10 of the best superhero games ever
Superheroes are ideally suited to the pliable worlds of video games, where the ability to leap a tall building in a single bound doesn’t require genetic mutation or an alien birthplace – it can be implemented with just a few lines of code.
But for such a straightforward formula, superheroes and video games got off to a bad start. For every dazzling modern release such as The Amazing Spider-Man, there were 50 awful efforts in the early days of gaming, where Superman’s invulnerability was ludicrously hobbled by the format’s need of a life bar to provide a challenge. Fortunately, there were some good superhero games out there too – games that didn’t ruin our fantasies but instead made them stronger…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NES (1990)
At a time when even hearing the word ‘ninja’ was considered edgy, the heroes in a half shell put in a pretty decent supereffort. This massive 2D scrolling platformer had puzzle levels, top-down mazes, and an oppressive difficulty level that may have broken some young players and put them off gaming for life.
X-Men Arcade (1992)
It took ages for a good superhero title to appear, partly because earlier machines didn’t have the colour palette to do justice to all those shades of Lycra. All that changed with this arcade game, which melded the side-scrolling beat ’em up with super powers. It lives on still, thanks to rose-tinted re-releases on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
Batman Returns, Sega Mega CD (1993)
A moderately decent platformer from before the game world embraced 3D graphics, Batman Returns did a good job of incorporating the design and style of the early ’90s ‘gritty’ Batman film reboot. The version Sega made for their niche Mega CD console add-on was a rare high for the poor machine, thanks to an exclusive 3D-rendered driving section that was powered by Mega CD’s upgraded processors, as well as CD-quality music. It was the best thing ever, for Sega fans, for a couple of weeks.
Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, SNES, Sega Mega Drive (1994)
What lifted Maximum Carnage above the millions of other 2D side-scrollers was Spidey’s ability to summon help from Captain America and other Marvel heroes mid-battle. Comic book geeks loved being able to play as bad guy Venom, who had a moveset all of his own.
X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Arcade (1996)
A game straight out of the fever dreams of a generation, Capcom surmounted the huge licensing issues involved to pitch its Street Fighter line up against Marvel’s legendary X-Men. It had SF mechanics at its core, but with tag-team action, players could unleash insane Cyclops-Wolverine special attacks. Cool.