In a typical summer, thousands of attendees would be making the pilgrimage right now to San Diego for a chance to catch a sneak peek of the biggest upcoming blockbusters at Comic-Con. And once upon a time, the companies behind these films would be bringing tie-in games with them to capitalize on the hype.
This might not be a typical summer, and those games might not arrive as consistently as they once did, as consumers got wise over the years about the realities of games made with restrictions and on short timelines. But despite the stigma, not all superhero games that failed to reach cult status have been bad. In fact, many have helped move their franchises forward.
So in an effort to celebrate some of the best under-the-radar superhero games from back when you couldn’t make a movie without one, we rounded up some of the best that never quite got the attention they deserved.
BATMAN BEGINS (GC/PS2/XBX, 2005)
During the heyday of the Splinter Cell series, developer Eurocom liberally borrowed from the beloved stealth series for its adaptation of Batman Begins, even going so far as giving the Dark Knight a camera gadget to survey rooms before entering. While die-hard Sam Fisher fans won’t break a sweat with this one, it’s highly enjoyable to move through the shadows as the Dark Knight, using the environment and your array of gadgets to frighten enemies into situations where you can deal with them silently.
Batman Begins, like EA’s Lord of the Rings tie-in games of the era, does a wonderful job blending movie footage with in-game assets. And the game includes original recordings from the entire cast, many of whom also appear in some behind-the-scenes material. Batman’s Tumbler is also one of the best Batmobiles in a video game, making you wonder if Eurocom called up Burnout developer Criterion for some tips on how to ride that thin line behind realism and arcade-like mayhem.
X-MEN: THE OFFICIAL GAME (GC/PS2/XBX, 2006)
Between retcons, time travel, and now with Marvel Studios dipping its toes into the multiverse, it has become difficult to untangle the continuity of Fox’s X-Men film franchise. So it’s difficult to say if the game is canon now, but in 2006, Activision released X-Men: The Official Game, which was meant to bridge the second and third entries in the first X-Men trilogy. In fact, the game reveals why Nightcrawler departed the team between films.
X-Men: The Official Game features three playable characters, but Nightcrawler is the star of the show, even upstaging fan-favorite Wolverine. The acrobatic X-Man controls like a certain Persian prince with the added power to teleport with a button press. This ability is put to great use when combined with swinging from poles, balancing precariously on rails, and engaging in combat. You’ll have a huge grin on your face as you pinball back and forth between enemies, hitting a confused foe and then “Bamfing” away to safety.
X-Men: The Official Game also received a version for the Game Boy Advance developed by WayForward, the team behind the Shantae platformer series. It marked the video game debut of X-23, a major character in Logan who incidentally now holds the Wolverine mantle in the comics.
IRON MAN (DS, 2008)
At the dawn of the MCU, Sega rekindled a dormant relationship with Marvel and produced titles based on all the Phase One outings except 2012’s The Avengers. Three different games titled Iron Man released in 2008, but the star of the trio was the version crafted for the Nintendo DS.
Developed by the studio now known as Behaviour Interactive, Iron Man on the DS can best be described as an homage to Geometry Wars and other twin-stick shooters. You control Iron Man with the D-pad and aim with the touch screen. It takes a minute or two to get accustomed, but it doesn’t take long before you’re boosting around as the Armored Avenger blasting tanks, helicopters, and turrets with your repulsors, missiles, and chest-mounted Unibeam.
The issue with Iron Man is that it’s not terribly long. A few indoor stages are also a drag compared to the faster-paced exterior environments. Still, this is a great concept with potential that’s yet to be explored.
THOR: GOD OF THUNDER (DS, 2011)
Like with Iron Man in 2008, the Thor title of the time that stood out was for the original DS. Thor: God of Thunder by WayForward is a throwback to some of the best side-scrolling action games from the 16-bit era, complete with gorgeous sprites, fluid animation, and challenging boss fights. Among them is Thor: Ragnarok alum Hela, in her first interactive appearance, and Surtur, who reduces the mighty Thor to a spec as he towers across two-screens.
Perhaps one of Thor: God of Thunder’s coolest bonuses is an arcade-style brawler mode called Frostgrinder Assault. It may be brief with only a few screens, but it allows you to play as characters like Sif, the Warriors Three, and Thor’s mischievous half-brother, Loki.
There’s also a well-hidden Easter Egg in this mode where you can control Frog Thor, or Throg, seen briefly in a-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo during the fifth episode of Disney’s Loki. As mentioned in my book The Avengers in Video Games, if you play as Thor on your birthday, he’ll be replaced by Throg.
GREEN LANTERN: RISE OF THE MANHUNTERS (PS3/360, 2011)
Ryan Reynolds, it seems, will never let the world forget he starred in the 2011 misfire, Green Lantern, poking fun at the film in both Deadpool and its sequel. Something good that did come from it, however, was its companion game: Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters.
Owing more than a few nods to the pre-2018 God of War titles — you even dodge using the right analog stick — Rise of the Manhunters is a highly enjoyable character action title you can enjoy alone or with a friend. One player controls Hal Jordan, voiced by Reynolds, while the other is Sinestro. With the aid of included glasses, you can even play in 3D if you wish.
Green Lantern’s ring allows them to summon anything they can imagine, and within the context of this game, your ring can generate buzzsaws, gatling guns, jets, and a mech suit to mow down armies of Manhunter robots on planets like Zamaron, the home of the Star Sapphires.
For developer Double Helix, Rise of the Manhunters even helped get the studio the job of resurrecting Killer Instinct for Microsoft. As mentioned in the documentary Fight On: The Killer Instinct Story, the game’s combat, animation, and effects convinced Adam Isgreen, then a creative director at Xbox Live Arcade, to take a chance on the studio for the project.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: SUPER SOLDIER (PS3/360, 2011)
Nowadays, Canadian developer Next Level Games is owned by Nintendo and has become known for its work on the Luigi’s Mansion series, but in 2011, it collaborated with Sega on Captain America: Super Soldier. Speaking on the set of The Winter Soldier with IGN, Chris Evans admitted that despite not liking video games, he loved this one.
For a time, the combat in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum became a blueprint for designing combat in action games, and it’s adapted superbly here. Captain America dances gracefully around the battlefield with his shield, while blocking, countering, and reflecting bullets from the Hydra thugs who have occupied Baron Zemo’s palace. If you can manage to get the drop on them, you can ricochet your vibranium discus around a room of unaware thugs before they even know what’s coming.
If Super Soldier stumbles anywhere, it’s in how you get around, which is Prince of Persia-lite but very on rails, and unfortunately, Zemo’s castle isn’t nearly as thrilling to explore as the halls of Arkham. It’s easy to overlook this, though, when the combat is so engaging.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: ULTIMATE EDITION (Wii U, 2013)
Beenox’s first two Spider-Man titles, Shattered Dimensions and Edge of Time, were linear action games, but its first movie game, based on 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, once again allowed players to swing around Manhattan. The web-swinging in this game is far easier to master than that of 2004’s Spider-Man 2, but it’s still enjoyable, even if unlike that classic your webs attach to clouds like in the 60s cartoon.
Post-launch, The Amazing Spider-Man received downloadable content, including the ability to play as the late Stan Lee. As Lee, the player could do everything that his co-creation could, including swinging from webs, climbing walls, and fighting evil doers. When you shift to first-person, you even see through the lenses of Lee’s iconic glasses.
Due to licensing issues, none of The Amazing Spider-Man’s DLC is available for purchase today, but it’s not lost forever. In 2013, an “Ultimate Edition” of the game was released exclusively for Wii U that includes everything on disc. With much of the Wii U’s library getting shifted to the Nintendo Switch, this might be one of the last holdouts.