Games have a notorious reputation for mucking up adaptations of books and films. Comics have been more fortunate, with many enjoyable, sometimes even great games that have done well by their source material. Whether it’s Wolverine’s gruffness, Batman’s gadgets or the lighthearted antics of The Avengers, games have found ways to competently incorporate the myriad of heroes and heroines that exist in the beautifully illustrated pages of comic books.
Here are the 12 best videogame adaptations of comics.
1. DuckTales (1989)
Although Capcom’s game is based on the DuckTales cartoon, the show was built heavily on Carl Barks’ timeless work on Disney’s Uncle Scrooge comics. Barks created Scrooge McDuck in 1947 and went on to introduce such classic characters and concepts as Duckburg, the Beagle Boys, Gyro Gearloose and the Junior Woodchucks. Without Barks’ comics neither the DuckTales show nor game would’ve been possible. And both the show and the game are legitimately great adaptations; the former was at the time the best example of how to turn a sprawling comic book mythology into a successful cartoon, and more than a quarter of a century later the game (made by many of the same creators behind the original Mega Man games) remains perhaps the greatest videogame adaptation of a cartoon.—GM
2. X-Men (1992)
A goofy arcade beat ‘em up developed by Konami decades before they cancelled a certain project and ended up on everyone’s shit list. This particular X-Men game let up to four people play as everyone’s favorite mutants, zapping, stabbing and stomping their way across stages filled with henchmen until an appropriately dramatic final battle with Magneto. Though it’s less than an hour long, with the right people along for the ride it makes for a grand old time. Also, that art is gorgeous. Just look at it.
3. Alien Vs. Predator (1999)
The Alien and the Predator, infamous beasties with their own classic movie franchises, didn’t actually clash until 1990 when Dark Horse published a crossover comic. Nine years later, Rebellion released a game with that concept that blended horror and action in a unique way, letting you play as the Alien, the Predator, or an unlucky jarhead. Each character had their own campaign built around their respective strengths and weaknesses, which meant you were playing three different (and exceptional) games. It’s a bit of a shame that the 2010 continuation of the series was such garbage.
4. Spider-Man (2000)
The first Spider-Man game developed by Neversoft, the folks who created everyone’s favorite skateboarding series, is one of the most important comic book games ever made. It allowed us to play a superhero in a 3D setting that made great use of Peter Parker’s vibrant world, though, like most early comic games, there’s not really a decent plot; the game settles for throwing waves of Parker’s classic enemies for the most arbitrary reasons at you instead. Still, a minor sin given how many game adaptations of comics, particularly open-world ones, build on the foundation laid by Neversoft’s game.
5. The Punisher (2005)
Volition’s The Punisher is a grisly game where you torture enemies for information before forcing them into a wood chipper feet first or dropping them into a pool of hungry piranhas. Really though, that’s the least you should expect from something starring Frank Castle, a man whose despair is only matched by his ruthlessness. What’s surprising is that The Punisher is not just a faithful adaptation, but also a satisfying shooter housing a bloody smidge of innovation. The gun violence is graphic, particularly for a game based on a comic book, with heads exploding into red mist and arms being blown away by shotgun blasts. You can take enemies hostage and use them as bullet shields or throw them around. There are even some environmental takedowns. While this all might not sound particularly impressive now, The Punisher’s diabolical brand of vigilante violence made it worth playing over and over again back in 2005.
6. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006)
Raven’s follow-up to the great X-Men Legends broadens its scope to the entire Marvel Universe, featuring dozens of beloved Marvel characters and countless references and Easter eggs for diehard Marvel zombies. This was the first time an entire comic book universe was brought to life within a videogame, and that novelty more than made up for the sometimes repetitive action. Also the goofily complex storyline even feels like a universe-wide comics crossover story from the 1980s or 1990s. It’s easy to imagine a 1988 issue of West Coast Avengers with a little Ultimate Alliance tie-in graphic in the top corner of the cover.—GM