Just like Star Wars, DC Comics, and other enterprises with tons of licensed properties under their banner, Marvel has had a bit of a mixed relationship with the world of video games. From arcade smash-hits to a host of hastily made movie tie-ins, some games were certainly a lot more fun and memorable than others. But even the ones based on mediocre movies still deserve some credit for giving us control of awesome powers such as the Hulk’s destructive strength, Wolverine’s razor-sharp claws, and Spider-Man’s amazing agility. So get ready for some colorful tights and cartoon violence as we count down the 12 best Marvel video games of all time!
12. X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
Next to Spider-Man 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is arguably the best Marvel game based on a movie. The appeal largely stems from its 17+ “M for Mature” rating, which meant fans could finally play as a realistic Wolverine and eviscerate hordes of enemies in a tide of blood. Seriously, this game is gory as hell. Not only can most of the enemies be dismembered in lots of brutally creative ways, but the presence of Wolverine’s healing factor means he can go on fighting even after his body has been ravaged to the point that nothing remains but his adamantium skeleton and a few muscle fibers.
Admittedly, the game is a bit derivative, as it borrow heavily from a couple of other popular action games like Devil May Cry and God of War, but considering both of those games have incredible combat systems, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hugh Jackman also did all the voice work, so it does have more of an authentic feel than a lot of other movie games.
11. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (2005)
Building on the sturdy action-RPG foundations of the first game, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse serves up everything fans loved about the first game with a few additional treats. The developers wanted the game to have a wider scope than its predecessor, so the writers created a story which sees the X-Men team up with the supervillain group known as the Brotherhood of Mutants in order to defeat the all-powerful Apocalypse. This unlikely alliance added a lot of playable characters to the game, with special abilities that can be combined to create devastating Super Combos. X-Men Legends II also features a fun skirmish mode where players can fight either against each other or waves of computer-controlled enemies. And, of course, the inclusion of online multiplayer was another huge plus.
10. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (2008)
Spider-Man: Web of Shadows begins with an apocalyptic event caused by a symbiote infection. The player is then thrown into a flashback that shows how it all happened and introduces a few other familiar Marvel characters. The combat is fast and fluid (as it should be for a Spider-Man game) and the ability to string together seemingly infinite combos using web-zip attacks is a sheer joy. But the coolest part of the game is that it presents an interesting “What if?” storyline where fans are able to see what it might be like if other superheroes came in to contact with a symbiote. Spoiler alert (well, not really) — the symbiote version of Wolverine is totally badass.
9. The Punisher (2005)
Most of the Marvel games are great at incorporating lots of superhero cameos and comic book plots into their storylines, but you won’t find too much of that stuff in The Punisher. As you take on the role of vigilante Frank Castle, it’s your sole duty to track down criminals and then kill them in the most violent way imaginable.
The gameplay is a stealth/action combination and when you encounter enemies, you can decide whether to attack them outright or try and perform a one button “quick kill.” While the combat is good, the best part of the game is the level design. Each environment features areas referred to as “interrogation hot spots” where the Punisher can squeeze information out of criminals by threatening to inflict horrible bodily harm on them. You know, because nothing says “justice” like shoving a guy’s head into the moving gears of an industrial machine.
8. Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (1996)
Based on the events surrounding the Infinity Gauntlet story arc, Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems is an SNES side-scroller featuring Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, and Hulk. The objective of the game is to use the individual strengths of each hero to find all the infinity gems before they fall into the wrong hands.
Although the game can be beaten relatively easily if you know who to use for each level, back in the mid 90s before there were internet tips and tricks available for every conceivable title, players had to learn everything through trial and error. And unlike most beat ’em ups, in War of the Gems your health bar never regenerates upon completion of a level. This means that even if you make it really far in the game, you still might need to start over again from the beginning just so you can try and conserve enough health for the final battle with Thanos.
7. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (2005)
This was the first game that really captured the whole “Hulk Smash!” vibe of the Incredible Hulk. Players are given an open world environment where they can explore and destroy pretty much everything using a devastating set of moves that let you run up walls, flatten entire buildings, and drop kick a tank five blocks down the road. Hulk’s combat abilities also become more destructive as his power increases. You’ll go from smashing cars and buses to picking up and tossing vehicles like toys — which, by the way, can be extremely hazardous to any pedestrians who might be around. At his most powerful, the Hulk can also pull off one of five super-powerful Devastator attacks, including the Critical Atomic Slam and the Critical Thunderclap, both of which can clear out all the enemies in a multi-block radius.
The boss battles are another high point of the game; there are few things more satisfying than getting in titanic slugfests with other gamma powered creatures and giant walking battle stations. And thanks to some help from Hulk comic book writer Paul Jenkins, Ultimate Destruction actually has a pretty great story behind it to boot.
6. Lego Marvel Super Heroes (2013)
It’s true that the Lego games are intended for kids, but their designs are so universally appealing, they can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone. A big part of the appeal is the excellent mix of action and humor. The developers always do a great job of adapting movies and comic books into fun and interesting stories that jive with the Lego aesthetic. From the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier to MODOK’s little hover chair, everything in this Lego Marvel Super Heroes was crafted with care. It’s a blast to rocket around the city as Iron Man or the Human Torch, and with dozens of other heroes and villains to choose from, the gameplay almost never gets stale. It’s even got a Lego Stan Lee cameo to discover!
5. Marvel Ultimate Alliance (2006)
Like the X-Men Legends games, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an action RPG featuring Diablo style gameplay. However, the number of playable characters in Ultimate Alliance is staggering. From fan favorites like Daredevil and Doctor Strange to relative unknowns like Gladiator and Grey Gargoyle, it feels as if every Marvel character makes an appearance in this game. Best of all, when you assemble certain teams of heroes, such as the Fantastic Four or the Avengers, you gain special battle bonuses. Our personal favorite is the “Shut Up Already!” squad comprised of the more loquacious of Marvel’s heroes: Spider-Man, Human Torch, Iceman, and Deadpool.
4. Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage (1994)
It’s always fun taking on hordes of bad guys as your favorite superhero, which is why side-scrolling beat-em ups fall right into Marvel’s gaming wheelhouse. Maximum Carnage is great because it not only features fluid, fast-paced action and tight controls, it also directly adapted one of Spider-Man’s greatest comic book storylines to serve as the plot. But the big draw was the inclusion of Spidey’s adversary/occasional ally Venom as a playable character. Together, the two go on the hunt for Carnage — a murderous villain who, like Venom, is the willing host of a powerful yet dominating alien symbiote.
This was an epic adaptation for Marvel fans, who felt the colorful 2D graphics and in-game speech bubbles created the feeling that you were actually living a comic book. Even Genesis and SNES owners who knew nothing about the source material probably spent countless hours playing this game and trying to beat the final boss — who, by the way, is so insanely difficult that the only way to take him down is by cheaply exploiting the game’s mechanics.
3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Back in the mid 2000s when the Marvel movies were starting to pick up steam, the company was working with a number of different licensing partners to bring its characters to video games. Blade, X-Men and Daredevil all hit the silver screen around this time and publishers like Activision and Encore generally followed suit with the release of games based on events from the movies. While most of those games fell pretty flat, the exception was Treyarch’s — the studio behind the Call of Duty: Black Ops series — Spider-Man 2 released in 2004. The game took advantage of the open-world trend popularized by Grand Theft Auto and gave players an authentic Spider-Man experience by letting them web-sling through the busy streets of Manhattan. The fighting system was also robust and effectively incorporated a lot of the acrobatic finesse that makes Spidey such a fun playable character.
With quests spread across the entire city and a Spidey Sense that detects fun side missions, Spider-Man 2, more so than than any other superhero game, made you feel like you were in charge of safeguarding an entire city.
2. Marvel Super Heroes (1995)
Although many people will likely consider Marvel vs. Capcom 2 to be a superior fighting game, since half the fighters featured in that game aren’t from the Marvel universe, we’re giving this one to Marvel Super Heroes.
Before this game even hit arcades and consoles, legendary fighting game developer Capcom had already demonstrated that they could do great things with the Marvel license by delivering X-Men: Children of the Atom — a one-on-one fighter that handled a lot like Super Street Fighter II Turbo only with faster action and better graphics. Marvel Super Heroes was the successor to that game and it added all of Marvel’s flagship heroes to the mix including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America, as well as some big name villains including Dr. Doom and Thanos.
The gameplay was insanely fun and chaotic, with over-the-top super attacks like Iron Man’s infamous Proton Canon (that always seemed to take off at least half your health bar even if you were totally blocking). It also featured a unique gem-collecting mechanic that helped keep the game fresh and set it apart from other fighters that seemed to be flooding the gaming scene at the time.
1. X-Men: Arcade (1992)
At a time when arcades were just starting to feel the ramifications from the rise of console gaming, the X-Men: Arcade cabinet was still devouring kid’s quarters like a mutant-powered middle school bully. For many people, this game was and still remains the pinnacle of side-scrolling beat ’em ups. Players can choose from one of six X-Men from the early 90’s roster including Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Dazzler, and everyone’s favorite, Wolverine. The objective is to fight your way through hordes of enemy Sentinels, Reavers, and super villains on your way to stopping Magneto from imposing his will on human civilization.
Playing this game with five friends — or even five random arcade patrons, for that matter — was arguably the most fun you could have as a young gamer before consoles expanded their co-op offerings to include more than two players. Amazingly, the graphics and gameplay still hold up today, which is probably why developer Konami chose to re-release the game for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in 2010.