A Look Back at Marvel Gaming: Part 2
By Kevin McVicker
In August of 1991, the lives of children in America were changed forever with the introduction of twice the bits and two more buttons on the Super Nintendo. Marvel released its properties over the next five years and some great games were made on what I still believe was one of the greatest consoles of all time. Two years earlier to the month, the Sega Genesis was released, and although it too released games based on Marvel characters, SNES won this part of the console wars with its one Spider-Man related game and the final Marvel game released on the system.
Captain America and the Avengers wasn’t the first Marvel game to come to the SNES but it was the oldest by the time it got there. The same game was released on the NES and Sega Genesis in 1991, yet the NES version was a simplistic watered down game as was mentioned in the previous article. Prior to that, the game originated in arcades as a four player co-op game. The SNES Captain America and the Avengers was a stellar multiplayer beat-em-up brawler that borrowed its gameplay mechanics from the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. In the game you could pick from Vision, Iron Man, Captain America, or Hawkeye as you fought your way through levels to defeat the Masters of Evil and eventually the Red Skull. The bosses that were faced in this game were a huge variety and a fun mixture. They included Crossbones, The Living Laser, Ultron, The Sentinels, Whirlwind, Klaw, and The Juggernaut amongst others. It didn’t reach the SNES until 1993, but that was the first time outside of the arcade I ever played it. I guess none of my friends or I were cool enough to own a Sega.
The next game to come out for the SNES was Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge in 1992. This came out around the same time as the NES game Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, but they had little more than Spider-Man in common with both. This game starts as Arcade has captured the X-Men and you must first free them and then use each character to work through a level of Arcade’s Murderworld until you beat him. There were four X-Men along with Spider-Man to play as: Storm, Gambit, Wolverine, and Cyclops. This was the first game which had Gambit as a playable character if not the first game he was featured. This was a basic side-scrolling jump and punch game, but one of the first games I remember which also used Spidey’s web-swinging ability. While not the greatest game going back now, it was a fairly vital stepping stone in the history of Spider-Man (and also the X-Men) in video games.
While 1993 wasn’t a great comic gaming year for SNES, the Genesis did have two of its own games. The first game to come out was The Punisher. This was a far departure from the NES version, and instead a game was created that was fairly similar to more superhero games at the time, and really since the TMNT arcade classic. This was a side-scrolling beat-em-up with the addition of grenades that happened to be extremely useful if the map became overwhelmed with badguys. On the whole, the graphics weren’t spectacular, but they worked for the time. Its largest problem was the generic and repetitive gameplay.
Also in 1993 Genesis exclusively came out with The X-Men game. This game had you pick from Cyclops, Gambit, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler as you played through levels based around various classic villains who are all just part of a virus loaded into the Danger Room by Magneto. This game had great graphics and gameplay, yet it is really ridiculously hard. I’m not sure I ever even beat the first boss in the game. That is how difficult this game is. But like so many classic and extremely difficult games, it is still extremely fun. Although in a previous game you got to play as Gambit, this game is really the first entry to make you feel like you playing him, and this is also the first game to truly get Nightcralwer right. If you have never played this game, I have to strongly recommend it. Just make sure you have an extra controller because you may throw it.
Next, in 1994 another Spider-Man game came out titled The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes. This game was based loosely on the limited comic series which came out at the same time. It also is a game most American’s didn’t get a chance to play until emulators emerged due to it being an exclusive game to Japan and to the SNES comparable system, the Super Famicom. In this game you battled some great villains from Alistair Smythe to Carnage to the Beetle to Doctor Octopus, but sadly the game play wasn’t nearly as good as that line up indicated. The graphics were extremely well done, and apart from Maximum Carnage are the best Spider-Man game graphics of this generation of video games (although not nearly the best graphics in game to feature Spider-Man as we’ll discuss). This is another basic side-scroller brawler, but it does have a unique mechanic that allows Spider-Man to stick to walls which did allow it to be much different from other similar types of games at that time. This isn’t the best comic game to come out during this period, but still a solid entry and fun to play.
In 1994, the sequel to previous Genesis exclusive X-Men game came out, again exclusively for the Genesis. X-Men 2: Clone Wars expanded on the previous group of playable characters with the addition of Beast, Psylocke, and eventually you could unlock Magneto. This game also featured the extremely fun addition of a two-player story-line. The graphics were great, the controls were great, and the gameplay was challenging without being as ridiculously hard as its predecessor. You fought your way through various comic related levels as you fought Apocalypse, Sentinels, and Deathbird until you final defeat the Phalanx. Until the Capcom game came out a year later it was difficult to imagine a much better X-Men game on a 16-bit format.
Also in 1994 the Incredible Hulk got his own game. This was a game that always greatly impressed me with its graphics. The animation is extremely top notch compared to other games around this time. It is a basic beat-em-up game, but they added an interesting and often frustrating mechanic which has you turn into Bruce Banner whenever you are about to die. Presumably this is so you’ll die quicker, at least that is all I am able to do at that point in the game. In truth, with as many times as I have played this game I can’t get far. I’m not saying that in other games I’m great either, but this game can be extremely frustrating. I’m sure someone will make a comment and mock me, but I have never once figured out how to use one of the bonus pick-ups. For a true Hulk fan, this is a must play, and as retro gaming goes, this is a beauty still.
1994 ended up being a prolific year for Marvel video gaming as Wolverine: Adamantium Rage also came out. This was a side scroller beat-em-up which also added interesting mechanics including a high jump ability. The graphics in the game were very nice at the time and made what was a somewhat boring game worth playing. The levels were convoluted and the bad guys were boring. One of the coolest features of this game was it actually used Wolverine’s regenerative health. The crux of this being that if you found an uneventful corner of the game right before you died and went to take a bathroom break, by the time you came back you would be back at full health. If you were patient this game sometimes felt too easy. One of the best reasons to play this on the Sega over the SNES if you get a chance is that Sabertooth does not appear for whatever reason on the SNES version. The rest of the main bosses are great for the Wolverine enthusiasts, covering Cyber to Bloodscream to Shinobi Shaw to Fitzroy. Still, for the Wolverine fanatics, which there are many, this is highly recommended.
Finally in 1994 came possibly the greatest Marvel video game for an extremely long time, maybe until X-Men Legends, which was Spider-Man and Venom in Maximum Carnage. As had been proved several times prior, taking a great Spider-Man story line and developing a game around it tended to work up until this point, and with this game it proved it even more so. I cannot tell you how many hours upon hours I spent with my friends playing through this game. I have so many fond memories of playing until you died and handing of the controller to a friend and then when they died passing it to someone else. That was multiplayer in my day! The cast of characters that showed up in the game were great. And more than anything, you eventually got to play as Venom. How cool was that! This game also featured simply great graphics for the time. One of the funniest things about the game, which I still crack up about, is how the basic enemies in the streets all have names. So one minute you’re beating up Hayden, then Mark, and then Beth. It is funny, but as a kid added a strange weight to the game especially knowing that these were supposed to be average people who went crazy thanks to Carnage and his groupies. This is still fun to play, and if you’ve never played it you shouldn’t call yourself a gamer.
In response to the success of Maximum Carnage, in 1995 the game Venom/Spider-Man: Separation Anxiety was released. Like Maximum Carnage, it followed fairly closely to a comic storyline, but unlike Maximum Carnage, not the storyline it is named after. This one instead follows the plot of the Venom miniseries Lethal Protector. The game is not quite as strong as Maximum Carnage, and the graphics are almost as good. The appearance of Ghost Rider and Daredevil are great for fans. For the truly hardcore Spider-Man fans, this may be the only game which not only features seven variations of symbiotes, but also features the Jury as bosses. Not as clean or fast paced as its predecessor, it is still a solid entry in the Marvel and Spider-Man history of video games.
Also in 1995 the final Spider-Man game for the SNES was released. It was based on the extremely popular animated series that was still showing at the time. This was a basic side-scrolling game which if it were not for the previous two Spider-Man video game entries would have probably fared much better. This game first came out on the Sega and shortly after came out on the SNES, and is still considered a much greater success for Sega than Nintendo. Both games featured basically the same cast of characters and villains, which included the Fantastic Four and for the first time the Shocker (whom I personally believe is often far too underrated). It features Green Goblin, Vulture, Alistair Smythe, Rhino, and the Tinkerer among others as the bosses for the game. While not a horrible game, considering what came before this game was sadly not nearly as fun nor did it have as great of graphics.
Although Spider-Man dominated much of this era in Marvel video gaming, the two games left both had a huge mark and impact as being extremely great games. The first of these games was X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse which came out in 1995. This game had you playing as one of five X-Men as you maneuvered your way through character specific levels on the island of Genosha. Not only did the staple characters of Wolverine and Cyclops appear, but less common characters like Gambit, Beast, and even Psylocke appeared as main characters to play (at least as far as SNES games went). This was an extremely fun and visually slick game. This was a Capcom game, which was there first major play in the realm of Marvel characters, which would slowly weave its way into the epic Marvel vs Capcom fighting series. For fans of the X-Men, this is a must play game. All of its imperfections are merely examples of how far we have come in gaming and where we started from. Although I have fonder memories of Maximum Carnage, this may be the second best Marvel game on the SNES with the greatest being the next game.
The final Marvel game to come out on the SNES is by far the greatest. In 1996 Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems came out. Capcom took the basic structure of its previous X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse, and expanded the gameplay to larger level. Again there were five characters to choose from but this time it was Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man. The villains you fight on each level are doppelganger versions of other heroes including Puck, She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, Vision, and Sasquatch. The main bosses are Doctor Doom, The Magus, Nebula, Blackheart, and Thanos. If the game sounds similar, it does in fact follow the same storyline of the Sega Saturn/Arcade/PlayStation hit fighter: Marvel Super Heroes. The same as the previous game, the gameplay and the graphics were both fantastic, and each level created its own challenges which made you have to consider which hero to use for which level. All around, this is one of the greatest comic book games of the 16 bit generation of gaming.
So that is the 16-bit era of Marvel Comic video games. By far this was a generally fantastic time to be a gamer, and many of the comic games helped this become such a memorable period. Depending on the interest related to this subject, the next segment of this series will feature N64 and Playstation Marvel related video games.