The 5 Greatest Comic Book Video Games Of All Time

It’s almost time for Comic Con, and you know what that means; endless complaining that it isn’t even really about comics anymore. You’re probably wondering why a video game site even cares. But shut up, because we’re going to defer to cartoonist Scott McCloud. In 1993, he wrote in Understanding Comics that Video Games functioned similarly to comics. By this, he meant that one of the primary appeals of a great comic is that the reader can easily imagine themselves in place of the protagonist. (This might be why so many of the best Comic characters are hopeless neurotics).

Don’t believe it? Then you obviously haven’t played a video game since the 70s, because you’re living in the world of Mass Effect, Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted, Sly Cooper and InFAMOUS and you don’t even know it. You know, games that nail the essence of a comic with big concept stories, and the chance for players to spend a few hours pretending to be super heroic badasses. You’re also living in a world with countless games directly based on comics, and even if a lot of them aren’t particularly good, the ones that are manage to cram everything great about a comic with everything great about a video game.

So suck it up, naysayers. Games and comics are two great tastes that go together, and we’ve put together a list to prove it. Here’s GameFront’s definitive list of the 5 Greatest Comic Book Video Games Of All Time.

5) Spy vs Spy (Atari 8-bit) – 1984

Created for Mad Magazine by comics genius Antonio Prohías, Spy vs. Spy is essentially a ‘pox on both houses’ take on cold war politics that somehow managed to thrive in a magazine dedicated to bad puns and ass jokes. Considered Cuba’s greatest cartoonist, Prohías (b. 1921) was a famous critic of the Batista cabal who grew disillusioned with Castro – he fled to the US shortly after Castro took power in Cuba. His experiences on both sides of the cold war profoundly influenced Spy Vs. Spy. Mocking the pretensions of both the US and USSR, rival spies, identical (except for the color of their clothes), alternately kill and cheat each other without ever achieving a decisive advantage.

Brilliant and simple, the strip’s outlook blends nicely with the political attitudes of early personal computer developers who helped usher in the video gaming era. That might be why 1984′s Spy Vs. Spy game for the Atari 8-bit captured the spirit of the comic strip so well. It incorporated an innovative 2-player split screen play mechanic in which each player, and we know you saw this coming, screw each other over ruthlessly. It also brilliantly pushed the limits of the system for which it was designed, showing off the possibilities of 8-bit games a year before NES.

But don’t take our word for it, watch this video from the Atari version, and marvel at how shockingly un-primitive games were even before the gold edition of Zelda.

4) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade, SNES) – 1992

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an important moment in the indie comics and creator-owned movement that really picked up in the early 80s. Printed in black and white, self-published with extremely tiny runs, it went on to become one of the most beloved comic series of the 80s. Then creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird sold the rights to make animated adaptations, crummy movies and video games, and their hip little series turned into the poster child for totally selling out. And to think we all used to think the Ninja Turtles were so cool.

But you know what? The comic was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Mutant turtles, going through adolescence, become ninjas. And fight ninjas. Say what you will, but that’s a perfect video game plot, which is why there are so many TMNT games. The best of the best is the arcade-only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time (ignore the horrible SNES port). Plot-wise, it’s forgettable; a side-scrolling beat-em-up that begins with someone stealing the Statue of Liberty, the Ninja Turtles get sucked into a time warp and fight their ninja enemies in the past and future. But this game is just so right, even considering the truly hilarious rock song playing during the demo. 19 years later, it’s still worth sliding a quarter into a dilapidated arcade machine and giving it a go.

3) Aliens Vs. Predator (PC, Mac) – 1999

Maybe you don’t know this, but Aliens Vs Predator started out as a Dark Horse Comics series in 1990. They weren’t good, mainly because they had the quality of officially licensed fanfic. No shock there, since they were published by Dark Horse, a comics company that seems to exist for no other reason that pumping out endlessly lame comics adaptations of other media. But everyone, including yours truly, gobbled it up and loved it because let’s face it, Aliens Vs. Predator is just the best idea ever.

Sadly, despite the already perfect concept most AVP games suck as much as the movie did. But 1999′s Aliens Vs. Predator dropped in the middle of the first person shooter golden age and ended up being great as both a FPS and an Aliens Vs. Predator title. You play as either an Alien, Predator or Colonial Marine, prowling through dark rooms and killing each other. Yeah, the graphics are a bit wonky, and yeah, it’s just killing, but consider it was 1999. Alines Vs. predator was scary, and scary awesome shizz back then.

2) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (XBLA and PSN) – 2010

The Scott Pilgrim series is the ultimate love letter from comics to video games. It’s set in a version of Canada in which the rules of classic video games (collecting coins from vanquished enemies and leveling up when you pass difficult challenges) are daily occurrences. Scott gets a new girlfriend and to keep her, he has to fight her seven evil exes in increasingly difficult Boss Battles. Meanwhile, he’s in a band named after a villain from Super Mario Bros. 2, in a world populated by bands named after video games, and the art style splits the difference between anime and 8-bit era games. Seriously, if you haven’t read the series you kind of suck.

Last year’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was technically a tie-in with the movie. But the game itself takes its cues 100% from the comic series. It’s a hilarious Double Dragon-style beat-em-up with deliberate SNES/NES looking graphics, and art right out of the original comic. There’s also awesome chiptune versions of songs from the movie. The game might be a bit too easy for some people’s taste, but the point is to fight your way through 8-bit Toronto as hilariously as possible. And even if it might wallow a little too much in old school gaming nostalgia to be truly great, it’s still as perfect an adaptation of a comic book video games have ever managed.

Best of all, if you download it from XBLA or PSN, you can make up for the horrifying fact that you probably didn’t see the incredible movie directed by Edgar Wright. Shame on your for that.

1) Batman: Arkam Asylum (PS3 and 360) – 2009

If you actually need an explanation of what Batman is, please hand in your Internet and see HR about a new hobby.

So how perfect is Batman: Arkham Asylum? Loosely inspired by the Batman one-shot Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, it draws from the entirety of the Batman universe and manages to set the gold standard from making a comic book-based game work. It has practically every Batman villain who matters, including a roided out Joker and super sexed up renditions of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. It has Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their voice work from the amazing animated series. It’s set in the only place in DC comics worse than Gotham City itself. The story is ripped from the pages of DC Comics, right down to the interactions with Commissioner Gordon and yet another Joker doomsday plot.

It’s also a brilliant game that requires players to use Batman’s super ninja skills and his bond-gadget skills, while perfectly balancing stealth, brawling and ranged combat. It isn’t hyperbole to say Batman: Arkham Asylum is the definitive recreation of being Batman, and of how you get comics right in Games. And to prove it, here’s Poison Ivy’s sexy sexy voice in her Boss Battle.

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3 Comments on The 5 Greatest Comic Book Video Games Of All Time

Ed

On July 1, 2011 at 4:23 pm

What about Spider-man 2?

brian

On January 26, 2012 at 11:10 am

Ed Spiderman 2 is a good comic book game but probably not in the top 5.

brian

On January 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

I was one of the few people to see Scott pilgrim Vs. the World in theaters and I’d sa y for all of you who saw The Expendables instead FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU. Scott Pilgrim was awesome.