We’re in an age of superheroes; just as the 50s and 60s were dominated by westerns, we find ourselves now surrounded by Captain Marvel, Batman, Thanos, and the multiple incarnations of the Joker. They’ve been a huge part of our culture since the 1930s, but we’re currently in a cinematic renaissance.
Naturally, this is mirrored in – and equally influenced by – the video game world. Last year’s Spider-Man received massive critical acclaim, and the Arkham series has been enjoying success since 2009. However, we think it would be an interesting experiment – in this era of ubiquitous vigilante escapism – to have a look at a few of the overlooked superhero games. The following list comprises of 10 underrated superhero games, from retro to recent.
10 Superman Returns
It’s always been notoriously difficult to make a true-to-story Superman game for the obvious reason that, apart from an allergy to kryptonite, the guy is invincible. So game developers face a challenge to present a game with a… well, a challenge. What EA ingeniously did with Superman Returns – the 2006 release, loosely based on the film of the same name – was to give the city a health bar.
So, while the Man of Steel himself can’t take any damage, Metropolis is always at risk from the player going overboard or failing to stop the enemies (which include fan favorites Bizarro and Parasite). You have to be careful. The game didn’t do too well with critics, but it’s worth revisiting if you have the time – if only for this interesting and unique quirk.
9 The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
While we’re on the subject of demolishing cities, it seems appropriate to bring in a Hulk game. The story is short, and there isn’t much variety of scenery; you spend your time either in the city or roaming the desert. In spite of that, the game is still easily the best Hulk game ever.
The enemies and boss fights are challenging and innovative – however dodgy the AI is, it’s made up for in its aggressiveness – and there are plenty of moves to master. And unlike in Superman Returns, the city has no health bar, so Hulk can smash to his heart’s delight; which is somewhat cathartic for the player.
From the creators of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction – Radical Entertainment – Prototype continues with what these devs know best; an open-world city, and a destructive protagonist. Alex Mercer wakes up in the morgue of a genetic engineering company in Manhattan with total amnesia, but a wide range of crazy superpowers.
While this might not be underrated as such – critics loved it – it’s certainly overshadowed. Sucker Punch Productions released Infamous at around the same time, which is also an open-world game centering on superpowers with themes of moral ambiguity. It was excellent, but so was Prototype – and the latter’s story is much darker, so if you missed it, it’s available for PS4 download.
7 Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
It’s generally the least favorite video game in Lego’s light-hearted take on the caped crusader. But, although it might not have the swagger of the previous two, but you’d be stupid to miss this one.
The scope isn’t limited to just Batman either – much like Lego’s Marvel games, there’s an extended universe here, which includes Green Lantern and Lex Luthor (thus Beyond Gotham, I suppose). To add to the zaniness, there’s a mission that pays homage to the late Adam West’s turn as Bruce Wayne, as you “kapow!” and “whack!” your way through.
6 Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
This 2006 action role-playing extravaganza was a sign of things to come; released two years before Iron Man brought the MCU into existence, it is an alliance of all the Avengers and then some. All corners of the Marvel Universe from street level heroes like Spider-Man and Elektra to cosmic juggernauts like Silver Surfer and Thor team up to stop Doctor Doom from ruling over Earth.
It’s a bit tedious on the surface, but there’s an abundance of Marvel backstory to geek out to, and a lot of variety. In fact, there are 24 playable characters. There are plenty of RPG elements too, ensuring that you can customize your character costume and playstyle to your heart's delight.
5 Ultimate Spider-Man
There are so many Spider-Man games to choose from, it’s easy to miss a few gems – such as this cel-shaded open-world adventure from 2005. It was much like the acclaimed Spider-Man 2 – which was a movie license of the Sam Raimi film – and was developed by the same team.
Yet this release, untied to a movie, was somewhat more special; it kept the free-roaming element, added a kooky comic-book cel-shade style, and, perhaps most importantly, added Venom as a playable character. But, as many would agree, this isn’t the historic Spidey game we’ll keep returning to.
4 Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro
2000’s Spider-Man was the superhero video game for a generation, and while its sequel – Enter Electro – wasn’t as critically acclaimed, the two games come as a set. The late Stan Lee returned to narrate the game, as did the perfect blend of action, humor, and web-swinging built from the Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater engine.
And like Tony in his iconic namesake games, Spidey has tight controls and the action, bosses and levels are innovative and fun.
3 X2: Wolverine's Revenge
This tie-in with the brilliant X2 movie didn’t actually have anything to do with the film. It had its own story that was closer to the future X-Men Origins: Wolverine plot. And, although Hugh Jackman was used on the cover art – and his likeness used in the game – Wolverine was actually voiced by Mark Hamill, who proves again how excellent his vocal talents are.
While the stealth elements are a bit awkward, the game makes full use of Wolverine’s heightened senses; you can track enemies by their scent and body heat. Before, in typical Logan style, skewering them in whichever way you see fit.
2 Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu
Based on the cartoon series The New Batman Adventures, the with graphics faithfully done in its style, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu perhaps has a niche audience *cough*nineties-kids*cough*. And although central villain Sin Tzu was invented for this game, there are plenty of fan favorite nemeses to fight: Scarecrow, Bane and Clayface.
It’s also worth noting that the voice cast is the same as the cartoon so we get excellent performances from Kevin Conroy and many others. Sure it's a bit of a mindless beat-em-up, but punching the snot out of criminals with buddies on the couch as Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl is a fun, short time.
1 The Punisher
While Marvel's Netflix series sets out to humanize The Punisher a bit, the 2004 video game based off the movie did no such thing. It's an adrenaline pumping action game full of brutal violence. In particular, the game's interrogation scenes are tough to watch for the squeamish.
Also, there are plenty of cameos from other Marvel characters, such as Iron Man, Black Widow, and Nick Fury. So, until the MCU please fans with a crossover, this will have to do for the brutal Punisher getting involved with the Avengers.