Stars and Stripes Forever
Batman and Captain America have a lot in common. Neither has flashy powers like flight or super strength, they get by on tactical deductive planning, and are some of the best pure fighters within their respective universes. Yes, Cap has the help of a Super Soldier serum, but both are more grounded heroes that are a great fit for games. Thats why its disheartening for fans of Cap aka Steve Rogers to see his gaming legacy falter compared to Batmans. Sure, Cap has been in good (and even great) games, but he's still waiting for a respectable one of his own.
That said, Caps game history still spans decades, even if the actual number of games pales to other heroes. Though in the last few years hes appeared more thanks to the boatloads of money that The Avengers earned. In light of the new sequel film finally releasing finally hitting theaters, lets see how far this Super Soldier has come in the realm of digital entertainment.
Captain America in: The Doom Tube of Dr. Megalomann (1987)
Near as I can tell, this is Caps first game appearance, and, wow, is it unbecoming of the Star Spangled Sentinel. Released on various consoles in the late 80s, it pits Cap against the ridiculously named (and entirely new) villain Dr. Megalomann. Why developer Erbe Software saw fit to invent a villain instead of using anyone else from Marvels immense cache of bad guys is beyond me; surely Marvel wasnt charging license fees on a per-character basis? Cant we get some Red Skull or Ultron up in here?
You spend much of the game clumsily rummaging through laboratories and secret hallways in an attempt to escape/destroy the Doom Tube in the title. I know, its hard to tell from the screen, which is literally 50% HUD. Points for all the stars on the menu though, they really set the mood. Also, Cap less throws his shield then has it slowly crawl away from him. Many missed it on the Spectrum, Commodore, and Amiga, making it lost to time, much like Cap when he was entombed in ice for so many years
Spider-Man and Captain America in: Dr. Dooms Revenge (1989)
Apparently Caps star power was not sufficient for the publisher, as his next game appearance required a team-up with the ever bankable Spider-Man. He and Cap split gameplay 50/50, battling B-level villains like Electro, Batroc and Machete, then ultimately staring down Dr. Doom in what is surely a riveting climax. Its very much of its time, using simple gameplay that boils down to smashing robots and slowly walking right until you smash something else. Even Caps shield-throwing animation is lame, and fails to convey the awesome might of hurling an invincible projectile at someones face.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about Dr. Dooms Revenge is that it also happens to be Dooms first gaming appearance--Ill make sure to jot that down for the inevitable history of Dr. Doom feature. This game also came packed with an exclusive comic book, so collectors should take note. Its gotta be worth at least $5 by now.
Captain America and The Avengers (1991)
Now were getting somewhere! Perhaps the most well known Captain America game of all time, this is one of the dime-a-dozen beat em ups from the early 90s. Like The Simpsons and Ninja Turtles, this had four playable brawler (Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Vision) walking down the street, manhandling thugs. They battle Red Skull, Mandarin, Whirlwind and, uh, The Living Laser. This is notably the first time you really get a good sense of his shields power. He hurls that sucker across the screen with an appropriately superhuman stance, dealing damage and knocking enemies on their ass.
Many that played it will recall Captain America and The Avengers bizarre, nonsensical dialog. At the time, speech in video games was still pretty nifty, so we overlooked how out-there the writing really was. Today, its pure hilarity and indicative of a time when neither Marvel nor its licensee (Data East, in this case) paid close attention to how well the game represented the brand. As with most successful 90s arcade games, Cap and the Avengers was ported to SNES and Genesis. It was also converted into a completely different NES game with the same name and cast, only Iron Man and Vision have been captured and Cap/Hawkeye have to save the day together.
Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage (1994)
Speaking of beat em ups, heres a particularly well remembered (and crappy) one that tied into Marvels fourteen-part Maximum Carnage storyline. The story was interminable in the comics, as was the game that retold the story months later in pixelated form, ready to exhaust readers all over again. On the plus side, the game was also fairly difficult and/or unfair, meaning most never saw the third stage of this colorful Spidey romp--not without a Game Genie.
What does any of this have to do with Captain America? Well, Steve Rogers was one of a number of superpowered cameos that filled out the game, mirroring the minor role he had in the comic book version of Maximum Carnage. Caps role is limited to a brief appearance, where he tosses his shield and then exits. I thought those colors werent supposed to run, Steve?
The Avengers in Galactic Storm (1995)
What the Liberty Bell is this? A 90s fighting game with Marvel characters that ISNT from Capcom? Yes, somehow Data East held onto its Avengers license long enough to slip out a little known 2D scrapper based on an equally forgettable 19-part story that spanned all Avengers comics earlier in the decade. Galactic Storm only has four playable fighters, but as the constant leader of the Avengers, of course Cap was included.
While the game itself feels clunky, Caps moves are actually fun to use and look eerily similar to those in Capcoms Marvel Super Heroes (more on that in a second). For instance, he can combo an enemy into the air, then hit em with a shield toss before they hit the ground. Marvel fans will also notice the move is parallel to Caps Charging Star in the Capcom titles--interesting, because Galactic Storm also features assist characters, a good three years before Marvel vs. Capcom.
Marvel Super Heroes / Marvel vs Capcom (1995/1998)
By 1995, Capcom had two successful fighting franchises: the Street Fighter side (which itself was split between Alpha and regular), and the Marvel side, which first gained steam with X-Men: Children of the Atom. Marvel Super Heroes expanded the X-Men roster to include heavy hitters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and, obviously, Captain America. It was the beginning of a long series of battles for Cap.
The sprite that was built for Marvel Super Heroes was recycled (in usual Capcom fashion) in several other games, including Marvel vs. Capcom 1 and 2. Luckily it was a badass, well-animated sprite that aged well and put some extra meat on Steve Rogers bones, making him a very formidable fighter. Charging Star, Stars and Stripes, Final Justice all his special moves have suitably patriotic names. To a certain generation, this may be the most well-known video game version of Captain America ever.
Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (1996)
Seeing as the SNES wasnt powerful enough to handle a full conversion of Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom slapped together a side-scrolling beat em up with a similar cast and Infinity Gauntlet-inspired story. Hulk, Iron Man, Spidey and Cap were the primary characters, each with fitting normal attacks and a handful of Street Fighter-esque specials that dealt more damage.
Just as Marvel Super Heroes lifted ideas from Children of the Atom, the SNES version copied gameplay from an earlier X-Men game, Mutant Apocalypse. Both mixed Final Fight-style mechanics with additional moves triggered by Street Fighter style commands. Despite its all star cast, War of the Gems isnt particularly great, and this specific Marvel game slipped in just as the SNES was dying off.
Now Im just starting to feel bad for Captain America. For like the fourth time in Caps video game history that hes overshadowed by Spider-Man. In the pre-Marvel Studios years, Spider-Man and the X-Men were on one level, with the rest of the characters lagging far behind them. Some of the blame goes to Cap being written as very boring character back then, which was played for laughs in this cute PSOne original.
Honestly, Cap doesnt have a whole lot to do in this game, other than act as a drab-talking supporting character and play poker with Daredevil, Punisher and Spider-Man in the ending. Then the Human Torch interrupts to dance in front of them. That all this star power appeared in a single game for such a goofy joke shows you where Marvels priorities were back then.
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (2005)
Capcom had pretty much defined comic book fighting games, but by the mid-2000s another company was ready to join the fray. When EA got its hands on the license, the company announced a crossover game thatd pit Marvels heroes against EA originals who looked like they were drawn in an afternoon by fourth grader. Beyond the crummy, wannabe Smash Bros. gameplay, fans were no doubt annoyed to see favorites like Captain America, Punisher, and The Hulk murdered in the intro scene, because they had to make room for the likes of Hazmat and The Wink (seriously, those were the names of EAs characters).
This game would be a footnote in Caps gaming history were it not for the PSP release that came mere weeks after the consoles. Though he wasnt good enough for the console roster, now Cap could beat Dr. Doom to death on Sonys handheld. Rogers shouldve stayed dead.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006)
For all intents and purposes, this grab-bag of Marvel heroes is the modern equivalent of the aforementioned Captain American and the Avengers. Pick a character, claw through a crapload of enemies, fight a boss, repeat until the end. But in this case, the cutscenes were handled so exceptionally well theyre worth the price of admission alone. They also portray Cap as the fearless leader and expert fighter that he truly is. As for in-game feats, the Ultimate Alliance games may be the first to acknowledge how agile the shield can be; one of Caps big moves is bouncing it off the walls to strike multiple enemies before returning to his hand.
He appeared again in Ultimate Alliance 2, which introduced Fusion combo attacks (like Storm blasting Caps shield, as seen above). Strangely, Marvel UA used Caps Ultimate costume as his standard look, which is slightly more militaristic and lacks the head-ornament wings; in Marvel UA2, hes back in his usual duds.
Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009-2012)
Somehow Marvel got the idea that Spider-Man, Cap and its other heroes werent kid friendly enough--even though most of the adult readers today started as kids but whatever. So Marvel super-deformed its icons into the Super Hero Squad, a cute and colorful collective of Avengers. The gameplay was pretty on the simple side and they look ridiculous, but hey, if this is what introduces kids to the Infinity Gauntlet, it cant be all bad.
There were multiple entries in the series, including a tongue in cheek comedy that was backed up by the button mashy beat em up style. It had an accompanying toy line and cartoon, as well as a very forgotten UDraw game from THQ. In retrospect, this just looked like Marvel testing the waters for its later Lego games.
Marvel vs Capcom 3 (2011)
What would a Marvel fighter be without Cap? Fortunately, we didnt have to find out when Marvel and Capcom partnered up again to restart their Vs. franchise. Naturally Capcom included the super soldier, but it also made sure to toss in a few alternate costumes--namely shout-outs to Red Guardian, his classic MvC coloring, and the look the Punisher adopted in tribute to the then-dead Captain America.
Not long after launch, Capcom released a new classic skin, which gave Cap his 40s shield (one that was decidedly less throwable). As for his in-game presence, hes still a fun, fast character to play around with, and a fan favorite. And Capcom made an important update of having his tossed shield now hits once on the way out, and then again on the way back.
Marvel Pinball (2011)
In the golden age of pinball gaming, super heroes were all over the place, though Captain America didnt rank high enough to get a solo board like Spider-Man and the X-Men got back in the day. Cap has finally risen to prominence, but its in a time when physical boards are nearly extinct. Pinball fans have had to adapt with the times, which makes for some fantastic, digital-only pinball machines, including one starring the ultimate costumed patriot.
Developer Zen Studios made the rather excellent Pinball FX2 and kept supporting it with new DLC themed on numerous properties, Marvel Comics included. The developer even repackaged it as Marvel Pinball, a re-skinned version of its already fun virtual pinballer full of super folks. This included a Captain America table, complete with famous enemies Red Skull and Baron Zemo to menace Ol Winghead from afar. And thanks to its virtual existence, it could have flashy effects that would be impossible in real life--like expertly toss his shield into Red Skulls Nazi face.
Captain America: Super Soldier (2011)
At long last, Cap got to star in another game, in this case a movie tie-in from Next Level Games. Unlike Segas previous Marvel efforts (Iron Man, Thor and Hulk are all quite bad), this modest World War II action title is one of Segas better superhero games. It couldnt match Batmans recent work, but it borrows a bit from Arkham Asylum, and it shows a lot of promise of what Next Level couldve done with more time.
As for its portrayal of Cap, Super Soldier implements some very cool ideas, like bouncing the shield between multiple enemies and reflecting bullets back at Hydra agents. Its very close to replicating the true Cap spirit--which isnt backing a government, but an idea, and the right for people to choose their own fate--but isnt quite there. It never really comes together, but this can hopefully be used as inspiration for the next solo Cap game (whenever that might happen).
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth (2012)
Caps film tie-in game was far and away the strongest of a very weak crop of Marvel games that tied in to the first phase of Avengers films, and there hasnt been another console game based on the Caps movie persona since. But the comic version of the Avengers did make an appearance in a game the same year as the film, with Captain America leading the team into a different type of battle. And because they were facing the shape shifting Skrulls, Battle for Earth even featured an evil doppelganger of Steve Rogers--two Caps for the price of one!
This was one of Ubisofts first big Marvel games, and while it had alright visuals, the game was hamstrung by focusing on Kinect functionality which whats a nice way of saying it was horrible? It got a non-motion controlled port to the Wii U that played a little better, but without Kinect, the shallowness of Cap and friends combat was even more obvious. Better luck next time Ubi.
Marvel Heroes (2013)
Rival publisher DC Comics beat Marvel into the competitive world of MMOs with the more traditional DC Universe Online, so fans were hyped for what how the House of Ideas would keep up. Marvel Heroes finally gave fans that MMO with a dungeon crawling, free-to-play twist that starred, obviously, a bunch of Marvel heroes, Captain America being one of them. The plot saw all of super beings teaming up to stop Dr. Doom after the armored jerk got his hands on a Cosmic Cube (or Tesseract as its called in the movies).
Most of Captain Americas special abilities are based around using his shield for both offense and defense, and his leadership skills even unlock a team buff at Level 6. The F2P nature of the game also meant Marvel Heroes hosted some of the most diverse looks for Cap ever seen in gaming. He had his film costumes, his Marvel NOW! Update, S.H.I.E.L.D. Director uniform, and many more that outfits that players could use for a price, of course.
Lego Marvel Super Heroes (2013)
The last decade played host to Lego games based on DC, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even Rock Band, so Marvels own blocky kids title was way overdue. Developer Travellers Tales must have been feeling the same frustration, because when it finally got its hands on the Marvel Universe, it made a Lego version of seemingly every character Marvel ever created, Captain America included. Hell, even The Winter Soldier makes an appearance as DLC.
The Avengers line-up is basically the same as the movies, with Cap leading the way, but the open license means you see Steve Rogers teaming up with a more diverse crew of champions. Its a real treat to see Ol Winghead team up with Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Fantastic Four to battle the likes of Magneto, Galactus, and, yes, Dr. Doom again, all with the comedic edge you expect from Lego. Now that the Lego Marvel world is established, is it too to hope for a Marvel vs. DC Lego game?
America still needs your help...
That brings us to today. Will Captain America ever star in a truly great game? And what's your favorite gaming memory of Cap? Share your thoughts in the comments!