Comics and video games – a brief history

Snappy one-liners, breaking the fourth wall and unhinged violence are what Deadpool is all about.  That’s why it won’t come as a surprise that Marvel’s Merc With a Mouth is getting a starring role in his own video game.

Deadpool SDCC 2012 teaser

But he is hardly an original when it comes to comic books jumping into the realm of video games. In fact, as long as there have been home consoles, characters from our favourite comic books have found their way into the digital platform.

This is a look at some of the pioneers and trendsetters of comic-to-video game adaptations on various home consoles over the past three-and-a-half-decades.


Superman (1978)

Superman was the first, naturally.  His game debuted for the Atari 2600 in 1978.  There’s not a whole lot to say about the game graphically, but it was cutting edge for the time.  The story is simple enough: fix a bridge that Luthor destroyed and bring the man to justice.  The catch is that this is 1978, there were no wiki guides to help players through the never-ending, repeating backdrop with mostly no direction given to the hero.

Superman’s first adventure in video games for the Atari 2600

If you take damage you transform back into Clark Kent and had to find a pixilated version of Lois Lane and kiss her to get your power back.  This game is notorious for frustrating even the best gamers and offering nothing in terms of reward for completion.  Even when you manage to finally finish the game, you report back to the Daily Planet as Kent and the screen fades to black.

Superman’s first stint in video games was mind-numbing and difficult and is on many “Top 10 Worst Games” lists, but it’s what gamers got in the ‘70s and were happy for it at the time.  This begs the question: what’s the excuse for the 1999 release of Superman on the N64?


Spider-Man (1982)

Atari and the Parker Brothers took another stab at making a comic book character a successful video game in Spider-Man (1982). The gameplay is similar to most action genre games of this time in that you climb to a goal and avoid anything that may harm you.

As Spider-Man, your goal is to scale buildings in order to foil the Green Goblin’s plan by defusing numerous bombs set throughout the level.  This includes one super bomb that begins the detonation process after you reach a certain point in the level, by defeating enemies and defusing smaller bombs.

This title suffered much the same control issues as Superman, but this can be attributed to the technological capabilities of the time. At least you can distinguish Spider-Man from other the other pixels (sort of).


Batman (1990)

By the 1990s, the technology for video games improved, and so did the style and presentation of our favourite comic book heroes.  Sunsoft brought fans a new Batman for the Nintendo Entertainment System, with improved graphics and gameplay.

Although not the first Batman game, it was the first for the home console.  This iteration is based on the standard side-scrolling beat’em up, with the addition of three long-range attack options: the ‘batarang,’ ‘batspear,’ and the ‘batdisk.’  Challenging doesn’t even begin to describe this game.  In fact, the only thing to save this game from joining the long list of cartridges thrown across a room in anger is the unlimited continues.  The unlimited continues allows for players to literally master each level and dominate thugs, as we all know Batman can.


X-Men Arcade Game (1992/2010)

Remember arcades? That place was full of music, laughter and the occasional beating of heads against wooden cabinets meant huge fun for kids who would specifically ask for an allowance in quarters.  The arcade idea is still out there in services like Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, grab a couple of people and complete an adventure.

X-Men Arcade Game accomplished all those things in 1992 in arcades everywhere and received another wide release on XBL and PSN in 2010.  You got to play as Nightcrawler, Colosus, Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, or Dazzler but you were meant to pay to use your powers.  Each use drains your health bar, thus causing you to die faster and pay more quarters to continue.

The game featured art similar to the X-Men Animated Series and kept to the same villains, including Juggernaut, Emma Frost, The Blob, Mystique and Magneto.  The best thing about this game was the ability to play with up to six people, unless you got stuck using Dazzler.


Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

It wasn’t until 2009 that people were given a Batman that had everything the hero needs.  In Batman: Arkham Asylum, you are Batman and are given all the nifty gadgets that go with it.  The game sticks to a real world feel, with compact, gas-powered tools and a batsuit made of armour and leather.

Your goal is to navigate through Arkham Asylum, putting down any of the escaped detainees in your path.  Throughout, you get glimpses into the Batman mythology and history through codex and audio files scattered inside the complex.  Your main enemy is none other than Joker, voiced by the one-and-only Mark Hamill, but the other boss characters used in the game includes Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy and Bane.

This title set the bar for how a comic book character can be brought to the home console, both in story and style.


Marvel Vs. Capcom (1998) – Honourable Mention

Brought out as a kind of ‘who would win in a fight’ moment in arcade history, Marvel vs. Capcom gave the players the opportunity to test the strengths of each franchise.  When the sequel came out in 2000 it found a dying world in the arcades.  Since 2009, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 has had a home on XBL and PSN allowing people from across the world to test their might using a variety of favourites from both franchises.

The success the game found on the home console even leant to the creation of a third, Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, in 2011.  This game then got the Capcom standard of a re-release 10 months later featuring a couple of extra characters.

Which games featuring comic book characters have stood out for you? Sound off in the comments and let us know.

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