I’ve gone on record several times that sometimes all it takes to make a great comic book game is to shamelessly borrow from the best of the business. A review that includes the sentence “it’s like (X) game, just featuring (Y) skin” shouldn’t be taken as a mark against any licensed game, but rather a developers foresight to recognize that a certain game or franchise would be a great fit for a license, be it comic book or movie, etc. In my time reviewing comic book games, I’ve come across a fair amount of these games and rounded up some titles that people who would normally scoff at comic book games should take a look at, as they’re decent representation of some of their favourite games.
IF YOU LIKE MEGA MAN , YOU SHOULD TRY:
THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN (GAME BOY ADVANCE)
The Invincible Iron Man for the GBA doesn’t feature a mechanic where Tony Stark absorbs tech from defeated foes to then use as weaknesses against other bad guys, though I’m probably not alone in saying I would absolutely love if that game happened, but what it does have the same feel as that franchise, namely the Mega Man X spin-off that debuted on the SNES. As Iron Man you can fire your repulsor and charge it up just like the Mega Buster, and dash around environments as quickly as Doctor Light’s second generation robotic defender. It doesn’t hurt either that the controls for TIIM are as tight as those found in the X series, and also features some gorgeous sprite work.
BUCKY O’HARE (NES)
The one thing missing from The Invincible Iron Man that would make it a 1:1 ratio Mega Man clone is the ability to absorb enemy powers, and that’s something that the Konami developer handled very well in their NES game based on the comic book turned animated series, Bucky O’Hare. In Bucky O’Hare you don’t collect enemy weapons, but rather you’re tasked with rescuing your kidnapped crew who are being held on four planets, all of which that can be done in any order you wish, just like in all the best Mega Man games. Gathering your crew gives you access to new abilities that then make getting through stages much easier, and later levels reward you with knowing when to use the best party member. Your one-eyed android friend, Blinky, for example, can fly over short distances with his jet pack and the four-armed, eye-patching wearing Dead-Eye Duck can briefly climb walls.
IF YOU LIKE 2-D METROID, YOU SHOULD TRY:
SPIDER-MAN: SHATTERED DIMENSIONS (NINTENDO DS)
Developed by Griptonite Games, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions on the DS was not the developers first attempt at creating a Metroid inspired Spider-Man game, but it was the one that got it very, very right. Griptonite’s previous outing with the character on the handheld, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, was similarly designed, but it had a very difficult to read map and a steep difficulty that made exploring the world not that much fun. With Shattered Dimensions, Griptonite fixed all those problems and still managed to incorporate the dimension hopping, multiple Spider-Men plot that was present in the game found on consoles. Different characters each had different abilities that could be traded off to further unlock parts of the map and get out of reach collectibles, just like in Nintendo’s classic sci-fi series. If you want to know how accurate Griptonite was in copying the franchise, I conclude with saying that there’s even a speed-dash mechanic and several very hard to reach upgrades that can only be reached by those with some pretty quick reflexes.
BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS BLACKGATE/DELUXE (NINTENDO 3DS/PS VITA/PC/XBOX 360/PS3)/TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE DANGER OF THE OOZE (NINTENDO 3DS/PS3/XBOX 360)/TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 3: RADICAL RESCUE (GAME BOY)
Rocksteady’s Arkham series first outing on a dedicated handheld, which was then subsequently ported to home consoles and a PC as a deluxe edition, was not only a decent representation of the franchise in 2-D, but a pretty good Metroid style exploration game as well, even though the plot reasons for finding your gadgets was not handled as well as either Rocksteady’s take on the franchise, nor WB Games Montreal’s for that matter.
A year after the release of Blackgate, developer WayForward also took a stab at the Metroid formula with a different license: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in what is Activision’s best game published to date based on the property, The Danger of the Ooze, available on both consoles and 3DS. This however, is not the first time the Turtles have starred in such a game. That distinction goes to the third TMNT on the original Game Boy, Radical Rescue, a game in which I am in possession of but will admit up front have not had the opportunity to jump into with as much time as I would like.
IF YOU LIKE 3-D METROID, YOU SHOULD TRY:
SHADOW MAN (N64/PSOne/DREAMCAST)
Metroid skipped the N64 after appearing on the NES, Game Boy and SNES, as Nintendo held the franchise back until 2002’s masterpiece Metroid Prime which interpreted the franchise in three-dimensions for the first time near flawlessly. With Nintendo holding the franchise back, it was up to others to pick up the slack, and that’s exactly what Acclaim did with the 1999 release of Shadow Man. Just like in the first game on the NES, Shadow Man throws you into a world with no set path to walk on, instead forcing the player to explore the real world and the macabre Deadside, gathering new abilities and souls that help to open pathways that were once off-limits. Shadow Man is a game that sadly suffers a little too much on not providing enough direction, like a map for example, but it’s a game that deserves to be played by those who spent hours playing the Prime trilogy.
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM (PS3/XBOX 360/PC, COMING SOON TO PS4/XBOX ONE)
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a lot of things, and a great Metroid knock-off happens to be one of them. This was the game I wanted to pick as the first choice for this category, but instead wanted to promote Shadow Man as more people have clearly played Arkham Asylum over that game. Nevertheless, Arkham Asylum is a game I felt ever since I first played it back in 2009 was a terrific Metroid game. Out of reach collectibles, path ways, Riddle answers and clues to what exactly is going on in the twisted asylum are held back until the Dark Knight can get just the right tool for the job. Also like the best Metroid games, it paces out these tools superbly and in a way that also makes total sense for the character and the universe.
IF YOU LIKE POWER STONE/SUPER SMASH BROS, YOU SHOULD TRY:
DISNEY INFINITY 3.0 MARVEL BATTLEGROUNDS PLAY SET
If Disney Infinity had to go, I can’t think of a better send off than the 3.0 edition that arrived in 2015. One of the high points of the third iteration of the new defunct toys-to-life game arrived this March in the form of the Marvel Battlegrounds play set, the first and only Marvel play set in 3.0. Unlike the average open-world play sets found in the Marvel dedicated 2.0 edition, Battlegrounds played as a 3-D arena brawler that was a love letter to games like Power Stone on Sega’s sadly also killed too early Dreamcast console. Allowing you to play as any character from 2.0, and the new characters introduced in the 3.0 edition, Battlegrounds cleverly changed up the Disney Infinity mechanics to fit this type of game, and did so near effortlessly.
As this was the first and only play set to allow more than two-players at a time fox example, the way the base worked had to be changed. Instead of keeping a figure on the base, it was “scanned” into the game and then added as a permanent addition to the roster of fighters for that play session. The game itself was also changed mechanically to better suit this game, with all characters acting as if they were level twenty and the camera zoomed out to allow all characters to be seen. The highest praise I can give Battlegrounds is that if they allowed this to be sold as a separate product free of the shackles of Infinity, it would get a lot more respect than what it rightfully got. The buy in is high, you need to own all the toys to play as all characters after all, and there’s also no online multiplayer to speak of, meaning all versus matches have to be played locally, something I’m okay with but I’m sure was an issue with a lot of people.
IF YOU LIKE CONTRA, YOU SHOULD TRY:
THE RED STAR (PS2/PSP)
When everyone started bringing classic 2-D franchises to 3-D in the era of the PSOne/N64/Sega Saturn, Konami followed suite with a three-dimensional take on their iconic Contra franchise that did little to keep the brand alive. After a successful 2-D revival on the PS2 in the form of Contra: Shattered Soldier, Konami went back to the 3-D world once more in that game’s follow-up, the less than beloved Neo Contra. Where Neo Contra failed however, The Red Star succeeded.
Sadly released in 2007 on the PS2 during a time when the Xbox 360 was in full swing and the PS3 as well as Wii were picking up steam, The Red Star was a casuality of the closure of Acclaim, who had set to release the game three years earlier before filing for bankruptcy. Had it perhaps been released when it was supposed to, it maybe would’ve gotten more recognition instead of getting a quiet release, and then more or less forgotten.
Based on the Image comic of the same name, The Red Star delivers on the promise of Neo Contra and 3-D Contra in general. Allowing two-players to play simultaneously, you move through environments strategically dodging hails of gun fire and toppling colossal bosses that require precision movement and the quickest of reflexes.Just like the run-and-gun game it takes inspiration from, The Red Star is brutally difficult (I have never managed to beat it, even with a friend) but still a blast to play. The game is also available to download digitally for either the PSP or PS Vita.
IF YOU LIKE DIABLO, YOU SHOULD TRY:
THE X-MEN LEGENDS/MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE SERIES (LEGENDS: GC/PS2/PSP/XBOX, ULTIMATE ALLIANCE: PS2/PS3/Wii/XBOX, XBOX 360)
Diablo was the game that popularized the dungeon-crawling, loot-crazy action-RPG and developer Raven copied this template with incredible results starting in 2004 with the first X-Men Legends. Building teams of four and supporting co-op play, players explored the world of Marvel’s X-Men as they fought against Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. This was followed by a sequel, X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse and the universe spanning Marvel Ultimate Alliance that also got a second installment. The latter two were recently resurrected on current generation consoles as well as the PC, but as much as I love and want everyone to experience these games for themselves, you should wait until the various bugs got ironed out.
IF YOU LIKE GEOMETRY WARS, YOU SHOULD TRY:
IRON MAN (NINTENDO DS)
The console games Sega published to launch alongside the first Iron Man film back in 2008 were universally detested, but hiding behind these missed opportunities was a diamond in the rough in the form of the Nintendo DS handheld version. Taking a page from the twin-stick shooter resurgence kicked off by Geometry Wars, the DS SKU of Iron Man let you move the titular character and aim using the systems touch-screen in place of a second analog stick and the result is pretty brilliant. Though a little on the short side and hampered by some not so fun indoor stages, Iron Man on the DS is the second best game to star the character, landing only behind another game featured here, The Invincible Iron Man on the GBA.
IF YOU LIKE GEARS OF WAR, YOU SHOULD TRY:
ROGUE TROOPER (PS2/XBOX)
Making its way to store shelves after the launch of the Xbox 360 but before the release of the iconic cover-based shooter, Gears of War, the game based on the comic appearing in 2000 AD, Rogue Trooper, did cover-based shooting before it was cool. Mixing cover mechanics with the lore of the series that allowed you to build ammo from scrap found on the battlefield and turn your living gun into a turret, Rogue Trooper maybe one of the best shooters that you probably played or never even heard of. If you still have your Xbox 360 around and hooked up, it’s well worth looking into as it runs on that system without a hitch. Just do yourself a favour and avoid the well-meaning but ultimately flawed Wii port, subtitled The Quartz Zone Massacre.
IF YOU LIKE SPLINTER CELL, YOU SHOULD TRY:
BATMAN BEGINS (GC/PS2/XBOX)
Before the release of Batman Begins, game makers seemed to forget about Batman’s ability to blend into the shadows and hide, instead putting their focus on the characters ability to settle matters with his fist and gadgets. Seeing an opportunity to correct this, developer Eurocom built one of the best Batman games ever, inspired by a movie no less, that pushed stealth above all else, and used one of the best franchises of the era as an obvious template. Keeping low, hiding in the shadows, climbing on pipes and disabling lights, it would be easy to mistake EA’s first and only Batman game with a lost entry in Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell series and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The marriage of the two works really well, supported by high production values thanks to the cast of the film of all reprising their roles and a Batmobile segment like something out of Burnout. People may give Rocksteady all the credit with pushing stealth in a Batman game, but Eurocom beat them to the punch by a full four years.