Comic books and video games haven't always had a great history in combination with each other; in the early days of gaming (e.g. Commodore 64) companies snatched up any licensed property they could get their hands on and they would rush out a game that was weak and hardly even resembled the inspired brand. Comic book adaptations were linked to this kind of output throughout that era before the devastating video game crash.
Into the NES, Genesis and eventually SNES era; a similar trend continued, although amongst the dreck you would find some bonafide classics amongst the rushed jobs. For every head-scratching property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), there were bonafide classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES), for every dud like Spider-Man/X-Men: Arcade's Revenge (SNES) there was an awesome counter-part like Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (Genesis, SNES).
This trend continued on steadily until the PS3/Xbox 360 era; gamers had grown older and less naive about buying something shiny and new just because their favourite superhero property was available on a game disc. Rushed licensed properties (especially when they were movie tie-ins) sold miserably and developers starting axing things left-right-and-centre, hence why so many cancelled projects from that era are featured on this list.
Nowadays, the comic book tie-in is treated with more care since picking up the license is expensive, plus it's no longer a guaranteed return investment. So, let's observe all those cautionary tales of axed comic book games of the past; some that looked great, some that looked terrible, yet all are darn interesting to read about.
25 Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (PS2/Xbox)
Game studio 5000ft Inc decided to tackle iconic Marvel hero in an open-world action game, utilizing the underrated Matt Murdock a.k.a Daredevil. It first started as a linear brawler but when Sony got involved they demanded it expands into an open-world.
Plus Sony wanted Daredevil to grind across the city, Tony Hawk style.
This led to Marvel and Sony constantly conflicting about the priority of directions for the piece, resulting in an over-running budget that eventually did in the game - and the company.
24 The Avengers (Ps3/Xbox 360)
When the Marvel Cinematic Universe started, movie license cash-grabs were on their way out, with a series of mediocre collaborations between Sega being the final nail in the coffin for the matter.
Shame then that an actually really cool tie-in (based on the 2012 Avengers movie) got canned because of the bad ones.
THQ was creating this superhero beat-em-up that put you charge of all the main Avengers in an all-out fight with the Skrulls. Refreshingly, it was played from a first-person point of view and when leaked footage emerged, there was no doubt this looked great.
23 Superman: Blue Steel (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
After Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns movie came out, a video game tie-in for its proposed movie sequel began development. What was enticing about the concept was that Factor 5, the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron developers, were in charge.
Unfortunately, Warners canned that proposed sequel, plus Factor 5 themselves imploded as a studio, and that was that for the game. It’s a shame because the word was it had finally nailed Supes’ flying mechanics. You even had the ability to grab enemies and smash them through buildings - I’d buy that for a dollar!
22 The Dark Knight (PS3/Xbox 360)
Batman Begins received a game that was as passable as a rushed movie tie-in gets. It didn’t review or sell all that great but regardless, a game for the sequel The Dark Knight went full-steam.
Yet, what was enticing about the project was stellar developer Pandemic Games was in-charge.
The developers went in with a passionate and ambitious agenda too. Still, a number of reasons accumulated to this one's cancellation - most importantly the ill returns of movie game tie-in in the present climate. It’s a shame we couldn’t have seen what this late studio had up their Bat-sleeve.
21 Justice League: Mortal (PS3, Xbox 360)
Almost a decade before the DC universe was a twinkle in Zach Snyder’s eye, George Miller was toiling away on a fast-tracked version of a Justice League movie.
The tie-in game would feature Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and The Flash in a beat-em-up adventure game.
Leaked footage showed a decent 3-D playing field for the characters, which borrowed the slick engine from The Matrix games. When the movie ended so did the game, but Double Helix repurposed several assets for the Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters game later.
20 The Incredible Hulk (Atari 2600)
The Parker Brothers were the port kings for Atari 2600, as they pumped out numerous arcade and licensed ports onto the system. One project was a game adaptation of The Incredible Hulk comic, that had also been enjoying a new-found popularity due to the successful TV show.
Some fairly Atari-ish screenshots popped up in magazines, announcing it’s development but then the 'Video Game Crash' happened and that console generation was flipped upside down. Everything at the studio was cancelled - even though several other Parker Brothers games have been unearthed in prototype since - Hulk still hasn't.
19 The Flash (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
In 2008, Brash Entertainment was busy creating an ambitious open-world video game based on everyone’s favourite speedster; The Flash. Set across Central City and Keystone City with a story written by Marv Wolfman (set in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earth) - the elements were tasty indeed.
Sadly, after some lame business decisions, Brash Entertainment went under and took the game with it.
It’s a shame because the footage that has leaked over the years looks like a whole lot of fun - maybe with the character's new-found popularity, someone can pick the concept up again?
18 Marvel Universe Online (Xbox 360, PC)
Back in 2006, an MMO based on Marvel’s superhero universe was officially announced for the PC and Xbox 360. Cryptic studios were working with Microsoft Game Studios to make this enticing title.
It ended up being a casualty of changing tides in the MMO business.
As several games attempted to use Blizzard’s subscription model but crashed and burned, Microsoft got cold feet and axed it.
One wonders how close it would harken to later MMO superhero iteration like Marvel Heroes? If it could’ve been a Marvel alternative to DC Universe Online, that would’ve been pretty awesome though.
17 Green Lantern (SNES)
Way back before the Lantern Corps was a mediocre movie, the character was getting a game for the SNES from the kings of passable license games; Ocean Software.
It was a 2D platformer with each level set enticingly on a different world of the DC universe.
The final level would take on a flying space shooter aesthetic. The entire game was completed, but DC demanded drastic changes. When Ocean measured the budget to keep developing, they decided it was smarter just to toss the game and move on.
16 Spider-Man Classic (PS3/Xbox 360)
Shaba Games had created the vastly underrated Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows and were building an ambitious follow-up for the game. The concept was to pair Spidey with Wolverine and send them through some of the web-slingers most classic villain smash-ups through comic history.
Unfortunately, Web Of Shadows sold an underwhelming amount and it wasn’t enough cash for the studio to stay afloat while they develop this awesome sounding idea - the studio closed in 2009. Some assets were used for Beenox's Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions at least.
15 Superman 64 (PS1)
Superman 64 for the Nintendo’s console is the stuff of legend - in fact, it holds the title of the absolute worst superhero game of all time. So, why in Krypton's name would someone want to port it? The answer is, it was commissioned for the PS1 by another studio at an earlier point.
Since there was a difference in hardware, developer Bluesky Studios needed to rebuild the game from scratch.
The result looked like a coherent (if dated) Superman game with Tomb Raider elements. Due to the tepid reception of Superman 64 though, all development was quickly halted by Sony.
14 X-Woman: The Sinister Virus (Sega Genesis)
Back in the early 90s, Sega was pumping out some fantastic action games based on the X-Men brand. In 96, they were busy capping their fantastic trilogy of 2D platformers for the franchise. This one would focus solely on women from the X-verse.
Storm, Rogue and Jean Grey made up the roster with the abilities to fly and lay the smack-down in a unique fashion. The cancellation happened since it was made at the tail-end of the Genesis cycle, with Sega wanting to move away from 16-bit development and focus on the 3-D infused future.
Art by Marvelboy1974.
13 Suicide Squad (PS3/Xbox 360)
Batman: Arkham Origins is the red-headed stepchild of the series, yet the developers (WB Montreal) still managed to entice the higher-ups for a solo Suicide Squad based follow-up which they began secretly developing.
After two years, the game had a fork put in it though.
The studio was put onto another Batman game instead. The only things to leak was some teaser art, the fact that it was co-op, and that it’s first live-showing to execs failed to impress. Obviously, the sour response to the movie must have helped create the decision as well.
12 Marvel Chaos (Xbox 360)
EA Chicago, the underrated developers of the Def Jam: Vendetta fighter, were tasked with the tasty idea of pitting Marvel superheroes against each.
The game had the added bonus of full-on destructible 3D environments that felt like snapshots from the comic book page.
Sure, Marvel fighters had been done before, but this ambitious concept attempted to do something unique with your favourite superheroes. It was not meant to be though, as the studio was shut down after lacklustre sales and reviews from the Vendetta sequel.
11 Batman (SNES)
SNES had solid Batman games back in its day - Batman Returns and Batman: TAS spring to mind - yet they also had a slew of terrible ones as well. This beat-em-up by Software Creations looked to fall into the bad category from what little footage has leaked.
It looked like it playted like a straight-up combo of Batman and Final Fight, yet with a generic colour palette and unimaginative enemies. Of course, it’s not fair to judge everything from an unfinished Beta, but it’s not a surprise that this one got canned due to the other superior brand titles.
10 X-Men: Mind Games (Sega 32X)
The Sega 32X console was a dumpster fire when it released and as it crashed and burned, it took this interesting X-Men game down with it.
It was a beat-em-up rendered 3D style with a 2D aesthetic (all the rage in a post-Mortal Kombat age).
It could've been the killer app the system needed - unfortunately, it was too little, too late. Some leaked footage showed Bishop smacking around baddies in a very 90s looking action game - Wolverine was also rumoured to be a playable character.
9 Ghost Rider (PS1)
A little before they had hit massive success with the Tony Hawk series, Neversoft was employed by Crystal Dynamics to create a 2-D beat-em-up based on Marvel’s Ghost Rider.
The story would focus on Johnny Blaze becoming captured and a new character having to take on the mantel with a story told in (for those days) cutting-edge cut-scenes.
Crystal Dynamics then opted out of the publishing business to focus solely on in-house development, leaving Neversoft high-and-dry with the bill, which they sadly couldn’t afford and the game got a fork in it.
8 Green Lantern: A Justice League Game (PS3/Xbox 360)
This ties directly to Justice League: Mortal, as when that game was canned, Warner Bros kept Double Helix on the bill but swayed them over to work on a solo Green Lantern game to tie into the movie they had begun developing.
Helix used many of their assets from the former game but still kept a giant roster of other DC superheroes.
Warners wanted a more singular focus on the main character, so this was scrapped again and reworked into Green Lantern: Rise Of The Manhunters, a movie tie-in brawler that eventually saw the light of day - but also saw mixed reviews.
7 Gotham By Gaslight (PS3/Xbox 360)
How cool does this DC Elseworld’s one-shot comic sound? Batman exists in a Steam-Punk Victorian London where he goes head-to-head with Jack The Ripper - yeah pretty darn awesome, huh?
Day 1 Studios loved the idea too and were in the midst of developing a game about it in 2009, yet it was cancelled. Leaked footage became available and it looked like a tasty mix of Assassins Creed and the Arkham series. Sure, it would be a slight gamble since it’s pitch is a little unorthodox yet there’s no denying; this was a big missed opportunity.
6 Lobo (SNES, Sega Genesis)
Man, DC’s comic book spoof character Lobo is rife for adaptation but so far has been given the short end of the stick with a long list of failed attempts. He has not only one…but two cancelled games tied to his name.
The first was a SNES and Genesis tournament fighter that was heavily aping Mortal Kombat - a trailer leaked and it looked pretty lame, to be honest.
The second was a PS2/Xbox side-scroller beat-em-up that sounded way more promising - unfortunately, developer Kemco USA didn't feel that way and stopped it, never even revealing a screenshot since.
5 Gen 13 (PS1)
Anyone remember Gen 13? We won’t blame you if the answer is ’no’ - they were a New Mutants rip-off from the early ‘extreme’ days of Image comics, except with a lot more skin and skimpy outfits.
The comic was popular for a minute but the hype soon died out.
Regardless, there was a side-scrolling PS1 adventure game in development for it in the mid-90s by Canadian Developer Gray Matter Inc. It had even reached beta stage but when that studio when under and the comic lost its heat, publisher EA decided to let the project stay done.
4 Marvel 2099: One Nation Under Doom (PS1)
The 2099 series from Marvel in the '90s featured classic characters in a future dystopia being ‘edgy’ and ‘extreme’. Even though it’s all a little silly now, it was massively popular then, so the concept to create a video game around it was a no-brainer.
Loosely based on Doctor Doom 2099 storyline but featuring all the heroes from the separate series (Punisher 2099, Ghost Rider 2099, etc), it was set to be a 2D side-scroller with 3D rendering. It received massive hype at Comic-Con 96 but due to financial woes from developer Mindscape Inc, they had to stop developing it.
3 Judge Dredd (Arcade)
Back in the early 90s, Midway was the kings of outrageous adult-oriented arcade games; a perfect fit for 2000 A.D.’s Judge Dredd property then. They took their Mortal Kombat 2 engine and created the first three levels of a ridiculously challenging and varied arcade game.
The first level was a beat-em-up, the second a platformer shooter and the third, something akin to Tower Defence. Due to the machine failing a quality test, plus the limit appeal of the character, the project was axed.
2 100 Bullets (PS2, Xbox)
DC Vertigo’s milestone comic 100 Bullets was targeted for an edgy video game adaptation in the mid-noughts. Production was fairly far along and with a stellar 2004 E3 showing and the news that it was an original storyline penned by comic creator Brian Azzarello himself - hype was building steadily for this one.
Then, publisher Acclaim hit hard times and the project crashed with it. Warner Bros’ game division picked the rights up a couple years later yet nothing ever happened, leaving this promising game in the dust.
1 Swamp Thing (Sega Genesis)
Alan Moore’s 1983 run on Swamp Thing not only started his career stateside, but reinvigorated the low-key character to a whole new level. There was never a mainstream appeal to it, though DC tried regardless to make it a thing; a NES video game, a kids’ cartoon and an attempt at a movie series - all failed.
Around the same time, Nuvision was developing a side-scroller brawler (think Primal Warrior) featuring Swampie tearing things up. After the other attempts to make the property a pop-culture thing failed, Sega cut their losses and stopped game development at its mid stages.