Licensed games are always a mixed bag. There are so many beloved characters and franchises that would make for excellent and creative games. Unfortunately, these games are often plagued by publisher interference and strict deadlines that hinder the developer’s ability to make a fun game that respects the source material. Superhero games are notorious for falling victim to this. With so many iconic heroes and inventive superpowers, you would think there’d be plenty of amazing superhero games, but unfortunately, the genre is home to many infamous duds like Superman 64.
Despite all of this, there are some diamonds in the rough. Last summer, Insomniac’s Spider-Man breathed life into the superhero genre by giving players an expansive city, an original story, breathtaking movement options, and plenty of fan service. Because Spider-Man PS4 came out so recently and would be such an obvious pick, we decided to look further back at some games that truly stand out as superhuman.
5 best superhero games of all time
5. Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
In the comics, the Hulk is a character study on the depths of human rage, fear, and loneliness, showcasing the struggle between a man’s cerebral and primal urges. While this has made for plenty of beloved Hulk comics throughout the years, while in video game form the Hulk should be about one thing and one thing only: smashing. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction understands this perfectly, giving the player a huge, interactive playground to destroy. The game was developed by Radical Entertainment, who would go on to develop the similar Prototype series.
Players take control of the Hulk, who has access to dozens of upgradeable special moves, including the Weaponization system. The weaponization system allows the Hulk to transform environmental objects into useful weapons, such as ripping a car in half to use as boxing gloves, using a streetlight as a javelin, or surfing on a bus. The Hulk’s movements have a sense of weight and momentum to them. As the Hulk builds up speed and dashes forward, he will automatically destroy enemies and objects he crashes into without slowing down, truly giving players the feeling of controlling an unstoppable monster. Unlike previous Hulk games, Ultimate Destruction is open world, and the Hulk can rampage through two distinct levels, the badlands and the city, each with their own unique enemies, destroyable objects, and secrets to discover.
4. Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man PS4 owes everything to this classic. Based off of the hit movie, Spider-Man 2 laid down the formula for open-world superhero games. Unlike the first Spider-Man movie game, Spider-Man 2 allowed players to freely explore New York City. At the time, such vast worlds were very uncommon in games, especially for licensed titles. The world was chock full of side missions, including infamous quests like retrieving balloons for children or delivering pizzas while that hilarious music played.
Even with its fleshed-out world and memorable missions, the most memorable part of the game is the web-swinging. Previous Spider-Man games had Spidey shooting out webs into the sky and swinging on nothing, at most able to alternate between a few different speeds. Spider-Man 2 completely revamped the web-swinging system, and the player must now shoot actual buildings and objects to swing. As the player swings toward an object, they feel a real sense of momentum as Spider-Man speeds closer towards the ground, ending as the hero detaches from the web into an explosive jump. The system had a learning curve, but a high skill ceiling and a surprising amount of depth. Even today, Spider-Man 2’s web-swinging is considered one of gaming’s best movement systems.
3. Marvel vs Capcom series
Back in the ’90s, Capcom dominated arcades with their star fighting game franchises like Street Fighter and Street Fighter Alpha. Eventually, they ended up getting the Marvel license, creating fighting game classics like X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes. Later on, someone at Capcom had the brilliant idea to mash these two megahit game series together, and Marvel vs Capcom was born. In addition to all of your Capcom favorites like Ryu and Mega Man, the MvC games featured a colorful cast of Marvel heroes both iconic (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America) and hilariously obscure (Shuma-Gorath, Marrow, and at the time, Rocket Racoon).
The series took the versus gameplay popularized by X-Men COTA and dialed it up to 11. Players could select teams of three characters from a gigantic roster, customizing their assist attacks to form the best synergy they could. Combos in MvC games are infamously flashy, often lasting a long time and involving multiple characters and explosive super moves. The Marvel vs Capcom games are an absolute must play for anyone who enjoys fighting games, Marvel, or fast-paced, flashy games overall.
2. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Back in the early 2000s, Raven Software’s X-Men Legends series was a critical and commercial hit. The game combined Diablo-style dungeon crawling and loot with an enormous roster of heroes, each with customizable powers, attributes, and costumes. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance kept this style of gameplay while expanding the storyline and roster to encompass the entire Marvel Universe. Playable characters include the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and solo heroes like the Deadpool, Silver Surfer, Blade, and Daredevil.
The story is incredibly expansive, including treks to Atlantis, Asgard, and even Hell. Tough choices abound, as your decisions are often surprisingly morally grey and have you choosing who lives and who dies. These decisions alter the course of the story and the ending you receive. As you progress through the game, you face off against iconic Marvel baddies like Dr. Doom, Ultron, Loki, and even Galactus. Dialogue and story events with these villains change depending on which heroes you choose for your team. For example, Captain America laments having to fight a brainwashed Winter Soldier, and Bullseye taunts Elektra, reminding her that he murdered her in the past.
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is the perfect evolution of the X-Men Legends series, and is one of the finest RPG experiences of its era. Stay on the lookout for Ultimate Alliance 3, which was recently announced as an exclusive for the Nintendo Switch.
1. Batman: Arkham series
Obviously, we can’t make a list of top superhero games without mentioning the Arkham series. When Arkham Asylum was released in 2009, critics were blown away by the gripping storyline, chilling atmosphere, and detective-based gameplay. The Arkham games were the first Batman games that really tried to encompass the whole scope of Batman’s character: his sharp detective mind, his relationships with his enemies, and his brutal combat prowess.
In the Arkham games, Batman has access to a wide variety of gadgets that aid him in both puzzle-solving and combat. The developers did a fantastic job combing through Batman’s history for gadgets, as they included everything from his iconic Batarangs to his explosive gel. In addition to his gadgets, Batman can also use his Detective Vision, highlighting interactable objects and secrets. Speaking of secrets, every game in the series is full of secrets to collect, with most secrets either fleshing out the world (Riddler trophies) or providing fan service (Batman Beyond suit).
Batman’s famous rogues’ gallery makes for some extremely memorable boss fights. The fight against Mr. Freeze in Arkham City is a methodic and tense fight that has Batman using his environment and gadgets to get the upper hand. Most notably, the Scarecrow fight in Arkham Asylum is creative and fourth-wall breaking, as it brilliantly leads the player to believe that their game is glitching out. These fights not only serve as creative gameplay segments but as character studies into the minds of Batman’s most iconic villains, showcasing the passion and lore knowledge of the development team.
The Arkham series’ combat system is easily the most influential of the last decade. So many games use “Arkham combat” nowadays because the system is so simple, yet fluid and stylish. Basically, as Batman attacks a group of enemies he automatically locks on to them and pummels them as you press the attack button. When an enemy telegraphs an attack, Batman can press the counter button to quickly dodge and strike back. If done correctly, every combat sequence should function as one continuous, free-flowing combo. While the system isn’t nearly as nuanced as a game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, it is accessible and flashy, focusing more on the flow of combat rather than tight button combinations.
The Arkham series is a true labor of love to one of the greatest superheroes of all time, and perfectly displays what happens when licenses are given to developers who are given ample resources and respect and love the source material.
Any superhero games we missed? Which ones are your favorites? Let us know!