We now live in a world where Marvel rules movie theaters two to three times a year. Sony and Fox have their ups and downs with X-Men and Spider-Man, but if it's part of Marvel Studios cinematic universe, well odds are you're going to be entertained at the very least. However, their video game initiative has been poor since the early days of our industry. Today most video game tie-ins are reserved for mobile devices, but things are starting to look up. Their future has a lot of promise with Square Enix's Avengers Project, as well as Insomniac's PS4 exclusive Spider-Man game. Before we hopefully reach this golden age, let us remind ourselves of some of the worst Marvel games.
Between the NES and SNES alone, I could make a top fifteen and still have loads left over from other consoles. For curiosity’s sake, I must have played at least thirty games in my research and it was hard to choose one terrible game from another. Most of these games were Spider-Man or X-Men related because those were popular cartoon series in the 90s. There were very few obscure characters with their own games, but I did manage to scrounge some up for good measure. Also I willingly admit most of my criticism is the result of graphics and poor animation, so forgive my hackney humor at times. I’ll keep my day job. Hah, maybe some of the torture I endured for this can be scraped together for a sequel fifteen list, but for now let’s check out this one.
15 Silver Surfer (NES)
We’re starting off with a real doozy here. Silver Surfer has technically been in two Marvel games. This and as a villain in the movie game tie-in of Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer. That game and film are bad for other reasons, but this NES “gem” is on a whole other level. From the start you can choose one of five stages to tackle, like Mega Man. It’s a shoot’em up where the screen will auto-scroll either horizontally or vertically in levels as you barrage enemies with white balls. One hit from an enemy and the cosmic hero goes down, slowly I might add, before the level restarts. Even if your board touches a wall you die and some of those openings are so narrow that it’s nearly impossible to dodge. I had to have tried each of the five stages multiple times and my best survival time was about 15 seconds. This is over the course of an hour I might add. The music, as a side note, is really good though.
14 The Punisher (NES)
No music in an Atari game is acceptable given the hardware, but I do not accept any NES game without it. Yes there’s a title theme, stage select theme, and even a story theme in-between missions, but there are only sound effects in the actual levels. There’s a Game Boy counterpart that has music by the way. Yeah, let that sink in. Dialing back a bit this is technically a third-person shooter. The Punisher is at the bottom as the level auto-scrolls and you can aim his gun’s reticle at enemies. Despite no music, the sound effects are great and the detail on the back of The Punisher is good, but the rest of the game looks awful like a bleeding of colors mixed in dark backgrounds.
13 The Uncanny X-Men (NES)
We try to keep it clean here at TheGamer, but if I may, there were two words I constantly said around every corner of The Uncanny X-Men: Holy F***. Let me recount the ways. Level choice from the start is always a plus and you can choose between six X-Men, which is a strong cast for a NES title, although most just punch. It also offers two-player co-op and if you’re alone you can swap between partners while the other acts on AI. Ok, the praises are done and it's time to tear it apart. The effects are like poison to your ears! Cyclops' eye beam sounds like a hundred keys scraping against a window. It’s ugly to the point of actually hurting my eyes to see the poor frames of these disgustingly mutated blobs move onscreen. Oh and while having a partner is cool, the AI is dumber than the current President. Need I go on?
12 Iron Man X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal (Game Gear)
Who knew that the super hero who kickstarted the Marvel Cinematic Universe could have so many terrible games? Of all the ones I played, there’s actually a nice one on the Game Boy Advance, but I digress. In this game you can be either Iron Man, or X-O Manowar, but both, aside from X-O Manowar’s heavier pixel density, play the same. They can shoot, punch, and soar around before their meter depletes. Graphics are bad, the music is a dreadful loop that’ll make you want to bang your head against a wall, and the level designs are sporadic and boring. The one nice thing I will say is that each hero can take a lot of damage before they die, which would be nice in a game I’d actually want to beat and not throw in the trash like so many of the rest of these.
11 LEGO Marvel’s Avengers (Many Systems)
Surprised to see this on here? Well I’m not too keen on the LEGO games. Yes they provide some easy co-op experiences for all ages with interesting properties, but man oh man do their puzzles infuriate me. There’s nothing I hate more than to go two feet, fight enemies, get stuck on an easy, but somehow complex puzzle, just to repeat that process over and over again. Can’t I just mindlessly smash bricks and build stuff? Even though it’s aimed towards kids, what child wants to solve a bunch of puzzles with LEGO? That’s right, no one. Haha, personal vendetta against these games have been fulfilled. Take that LEGO with all your wonderful, but expensive toys! Ahem, the cast is amazingly vast though, which I will concede.
10 Avengers in Galactic Storm (Arcade)
Some of the best Marvel games are arcade fighters like Marvel vs Capcom, or even X-Men: Children of the Atom. Not just because they’re good fighters, but their sprite work was unparalleled for generations thanks to Capcom’s handiwork and still look great now. While I do like me some Data East, clearly they went with the wrong idea here, swapping out sprites for polygonal models that I’m sure at the time were impressive to some extent, but look horrendously ugly now. Looks aren’t everything, but worry not I can assure you that the mechanics are rough around the edges as well, plus the roster is small, comprised of heroes and villains I couldn’t care less about. Some, like Iron Man, are only assist types too, which seems wrong. Thankfully we can rest easy as this game has been buried under a lot of red tape, so hopefully no one ever gets the bright idea to revive it.
9 Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth (Wii U)
Slightly worse than that fighter we just covered, we have Avengers Battle for Earth, which is like a fighting game mixed with Heavy Rain. Instead of going one on one with various Marvel characters, you instead have moves mapped out to spam repeatedly, while using the analog stick to dodge attacks in a circle. Moving like this made me nauseous as the backgrounds blurred. Actually a better analysis would be to call this an active turn-based RPG, now that I think about it. If this were a RPG, well then, we’d have something here, but it’s just another terrible Wii U game that tried to cash in on Avengers movie hype. It is nice to see X-Men in a game so heavily influenced by the films though and the roster, while small, is decent.
8 The Incredible Hulk (SNES)
The great thing about The Hulk isn’t his stories. It’s watching him smash stuff and you’d think video games would be the perfect place for that, but most aren’t, like this oldie. I never thought of The Hulk to be a funky, hip dude, but the soundtrack sounds more like it belongs in a Luke Cage game. Not bad, just out of place. What is terrible is everything else. The Hulk is thinner than I’d want, yet he still moves awkwardly slow, which made platforming a chore. Enemies take too many hits, making him feel weak as well. There’s an interesting mechanic though. If you take too much damage, you’ll revert back to a human. Certain areas become accessible in the level, like pipes, wherein there lay health and sometimes weapons. Once you gain enough health, you’ll become the green menace again once you take a single hit. Interesting, but that doesn’t make up for the rest.
7 The Incredible Hulk (GBA)
It has the same name, but this Hulk game is based on the Ang Lee film. The console versions of this one aren’t much better, but at least they don’t confine you in a top down perspective maze. "Hulk not mouse in maze!" I believe he’d say something like that. Now I will say that punching dudes across the tiny screen of the GBA is humorous and smashing doors is always invigorating, but everything else about the game is a slog. It’s easy to get lost, enemies are weak, as they should be, but still you get the picture. Oh and it doesn’t look or sound good, but is that really surprising for my list at this point? Most GBA games are very pretty though. It's a complex little system, but anyway.
6 Daredevil (GBA)
He’s appeared in other games, but this is the only solo Daredevil adventure out there and it’s based off of the Ben Affleck movie. Of all places, it was only released on the Game Boy Advance strangely. Even at the time, movie tie-ins were huge and almost always were on as many platforms as one could muster. That said, the company was smart to invest only in one system, as the movie was an awful bust. This is an example of an actually well designed pixel game for the GBA and our blind hero does have a few tricks up his leather sleeves. He can activate his super senses, has his cane, and he can, of course, just use his fists too. Trouble is there are a lot of bats in the game and their range is far superior to yours, so Daredevil gets trounced easily. More so than anything else, it’s just frustratingly hard.
5 Fantastic Four (GBA)
Let’s continue this trend of bad movie games on the GBA with Fantastic Four. Here’s a weird thing I’m hesitant to admit. Somehow I saw this film four times in the theater. Four times! High school, multiple friend groups wanting to see it, you get the idea. Anyway, the game is a lousy top down brawler that incorporates puzzle elements and I loathe puzzles in action games. These riddles in the environments are never brain busting, but they do slow down the pace of having to switch to a certain member, do the bit, switch back for a thing, and so on. If that wasn’t bad enough, the graphics are horribly rendered making everything blurry. Plus the music sounds like it was sifted through a blender several times over. I have no idea if its console counterparts are bad, but I doubt I’m missing out on any hidden gems.
4 Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six (NES)
Time for the Spider-Man section of our list, which contain some of the worst Marvel games of all time. However, this first entry is kind of cool in a weird way. The music, from the start, blasts out, pumping up the blood. Colors are vibrant, yet dark, so suffice it to say ugly, but unique for the system. Spider-Man is all torso with stumpy little legs until you perform a flying kick, which magically extends his limbs profusely. You can punch with a tap, but if you jam on the button, like you should, Spider-Man does nothing but flying kicks. Oh right, and if you defeat an enemy they explode into chunky bits as if Spider-Man had the Foot of the North Star. Ahem, little anime joke for you. So yes, it’s bizarre and fun to witness, but not exactly a great game. Before we move on, I do want to mention the Game Gear version specifically because defeated enemies explode into a mushroom cloud instead, which is kind of insane.
3 Spider-Man (SNES)
Even though it’s not stated in the title sequence, this is based of the 90s cartoon show, which I loved growing up. It doesn’t hold up quite as good as the Batman Animated Series, but nevertheless, it’s fine. This game, however, is not. First of allm Spider-Man’s sprite clearly indicates that he’s on steroids. You look like The Hulk stuffed into his suit, plus he stalks around like there’s a stick up his butt or maybe his webbing is just backed up if you know what I mean. Anyway, lewd jokes aside, it’s an action game that takes place mostly inside, so the thrill of slinging around is lost, not that most of these 2D games had that, but the opportunity is squandered nevertheless. Navigating levels is confusing due to poor design and there are not a lot of enemies around. Quite frankly, it’s just dull.
2 The Amazing Spider-Man vs The Kingpin (Sega Genesis)
Hoo boy, this is another hilarious game with, shall we say, interesting animations. Right from the start, my eyes were shooting out my skull. Spider-Man looks like a five-year old colored him in. His red sprites are floating around him. The game overall doesn’t look any better, but sheesh, at least stay in the lines. Let’s see what else? Well, the score and punching sound effects sound like wet farts and I’m not even joking. If you stand idle for a few seconds, Spider-Man will cross his arms disapprovingly, which I think could start a beautiful new meme movement from standing over a knocked out cop to watching a man threaten you with a knife like Jason. I had some fun taking screenshots in new poses, but I never enjoyed my time actually playing it.
1 Spider-Man (Atari 2600)
Is it obvious and too mean to put an Atari game as number one? It may be an easy ender, but I had to do it. It’s awful! There’s intro music followed by silence and sound effects as you scale buildings, rescuing people, with your black web of justice. If you don’t connect with the proper pixel you’ll start to fall, but you can save yourself easily enough. Even though it’s just a pixelated character, the small thud Spider-Man makes as he drops to death is horrifying. It’s like a crisp crunch followed by a second of the game pausing on his crumbled body. It’s simple, basic, and not good on any level. It is the Atari though, so it’s not like I was expecting the world.