom and make silly block puns is really all you need to have a good time here, and Lego Marvel doesn't overcomplicate it. Yet in its goofy way it remains loyal to the Marvel universe, making each character feel essential to the cast and giving them abilities that uniquely fit them, like the Hulk being able to throw cars and make competent use of a computer. It doesn't have much to offer players hoping for a challenge or a serious story, but it's pure and simple fun, and that's all it needs to be.
7. Saints Row 4
If you were to ride a time machine back to 2006 (or maybe just spin the world the other direction, Superman-style), you'd probably get a lot of raised eyebrows over the idea that Saints Row would eventually include a superhero game. But my, how things change: Saints Row 4 stars humans with incredible powers like super speed and energy projection, out to save Earth from world-hopping evil, headquartered in a secret Saints-cave, and decked out in matching outfits. I'm gonna say that qualifies.
Saints Row 4 transformed the post-modern sandbox into a profane riff on The Matrix that's an absolute blast to explore and destroy as you see fit. Youre 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. That alone makes the game worthwhile, turning the simple act of moving from one place to another into a high-speed adventure. But toss in progressively more intense powers you unlock as you go and ridiculous slapstick comedy, and it's a game that's hard not to love, no matter how many dick jokes it tells. Hey, not all superheroes have to be noble.
6. Viewtiful Joe
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 superpowers let him pummel his way through hordes of evil goons, and getting the chance to control them yourself is delightfully gratifying.
Don't let all that silly fun fool you though - Viewtiful Joe is also one of the most deceptively difficult games around, easing you into its mechanics before throwing you headfirst 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 his ultimate enemy is nothing short of glorious.
5. inFamous Second Son
inFamous Second Son isn't based on a comic book or a movie, and it doesn't feature a beloved protagonist with roots in 1940s Americana. Instead, Delsin Rowe is a hero for the modern age: a charming delinquent who discovers he can absorb other superheroes' powers a la Rogue from X-Men, and struggles with the choice between using them for good or whatever he damn well pleases. While the first two games have their charms, Second Son is a fuller package, with tons of side content and visual flourishes that make the heroes and the city they're trying to save feel alive. Plus, it gives you access to the sort of raw power you always want to get your hands on, but so rarely do.
Playing as Delsin gives you the feeling of truly controlling a superhero. His powers grow to near-absurd levels by the end of the game, and with all the different abilities he can acquire over the course of his journey, it's not long before your cup runneth over with superpowered possibilities. Using neon to speed through the streets and straight up buildings, levitating enemies or anchoring them with concrete, shooting into orbit and coming back down for an Earth-shaking entrance - it's the stuff of superhero dreams, and it's all at your glowing fingertips.
4. Injustice: Gods Among Us
What happens when the biggest heroes and villains of the DC Universe throw down in an interdimensional battle royale fashioned by the minds behind Mortal Kombat? Glorious, unadulterated chaos, otherwise known as Injustice: Gods Among Us. 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.
Far from being a cash-in with a few famous faces pasted on, Injustice is a mean fighting game in its own right, with smooth controls and a ton of powers and stage-interactables to make battles feel authentically super. It doesn't scrimp on the story either, with a thought-provoking premise and strong performances that make everything happening between the punching feel worthwhile. Plus, the wealth of unlockable costumes are filled with references that will delight DC fans, a tasty bit of a garnish on an already hearty base. This here is one of the most faithful, hard-hitting brawlers a comic lover could hope to own.
3. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
The Incredible Hulk is one of the most popular heroes in the world, and an Avengers headliner, but his record with games has been pretty spotty (including a game where you exclusively play as Bruce Banner, because who likes smashing things anyway). It almost felt like nobody really understood the Hulk and what makes him so great, until Ultimate Destruction came along and got him doing what he does best: breaking everything.
Here the Hulk beats the crap out of anything he can get his gargantuan hands on, embracing the ridiculousness of a Not-So-Jolly Green Giant by making boxing gloves out of cars and surfing on buses. Plus, it creates a means of movement that would make Assassin's Creed green with envy, allowing the Hulk to dig his fingers right into building walls and leap across the city with the greatest of ease. Pseudo-sequel series Prototype would eventually build on this same concept, but in terms of straight-up Hulk games, no game has captured the destructive force and unbridled entertainment of the big guy like this one. Also, how's that for a fitting, accurate name? Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. It doesn't get any more appropriate than that.
2. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
Marvel vs Capcom 2 might have more superheroes in its roster, but nothing comes close to Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 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 youre dealing with bonafide experts.
Each comic book character plays just as youd 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. UMC3 is an impressive fighting game even if you have no love for Marvel, with balanced combat that allows for a variety of fighting styles and smooth handling that feels genuinely good whether youre playing as Deadpool or Frank West. If you're a purist looking for a game that bleeds Marvel, or simply a fighting game-lover looking for a fun time, this really is the ultimate.
1. Batman: Arkham Knight
Rocksteady has long been a rockstar of the superhero genre, from the day Arkham Asylum swooped quietly onto the scene and changed the face of super games forever (and without even punching it). Arkham Knight is therefore the pinnacle of the pinnacle, the swan song of the Arkham series that takes all of its best parts and condenses them into one 25-hour experience. It has its issues (namely the feeling that the game is running you over with the Batmobile by the end), but just like with the Caped Crusader himself, its greatness isn't undone by them.
Batman's powers are at their most carefully honed in Arkham Knight, with combat feeling fluid and natural, and his batty gliding ability makes traversal so fun that I'm pretty sure I saw him crack a midair smile. Plus, this time around those powers include the power of friendship, which lets a partner like Batgirl or Robin join in the fray for brilliantly executed combos that are a joy to partake in. Nestle all that in a huge open world full of great content (that isn't entirely Riddler trophies, I swear), and this feels like the perfect way to send the best iteration of Batman off as he vanishes into the night.