Spider-Man | X-Men | Fantastic Four | Incredible Hulk | Iron Man | Captain America | The Punisher | Marvel vs. Capcom | Marvel Ultimate Alliance | Wolverine | Blade | X-Men Legends | Marvel Super Hero Squad
Characters from the Marvel universe have been incredibly popular video game franchise since the first Atari consoles. Since the release of early games such as Spider-Man on the Atari 2600 and Fantastic Four on the Atari 8-bit systems, numerous franchises from Marvel's comic books have been adapted into video game form on nearly every video game console. These games are either stand-alone games, only borrowing characters and concepts, directly based on a comic book story, or based on a movie.
Reception of Marvel's games has ranged everywhere from terrible (Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects for the DS) to very well received (Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes for the Dreamcast). The majority of Marvel's games range in the 50% to 70% aggregate score, according to Metacritic and Game Rankings.
As one of Marvel's more popular characters, the Spider-Man franchise has seen nearly 30 different games releasing on almost every game console since the early 1980s. Spider-Man for the Atari 2600 was released in 1982, and is also the first game in the Marvel franchise. The game involves Spider-Man climbing up a building, disarming bombs and dodging enemies to eventually face off against the Green Goblin.
In addition, another Spider-Man game was released as part of a trilogy of Marvel games which was dubbed the " Questprobe." This trilogy included The Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four (with a planned but never finished X-Men game), all of which were released across a variety of platforms including the Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, DOS, and ZX Spectrum.
In 1989, Spider-Man and Captain America in Doctor Doom's Revenge was released. In this game, the player was able to switch between either Captain America or Spider-Man (changing after every battle), fighting against a wide variety of Marvel supervillains, including the Hobgoblin, Rhino, and Doctor Doom. The game is a fighting game, and was released for several platforms, initially for arcade systems.
The 1990s saw numerous Spider-Man releases, with the first being The Amazing Spider-Man, for the Amiga. This game was an action platformer with puzzle elements. Also released in 1990 was The Amazing Spider-Man for Game Boy, which spawned into a trilogy (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider-Slayers), all of which are very similar graphically and gameplay wise.
Only one game was released on the NES, titled Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six. Developed by BITS (now known for The Amazing Spider-Man Game Boy trilogy), Sinister Six was an action platformer in which Spider-Man must defeat all of the Sinister Six. This game was later ported to the Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear, both of which had been seeing other Spider-Man games during the 1990s. In 1991, The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin was released for the Sega Master System, and later released for the Genesis, Game Gear, and Sega CD. This game followed Spider-Man after being framed by the Kingpin for planting a bomb in the city of New York.
During the 16-bit era, Spider-Man games were released almost yearly, with several games based on actual comic book stories. Most notable of these are Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage and Spider-Man & Venom: Separation Anxiety. These games were both very anticipated and very well-received (critically and commercially). They are beat-em-up action games, starring either Spider-Man or Venom in the comic book stories on which they are based. In addition, Spider-Man: Lethal Foes was released only in Japan for the Super Famicom, based off of the Spider-Man miniseries titled "Lethal Foes of Spider-Man." Spider-Man and the X-Men: Arcade's Revenge was another well-received game released on the SNES and Genesis, although it was much more loosely based in the comic books than aforementioned games.
The animated series and later movies have spawned numerous video game adaptations. Spider-Man: The Animated Series was the first, released in 1993 for the SNES and Genesis. As with other Spider-Man games, this was an action platformer starring the web slinger. The next game directly based on other media such as this was Spider-Man: The Movie, released in 2002 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and PC. A third-person action game, this game was received moderately well, with critics praising the open world environment. Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 (each of which shared names with the movies on which they are based) were both similar in style and reception.
On the PlayStation, Spider-Man (a third-person action game) was released, and (as IGN puts it) is arguably the best Spider-Man game. This game was later ported to the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, with an alternate version released on the Game Boy Color. Two sequels were produced; Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro (a sequel to the PlayStation version) and Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six (a sequel to the Game Boy Color version).
There have been a wide variety of other notable Spider-Man games, including Spider-Man: Cartoon Maker, Spider-Man: Web of Fire, Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. Cartoon Maker was based off the animated series, allowing players to create simple films using animations from the series. Web of Fire and Mysterio's Menace are both side-scrolling action-platformers, notable for different reasons (Web of Fire is one of the rarest 32X games and Mysterio's Menace is among the top rated Marvel games). Ultimate Spider-Man and Friend or Foe are both recent releases, and are both third-person action adventure games, with much more cartoon-style visuals than other games in the franchise.
Spider-Man has also been represented in a few more modern video games. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows stars the web slinger in a third person action game where Spider-Man is facing off against Venom and an army of Symbiotes. The game was released to relatively middling reception. The most recent release in the series is Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, which was released in 2010. The game is also a third person action game, starring various versions of Spider-Man (e.g. Noir, 2099, Ultimate, etc).
The second largest Marvel franchise, X-Men has had around 25 games released in the series since the initial release of X-Men for the NES in 1989. X-Men is a top-down action game in which players control a variety of X-Men fighting against several Marvel supervillains, and eventually Magneto. A second game was released for the NES, titled Wolverine. In this action-platformer, the titular character is fighting through several stages to eventually face Sabretooth and Magneto.
Released in 1989, X-Men: Madness in Murderworld is notable for the comic book that came packaged with it, serving as a precursor to the events in the game. In the game, the player can take control of a variety of X-Men fighting against Magneto and Arcade. 1990 saw the release of X-Men: The Fall of the Mutants, a unique Marvel game which takes on the style of a role-playing game (exploring the overworld, talking to non-playable characters, collecting items).
The Sega Genesis saw three side-scrolling action-platformers from 1993 to 1994. X-Men was the first, in which Magneto hacks into the X-Men's "Danger Room" in an attempt to kill them. A second game, X-Men 2: Clone Wars, was also released on the Genesis, in which the X-Men fight against an alien menace known as the Phalanx. Wolverine: Adamantium Rage was the only one of these three games that was also released for the Super Nintendo. Adamantium Rage stars Wolverine, and it shares several similarities with the Metroidvania formula, including some exploration and item similarities (e.g. an ability similar to the Morph Ball).
Several beat-em-ups and fighting games were developed by Konami and Capcom starring the X-Men. The first, X-Men: The Arcade Game, was released in 1992 and follows the plot of an animated TV episode of the X-Men show (specifically, "Pryde of the X-Men"). X-Men: Children of the Atom was the first fighting game developed by Capcom using the Marvel license, and 1996's X-Men vs. Street Fighter pitted Marvel's X-Men against Capcom's characters. Capcom also produced X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, a SNES exclusive side-scrolling action game.
Sega's X-Men game from 1993 was continued in a separate storyline on the Game Gear. X-Men 2: Game Master's Legacy and X-Men 3: Mojo World are both part of this trilogy. Both of these games are action games starring a variety of X-Men. X-Men: Mojo World was later ported to the Sega Master System under the same name.
X-Men: Mutant Academy continued the trend of X-Men based fighting games. Released for the PlayStation and Game Boy Color, Mutant Academy was in a similar style to Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (developed by the same company). X-Men: Mutant Academy 2 added several heroes, moves, and also included a behind the scenes look at the first X-Men movie. X-Men: Next Dimension is the third game in the franchise, and adds a more story focus to the game, adding a plot concerning an assault on Professor Xavier's mansion.
X-Men: Mutant Wars is the first action-platforming X-Men game to be released on one of Nintendo's handhelds, but it began a trend. Another action-platformer, X-Men: Wolverine's Rage, was released on the Game Boy Color, and a later game ( X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse) was released for the Game Boy Advance.
Although the first film did not have a movie tie in, the second and third films had simultaneously game releases. X2: Wolverine's Revenge is loosely based on X2: X-Men United, and puts its focus on Wolverine. The game is a third person action game on most platforms. X-Men: The Official Game, despite being named after the first film is an adaptation of the third film, X-Men: The Last Stand (although it does contain events from the second film). This game opens up the playability of Iceman and Nightcrawler, in addition to Wolverine. 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an action-adventure game based on the film of the same name, starring Wolverine in a variety of stages researching his past.
The X-Men Legends franchise is among the broadest in terms of playable characters, with 15 X-Men available. The first game, X-Men Legends, has four characters on-screen simultaneously, either computer or player controlled. The game follows the X-Men fighting against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants, in an action-adventure style (although it does have some role-playing elements, such as upgradeable abilities). X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocalypse continued the story, as well as improving on the gameplay of the previous game.
After the first Fantastic Four game with the "Questprobe" trilogy, the franchise didn't see another release until 1997, with a PlayStation released titled The Fantastic Four. Published by Acclaim, The Fantastic Four was a side-scrolling beat-em-up starring the titular superheroes. The game is similar to other arcade style beat-em-ups, such as Streets of Rage or Final Fight, except The Fantastic Four also allows for each of the respective superheroes' superpowers.
After the release of the 2005 Fantastic Four film, there have been three games based on the movies. The first, Fantastic Four, is a third person action game starring the titular characters. Another game based on the first film stars The Human Torch, titled Fantastic Four: Flame On (a side-scrolling action game exclusive to the Game Boy Advance). The second film's tie in is titled Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and essentially plays the same as the first Fantastic Four game (i.e. a third person action game).
The Incredible Hulk
The first Hulk game was also part of the "Questprobe" trilogy on the Atari 8-bit, among other consoles. After the Questprobe game, the Hulk didn't star in a game until 1994's The Incredible Hulk, a side-scrolling beat-em-up released for the SNES, Genesis, Master System, and Game Gear. The game follows the Hulk through five levels searching for the Leader, the villain from the Hulk comic book franchise.
Four other standalone games (i.e. not based on a film, TV show, or part of a sub-franchise) were released in the Hulk franchise: Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga (PlayStation, Saturn, and PC), The Incredible Hulk (GBA), and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox). Of the three, Ultimate Destruction was the most well-received, as an open-ended, destructive environment. The Pantheon Saga is a side-scrolling action game, although it received mediocre reception from critics (receiving similar complaints to the PlayStation beat-em-up game The Fantastic Four). The Incredible Hulk for the GBA was an isometric action game.
Naturally, there have been two games developed which are based on the two films. The first, simply titled Hulk, is a third person action game based off the 2003 movie, and essentially follows the same plot. The second film's tie in is titled The Incredible Hulk, and plays similarly to Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The Incredible Hulk is an open world third-person action game, and it essentially follows the plot of the film on which it is based.
The Iron Man comic books weren't adapted to video games until 1996's side-scrolling beat-em-up Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal led to other similar games, such as The Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga (none of which were incredibly well received). The game stars Iron Man and X-O Manowar (both of whom are playable characters) in an attempt to prevent a team of supervillains from attaining the "Cosmic Cube."
The Invincible Iron Man, an action-platformer for the Game Boy Advance, was slightly better receive than Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal. The game only allows players to play as Iron Man, differing from Heavy Metal, and opens up a variety of Iron Man's special abilities, such as repulsor blasts and flying abilities. Despite criticizing the game's length, many critics found the game to be charming or "good for what it is."
Iron Man, based on the 2008 film, is a third-person action game starring the titular Tony Stark. The game is much more focusing on aerial combat than previous games, although there is ground combat as well. Iron Man follows the same plot as the film, and shares voice actors as well. Iron Man 2, released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PSP, Nintendo DS, and PC, plays similarly to the first game, and loosely follows the plot of the second film.
Captain America has been moderately well represented in video game adaptations, with three games starring the soldier. The first, Captain America in: The Doom Tube of Dr. Megalomann, is based off of the comic book of the same name. It was released in 1987 for the Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. The game is a top down action game in which Captain America is exploring Megalomann's headquarters, the Doom Tube. Captain America must disarm a missile in real time of one hour.
While technically the same game, Captain America and the Avengers has two different "versions." The arcade version (later ported to the SNES, Game Boy, and Game Gear) is a side scrolling beat-em-up starring Captain America, Hawkeye, the Vision, and Iron Man. These four battle a wide variety of Marvel supervillains including Mandarin, the Juggernaut, and the Red Skull. The NES version, developed and published by Data East, is an action platformer rather than a beat-em-up. In the NES version, only Captain America and Hawkeye are playable. The other two characters, Iron Man and the Vision, have been kidnapped, and that is the focus of the entire game.
The 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger's video game adaptation, Captain America: Super Soldier, is the first release from Captain America in over a decade. The game (which is a third person action game loosely based on the film) follows the titular Captain America as he attempts to destroy an organization known as HYDRA.
Well represented in video games, the Punisher franchise has seen approximately five releases across a variety of platforms. The first game, The Punisher, was released in 1990 for the NES. The game is a rail shooter in which the Punisher is controlled in third person. The goal is to fight through a variety of henchmen and villains to eventually face off against the Kingpin, who (in this game) is notoriously difficult. The game was ported to the Game Boy as The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback, and made some minor changes (such as changing the final boss to Jigsaw, rather than Kingpin).
Another game released in 1990, The Punisher, was released for the Amiga, Atari ST, and PC. Although it shares the name of the NES game, it is completely different gameplay-wise. The game plays primarily from a top-down perspective, where players control Frank Castle as he investigates his family's murder. At some points, the game shifts to a first-person perspective, particularly when fighting enemies. In addition, there is a driving mode (known as the "Battle Van") and side-scrolling underwater parts of the game.
Arguably the most well-received game in the Punisher franchise, a third game by the name of merely The Punisher was released in 1993 for the arcade platform by Capcom. The Punisher is a beat-em-up, naturally starring Frank Castle (however, the game does offer Nick Fury as a playable character as well). Following the same formula of Capcom's many beat-em-ups, The Punisher does differ in many aspects (especially the ability to use weaponry such as an M16 or a flamethrower). The game was ported to the Sega Genesis in 1994, with minor changes such as graphics and censorship.
In 2005, a fourth game titled The Punisher was released, based off of the 2004 film of the same name. A third-person action game (with shooting and stealth elements), The Punisher was designed to be a violent action game. This is evidenced in scenes where the Punisher can violently torture his enemies, attempting to force them to reveal information about the Jigsaw (the Punisher's biggest threat in the game).
The first game in the franchise (not counting the ported Game Boy game) to not simply be titled "The Punisher" was released in 2009 for the PlayStation Network. Titled The Punisher: No Mercy, the game is a first-person arena based shooter. The game has four different arenas in which the player fights against a variety of other player or computer controlled opponents. The game received mediocre reception, with scores ranging from 40% to 80% from a variety of publications.
Other Marvel Characters
Several other Marvel characters have been adapted to video game form. The half-vampire Blade starred in 2000's Blade for the Game Boy Color and PlayStation. This game is a third-person action game on the PlayStation, and a side-scrolling action game on the Game Boy Color. Naturally, Blade's goal is to kill vampires, so Blade has a varied arsenal of weaponry in order to do so (e.g. silver glaives, UV grenades, etc). The game's sequel, Blade II, was released in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and shared many similarities in terms of gameplay with the first game.
Other than the "team-up" game Captain America & The Avengers, there has only been one game starring the Avengers. Avengers in Galactic Storm for the arcade was developed and published by Data East in 1995. Galactic Storm is a traditional fighting game, although the storyline is based off of the comic book plot "Operation: Galactic Storm." There are eight playable characters, four of whom are Avengers and four of whom are Kree (an advanced alien race from the Marvel universe).
Marvel's blind superhero, the "Man Without Fear!" has starred in a single game. Naturally, the game is titled Daredevil, and was released in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance. The game is a side-scrolling action-platformer in which Daredevil must battle a variety of Marvel villains who are based in New York, such as Elektra, the Kingpin, and Bullseye. In addition, four of Daredevil's hyper-senses can be activated with an on-screen radar.
Based off of the 2007 film, Ghost Rider is the only game starring the titular character. The game was released for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Game Boy Advance in 2007. The game is similar to other action games such as God of War and Devil May Cry in that combos are preformed similarly. In addition, the Ghost Rider can perform more complicated combos while riding on his Hellcycle, as well as shooting hellfire and using his chain. The Game Boy Advance version was a side-scrolling action-adventure game, with some racing segments similar to the Genesis Road Rash franchise.
One of Marvel's lesser-known heroes, the Silver Surfer, has had a single NES game. Titled Silver Surfer, the game is a notoriously difficult side-scrolling shooter (it also contains top-down perspective levels). The Silver Surfer's goal in the game is to defeat alien creatures from the Magick Dimension, aliens who are trying to end all life in the universe. Along the way, the Silver Surfer must collect pieces of the Cosmic Device, and fight a variety of Marvel supervillains such as Mephisto, Skrull Emperor, and Reptyl.
Thor was given his own game with the release of Thor: God of Thunder, coinciding with the 2011 film. This marks the first time that the character has been given his own video game. God of Thunder is a third person action-adventure game, loosely based around the film Thor.
Other Marvel Games
Seeing the popularity of previous Marvel "team-up" games, Capcom began a new franchise of Marvel fighting games beginning with 1995's arcade hit Marvel Super Heroes. The game came with Capcom's traditional flair; large, detailed sprites, long, complicated combos, and a wide range of fighters. The game's sequel, Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, brought some of Capcom's characters into the mix, and follows the same formula as X-Men vs. Street Fighter. This franchise was also made into an action-platformer exclusive to the Super Nintendo, titled Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. This game was very similar to Capcom's previous platformer, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse.
After the popularity of Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom went even further and created Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes. Now no longer limited to Street Fighter characters, this game included a wide variety of Capcom characters, including Mega Man, Captain Commando, Morrigan, Strider, and several others. Marvel vs. Capcom adds some key features to the fighting game, particularly the ability to summon assists from other characters and to do a massive team attack. The sequel, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, was originally released in 2000. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 added a large amount of characters to each side, bringing the total to 56 playable characters.
Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds was released in 2011, as the third title in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. The game added new characters, new moves, updated graphics, and much more after the decade long hiatus between releases. The game's sequel, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, is set to be released in the near future, and will add even more characters to the roster.
The Marvel Ultimate Alliance franchise is one of Marvel's newest franchises, encompassing only two games. The first, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, was released in 2006. The game is a top-down team-based game (i.e. there are always four characters onscreen, whether they be computer or player controlled). Players can take control of a wide roster of Marvel characters in a battle against Galactus. Along the way, players fight numerous supervillains, including M.O.D.O.K., Mysterio, Dr. Doom, Mephisto, Mandarin, Kraken, Loki, Arcade, Rhino, Blackheart, and many, many others. The second game in the franchise, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, did little to expand the gameplay, mostly upgrading the graphical and story aspects of the game.