With everybody talking about how Arkham City is the greatest superhero game ever made, we figured we’d take a look back at some comic book characters who you might not even know had video games. Most of these aren’t on the same playing field as the Arkham franchise (in fact several of these are considered some of the worst games ever released), but maybe Arkham City’s success will inspire some reboots.
Danny: I’ve always known about Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis, and even I forget it exists.
There’s certainly good reason for a game about a guy who battles bad guys underwater with a hook for a hand and a legion of submissive marine life. You could even have above-water levels where Aquaman has to save the day within a time limit or he dies! Instead, what we got was a action game where you swim around and fight the same exact scuba divers over and over. Also, sometimes you fly an underwater spaceship.
Nick: And by fight, what we mean is that you awkwardly try to punch and kick people in the water. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds. Occasionally the fighting gets a little more variety thanks to various sea animals Aquaman can call in for aid by shooting pink sonar rings out of his head. What kind of aid, you ask? Headbutting. Lots and lots of headbutting. The gameplay is so miserable, video game review show X-Play awarded the release the honor of being the worst videogame ever created, even above the similarly legendary Superman: The New Adventures. The show even went so far as to coin their version of film’s Razzies the “Golden Mullet Awards.”
Danny: It’s not often that you create something that notable. The people making Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis should be proud, even though they probably don’t want that dubious distinction. We can’t all be Tommy Wiseau.
Nick: YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, DANNY!
9. Silver Surfer
Nick Hanover: The Silver Surfer has always been a difficult character for Marvel, with his nigh-omnipotent power set and tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time moping with animals:
Which makes it all the weirder that a game company would decide that he would be the perfect comic character to create a video game franchise for. And yet that’s exactly what Software Creations decided to do in 1990 for the NES…
Danny: Silver Surfer the game is a shoot ’em style game in the vein of 1942, where you scroll across the cosmos and fire lasers at spacey enemies and turrets that Mega Man might take on. For a licensed game, it actually looks pretty good.
Nick: The game also has a bit of a rep, as it’s considered by some to be one of if not the most difficult game on the NES, which is impressive when you remember that nearly everything on the NES had a crushing learning curve. Of course, the game’s difficulty is due to some laughably cheap tactics, which mostly boil down to the developers believing that Silver Surfer was incredibly vulnerable to things like scenery and flying fish.
Danny: Basically, everything kills you and you only get a handful of chances to out maneuver and shoot enemies correctly, making for a game that requires near-superhuman skills to play it. Silver Surfer, like life, will eventually wear you down until you quit.
Also, you should probably get used to this “lost a life” screen, because you’ll see it a lot. It also perfectly encapsulates the Silver Surfer.
Nick: Really that should have just been the whole game right there.
Danny: Silver Surfer: the only NES game to come with anti-depressants.
8. Scud the Disposable Assassin
Nick: Out of all the entries on this list, Scud the Disposable Assassin probably makes the most sense as a video game. The character, created by Rob Schrap with assistance from Community creator Dan Harmon, is literally a robot designed specifically for killing things. Even better, he must avoid killing the target he was hired to destroy because doing so would result in his own self-destruction. Could you ask for a better video game protagonist?
Danny: Somehow Scud the game had the ability to be either a side-scrolling action game if you played it with a controller or a first-person shooter if you played with a Light Gun. Aaaand I just realized that the one I had as a kid was another game based on the comic: Scud: Industrial Revolution, which was a top-down action game. Somehow there are two games based on Scud: The Disposable Assassin.
Nick: I had the Saturn one myself, but no light gun. And although both got mixed reviews, I remember the Saturn game being pretty frickin’ awesome. Or at least to pre-teen me it was. Still, Scud seems about due for another adaptation now that technology has somewhat caught up to him.
Danny: I remember the PC version having a pretty kickin’ techno soundtrack. I could just put the game in my CD player and listen to the background music for each level. That game wasn’t all that fun to play.
Nick: I bet you still roll that CD out at parties, though.
I used to have “scud parties” but explaining what that means would get Comics Bulletin shut down.
Nick: Now I understand why I had to sign that waiver when I crashed at your place during SDCC.
7. X-O Manowar
Danny: Which is more bizarre: that they made a video game out of Valiant Comics’ very own X-O Manowar, or that said game was a team-up with Iron Man?
Nick: What boggles the mind is that someone decided this was a great game for Iron Man to be in. Iron Man’s only other appearance in a video game had been the side scroller Captain America and the Avengers, an arcade game that made it to most home consoles. So this was, in effect, Iron Man’s first big starring turn and he had to share it with a struggling knock-off of himself that wasn’t War Machine.
Danny: As Iron Man and X-O Manowar struggle to keep the bad guys from getting the Cosmic Cube, gamers in 1996 struggled to figure out just what the hell an X-O Manowar is. I still don’t know, and I probably should.
Nick: It’s what Iron Man has to look out for every time he goes to the beach.
Nick: It may be difficult to image now, but back in the mid ’90s, Jim Lee and Brandon Choi’s WildC.A.T.S. were fucking everywhere. They were in a comic that ran for five volumes and somehow managed to attract legendary comic writers like Alan Moore, James Robinson and Joe Casey (and later even Grant Morrison), they had a tv show on CBS and most importantly for our current purposes, a game on the Super Nintendo.
Danny: You kinda get the sense that a video game might be the best use of WildC.A.T.S. as Jim Lee and Brandon Choi envisioned the property. Unsurprisingly, the WildC.A.T.S. game is a side-scrolling beat ’em up, like most comic book-inspired games from the early to mid ’90s.
Nick: I wonder if there was an urban legend about a cheat code that you could put in where the characters would be swapped out for the Marvel heroes they were ripping off. If there wasn’t, I’m gonna go ahead and invent that right now.
Danny: Are you implying that the WildCovert Action Team is a thinly veiled copy of the X-Men? Because I will not have it.
Nick: I’m sorry that I am forced to ruin your dreams on a daily basis, Danny.
Danny: You may have read WildC.A.T.S. and seen the cartoon, but chances are you’re less familiar with Malibu Comics’ Ultraverse line, which spawned its own X-Men-biting cartoon in the form of Ultraforce. One of their main characters was Prime, who’s basically a take on Captain Marvel in the sense that he’s a 13-year-old kid who transforms into a gigantic muscly superhero while still maintaining the mentality of a 13-year old. And, of course, he got his own video game for the Sega CD.
Nick: Which, in typical ’90s fashion, was a beat ’em up that was hard to tell apart from all the other super hero beat ’em ups that were then popping up as often as bed bugs in New York City. Except, I suppose, most of those other beat ’em ups didn’t have characters that would occasionally blow up like that one guy in Big Trouble in Little China:
Danny: It also boasted an amazing theme song:
Nick: I feel like you’ve subjected me to that theme song before…
Danny: PRIME! PRIME! And he’s coooooming for youuuuuuu!
Nick: This is precisely why we are America’s fifth favorite comics site.
Danny: Oh, hush. At least they love us in French Guiana.
Nick: Shout out to my number one fan Amleyk!
4. Danger Girl
Nick: Towards the late ’90s and early ’00s, there finally came forth a contender to rival beat ’em ups domination of the gaming industry (and particularly the portion of the gaming industry pumping out super hero adaptations): action adventure games. And because one of the games that ignited that craze, Tomb Raider, featured a female character best known for certain frontal assets, some gaming companies were especially eager to find another iconic character to usurp Lara Croft. Enter J. Scott Campbell’s Danger Girl.
Danny: Danger Girl was my shit when I was in 7th grade. Even though it was intended as a T&A spy comic (which is exactly why I wanted it), I blame it for piquing my interest in stories with strong, capable female characters. As for the game, I blame it for nothing except being another addition to the ever-growing pile of questionable comic-based video games.
Nick: Of which Danny owned nearly every one. What interests me about the Danger Girl game though is that it apparently tried to mimic as many other games as possible, with one reviewer going so far as to call it “a stew of frothy gameplay — a mix of Syphon Filter, Metal Gear Solid, Tomb Raider, Duke Nukem: Time To Kill, Die Hard Trilogy, Castlevania 64, even Space Ace.”
Danny: Hey, why just steal from the best when you could steal from them all?
Nick: I think you mean “improve them all,” since Danger Girl the game notably included a “shimmying” feature to make the girls, uh, jiggle. I wish I was joking about this. To quote Scott Lobdell, who probably had a hand in writing this game: “Shocking! LOL!”
Danny: Well, now I’m even more glad I never played it.
Danny: This one’s like obscurity on top of obscurity. I’d be willing to wager that not many people know the David Lawrence/Ron Lim indie comic Ex-Mutants, but how many people know the 1992 Sega Genesis video game based on Ex-Mutants? Someone had to have blind-bought this game from their local Babbage’s back in the day.
ick: All I remember is the ad, which made me immediately wonder three things: 1) Why is Jimmy Olsen on this team? 2) Who the fuck has an arch-nemesis named Sluggo? and 3) Why does this game recycle levels from Golden Axe?
Danny: I have a feeling a lot of young X-Men fans’ moms were fooled by this game. “Honey, I bought you the game of that cartoon you like!”
Nick: And thus began a whole generation’s hatred of their parents.
2. Usagi Yojimbo
Nick: I’ll confess that until we started working on this top 10, I had never even remotely considered the idea of a game based on the long running Stan Sakai series Usagi Yojimbo. But you know what? It makes complete fucking sense.
Danny: I had a feeling there was one in the wake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ popularity, and how close the two properties were. I figured there’d be a rudimentary NES game, but it turns out it was for late ’80s PCs, and offered some pretty involved gameplay.
Nick: On the surface it’s a side scroller with some clever details, like Zen Buddhist priest who say things like “If you see the Buddha on the path, kill him.” But the game also happens to feature an in depth karma system, where falling below a certain karma rating will cause Usagi Yojimbo to commit seppuku. Since the game is relatively open ended, you essentially gain bad karma by attacking innocent people and offset that karma by donating to charity and only attacking enemies with weapons. Apparently the gambling you can partake in in the game doesn’t lower your karma. Keep in mind this game was made in 1988.
Danny: See? They’re not all complete garbage. Also, the Commodore 64 version of this game has awesome looking graphics.
Nick: And if you’re really curious, you can even play a recreation of it online for free
Danny: Hot dog!
1. Howard the Duck
Danny: Sorry to have to break it to you, Internet: There was a Howard the Duck video game based on the movie. Now I offer you this.
Nick: In one of the most tragic bouts of optimism history has ever witnessed, the Howard the Duck game was intended as a sequel to the events of the film. Because clearly everyone who watched that movie would immediately want to know what happened next.
Danny: Some people are just junkies for incessant duck puns. I just want to know who’s responsible for this image:
Nick: I’m sure whoever’s responsible for that has lived an entire life of punishment, where each night as they try to fall asleep all they can see is the horrific visage of a pixelated Howard the Duck.
Danny: As if we needed to feel worse for Steve Gerber.
Nick: I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse, but there’s an About.com piece on the game and it helpfully includes tips for parents wishing to share this game with their kids. I like to think that puts even the most fucked up childhoods into perspective: well, at least your parents didn’t make you play Howard the Duck. Or did they??
Danny: Thankfully, my parents didn’t know what a Howard the Duck was, and probably still don’t. I should give them a call. Y’know, just to make sure.
Nick: This could be a traumatic experience that your mind has covered up. Do you have some kind of unexplained feather and terry cloth robe fetish, by any chance?
Danny: No, that fetish is totally explainable.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his newest comic, “Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men,” over at Champion City Comics.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.