Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will put a bow onto Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s theatrical releases for 2022. However, in the world of video games, the new releases keep on coming almost as often as the films. Word has been strong on Marvel Snap, and the announcement of EA’s deal with Marvel on Iron Man sparked conversation. Signs show that the brand is still strong and looking for places to expand beyond the page and silver screen. With new releases on their way like 2K’s Midnight Suns, Insomniac’s Wolverine and Spider-Man 2, we want to reflect on some of the best examples of Marvel’s legacy in video games. We’ll try not to flood the list with Spider-Man.
X-Men Arcade (1992)
The Konami published arcade title is a Double Dragon style cooperative street brawler beat-em-up classic of the early 1990s. The genre had been perfected by this point. Games like River City Ransom and Konami’s The Simpsons Arcade in 1991 sanded the edges and made arcade brawlers approachable. The Simpsons in particular is often found on two-for-one cabinets in a lot of retro arcades alongside this X-Men title. Players got to choose between Cyclops, Colossus, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler and Dazzler as they milled their way down the road eliminating Magneto’s goons and the Sentinels, with boss fights to test your mettle at the end of each stage. [Evan Griffin]
Marvel vs Capcom 2 (2000)
Back in the ’90’s, Marvel was still cool but also practically bankrupt. Third parties were allowed to do just about whatever with the licenses of these characters. “Oh yeah, you want Cable? Psylocke? Sure, go for it” was the attitude when the Marvel vs Capcom’s cast was being built out. When this refined sequel was being prepared for release, the cast grew to an impressive 56 characters between the two franchises.
MVC2 remains a classic for its tight, but approachable control scheme and three on three character match ups. Characters were features across so many franchises: Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Street Fighter, Mega Man, Resident Evil, and Darkstalkers. In addition to being one of the best crossovers to date alongside Super Smash Bros, MVC2 is still one of the best controlled fighting games out there. Luckily as of August 2022, you can finally buy the game again as a full sized 1Up Arcade cabinet. However, the game hasn’t seen a console or PC rerelease in over a decade. As a plus, it still has one of the best game soundtracks in recorded history. [Evan Griffin]
Spider-Man 2: The Game (2004)
At the risk of including too many single games starring our beloved web-head, we’d be remiss to exclude this classic. This adaptation of Spider-Man 2 included the voices of Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson and Bruce Campbell as the tutorial guy who likes eating ham sandwiches on mic. The game translated Sam Raimi’s campy tone, but also added the edge you’d only find in a 2004 Treyarch game. The reason this game stays in the conversations of video game history is the physics and web swinging mechanics. They were designed by Jamie Fristrom, who revamped the controls of 2002’s Spider-Man game too late in development to implement.
Thus, Spider-Man 2 would take full advantage in a post Grand Theft Auto III world with an open map of New York City, and it is still satisfying to swing through in its own way, despite being well iterated upon in Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) and Miles Morales (2020). That said, we’ve yet to get another gaming experience quite like the pizza delivery side mission in Spider-Man 2. [Evan Griffin]
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (2005)
Before Raven Software (Quake 4) was sent to the “Call of Duty Mines”, they made a pretty cool twist on the superhero team up. X-Men Legends and its successor were derivative of the multiplayer top-down dungeon crawler genre innovated by games like Blizzard’s Diablo. Another Activision developer since bled dry, Vicarious Visions provided this series with their Alchemy engine, which is still used today. The game also sported story cutscenes by Blur Studios (Warcraft) that were impressive for the time.
In X-Men Legends II, players choose a squad of four characters out of a cast of 25 to freely swap between. Combined with local co-op and showcasing early online play for PS2 and Xbox, the game is a fun and simple action game to cruise through with friends. [Evan Griffin]
Ultimate Spider-Man (2005)
Developed by Beenox, yet another Activision studio now in the COD mines, Ultimate Spider-Man was a unique take on the wall crawler. Based on Brian Michael Bendis’ run from 2000 to 2009, Ultimate tries to faithfully recreate the comic’s style which helped breathe new life into Peter Parker’s story, and ultimately (har har) introduce Miles Morales. Not only did the game achieve an adaptation of the distinct art style with bold line work, cell shading and illustrative textures, it also expanded the open world map to include Peters’ hometown, Queens. The game also famously included levels where players control Venom while skulking around the city at night, eating victims and escaping the fuzz. [Evan Griffin]
Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (2005)
In the time between making cult favorites like The Simpsons: Hit & Run and Prototype, Radical Entertainment created the best game based on the angry green giant to date. In an era before destructible environments were commonplace in AAA shooters and action games, Ultimate Destruction’s selling point was allowing players to Hulk Out and smash-smash-smash their way through an open world map. Players could leap, wall run, and destroy or weaponize vehicles, rubble and street signs. As any GTA inspired game will do, enough destruction will send the military reigning down on The Hulk, providing plenty of tanks and other artillery to destroy enemies with. A relatively simple game that reunited some of the comic’s key writers to build a story around it, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is definitely a great PS2, GameCube, and Xbox era game that is sorely overdue for a good remaster. [Evan Griffin]
X-Men Origins Wolverine: Uncaged Edition (2009)
A lot of movie tie-in direct adaptation games of the 2000s were notoriously bad, but every once in a while you’d find a diamond in the rough. Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Video Game Of the Movie, Spider-Man 2 (2004), Goldeneye and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. These are all the lucky ones with good video game adaptations of already stellar Hollywood films.
There are very few in the league of X-Men Origins: Wolverine where you find that the game tie-in is better than an absolutely dismal film that it was licensed to copy from. That’s because it was determined to follow no plot of the film’s and do its own thing focused on good hack and slash combat, but also the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions famously had an alternate M rating named the Uncaged Edition. Thus, this Wolverine game gave fans the fantasy of Logan creating a bloody massacre of his enemies long before James Mangold’s Logan in 2017. [Evan Griffin]
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order (2019)
The Disney era of Marvel has been a tricky one in the video game landscape. Exhibit A of this change is the drastic differences between fan favorite Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the widely panned Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. As evident in these games and on the comic shelves, the X-Men and Fantastic Four were nowhere to be seen throughout the brand until the Fox buyout. However, in 2019 there is Wolverine and the X-Men front and center with Team Ninja’s revival of Ultimate Alliance, Raven Soft’s successor to the aforementioned X-Men Legends series.
A return to top-down co-op action, The Black Order ties in with plenty of corners of Marvel history for a broad variety of characters from the Guardians of the Galaxy to Marvel Knights. While the Nintendo Switch game isn’t the strongest of the bunch in this list, it is a constant bonanza of cameos from classic characters of the broadest variety seen in years and makes for a fun cooperative experience that is not as common today as it was in the early 2000s. [Evan Griffin]
Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020)
Insomniac’s first go-around with Spider-Man in 2018 was an absolutely stellar blockbuster action title that really shined, but the follow up starring Miles Morales improves so many things about the formula. From Miles’ animations, to a tight, refined and focused story and new combat and stealth controls, Miles Morales takes a gameplay system that makes you “feel like Spider-Man” and really makes it sing with a unique rhythm.
An incredible touch is taking the collectible missions and making them more focused and integral to the story and world. Standouts include searching for environments to piece together mixtapes from the soundscapes of New York, allowing Miles to uncover messages from his late father. Additionally, the Harlem integrated app missions, which takes small fetch quests that would be shrugged off in any other video game, instead make it feel like you’re helping neighbors in a community that would otherwise be hiding in plain sight amongst all the repetitive activity in a New York open world game.
Plus, the PS5 advantages are clear from things as simple as framerate boosts, to as complex as the snowy particle effects and the DualSense texture based rumble and trigger use. It really is the definitive Spider-Man experience to play in video games right now. [Evan Griffin]
Guardians of the Galaxy (2021)
When Square Enix announced that they were publishing the Guardians of the Galaxy game for Marvel, a whisper made its way across the cosmos. Not actually, but it was a controversial topic. The excitement at the thought of Marvel’s ragtag group of anti-heroes finally getting their own AAA game came with a looming, Avengers-sized piece of baggage. But while that game left a questionable first impression on the general public, the same cannot be said for Guardians.
Developed by Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex), Guardians features a lengthy original story that borrows from the comics and films alike for inspiration, offering up a fresh look at the team that turns out to be surprisingly funny and heartfelt. The gameplay, while a bit repetitive, perfectly captures the essence of each member of the Guardians as the player (controlling Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord) directs the team to victory. Points are acquired through progress and exploration, along with new abilities, skills, and upgrades; giving the whole thing a light RPG progression to work towards. If you were hesitant to give this one a shot, totally understandable, but Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely worth a playthrough. [Adonis Gonzalez]
Featured image credit: Marvel / Second Dinner