Comic books have long reigned as the most successful storytelling technology available for portraying powered people making awesome happen. Problem is, adapting their adventures to an interactive medium like videogames means that sometimes the vitality of sequential storytelling can get lost behind gamepad buttons. After all, pushing plastic can’t easily simulate Spider-Man’s money troubles or Superman’s cosmic loneliness. To be fair, it took gaming technology awhile to allow anything beyond the most basic super power simulations (punching dudes to the sound of chiptunes). These limitations didn’t have to translate into a shoddy and generally lame gaming experience, though. Even now as our gaming consoles approach the relative processing power of starfaring vehicles, too many games still fail to bring a crime fighting experience to the hands and eyes on the other side of the screen. Read on to recount the most atrocious videogame misfires in recent memory in order to avoid super letdowns.
10) The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man
For a brief gag in a handful of The Simpsons episodes, Bartman’s been gifted with his share of merchandise over the years. Beginning with a simple action figure and spreading into a comic book property, Bartman eventually evolved into a full-fledged videogame hero, complete with…eye-beams? For most elementary school kids of the era, the premise of a costumed Bart fighting to save his comic book hero is pretty cool, but the execution on this NES game just wasn’t up to snuff. With extremely long and repetitive level designs, irritating sound effects and an uncalled for level of difficulty, after a few levels, most kids decided Radioactive Man wasn’t really worth meeting and that role playing El Barto would mean getting some sun and destroying property. Win – win.
9) Spider-Man: Web Of Fire
Quite possibly the strangest title of any Spider-Man videogame, (if the Zelda games have taught us anything, it’s that fire burns spider webs) this title stands out for its jarring production values. The roughly 23 kids who owned a Sega 32X might have considered this game a step up from earlier Spidey titles on the Genesis or the NES, but in reality the game was just a flashier version of the lackluster titles that preceded it. Marred by unnerving music and gross motioncaptureish graphics, players swing through a kind of d?j? vu scenario for as long as it takes to reach an end boss. It’s a shame because the storyline throws Spider-Man into the wider Marvel Universe for some fun cameos from other characters and the character models are accurate to the comics of the day. Unfortunately these positive aspects are burned down by some of the ugliest music and backgrounds to ever grace a super hero game.
8) Iron Man / X-O Manowar In Heavy Metal
Despite being handled by some of today’s most revered comic book talents (and moving a lot of printed issues in its day), X-O Manowar was not a known commodity to the kids of ’97. That’s why when the former Valiant Comics hero was introduced to gamers by Acclaim (a company that seemed to only superficially care about its comic book acquisitions), people wanted to know who the blue guy with green lasers was and why he and Iron Man had become friends in this exceedingly odd PlayStation game. It seems slowly walking through burning warehouses is an activity best enjoyed in pairs. There was a comic book miniseries that explained the plot better than the videogame itself ever could, but considering both characters were sort of in limbo at the time (X-O Manowar was kind of dead, Tony Stark was doing the Heroes Reborn thing), nothing about the game or its tie-in comic made much sense from a logistical standpoint.
7) Avengers In Galactic Storm
While not a fundamentally flawed arcade fighter, as one of the very, very few Avengers games in existence, it’s a crime that the roster was culled from one of the most confusing lineups in the team’s history. Thunderstrike? Crystal from the Inhumans? A lightsaber-wielding and leather jacket-wearing Black Knight? There’s nothing wrong with a little ’90s love, it was a confusing time for a lot of folks, but casting some of these cats as the four playable characters as opposed to, say, Iron Man or the actual Thor is cause for much head scratching. Oh well, at least Captain America got to throw his mighty shield some.
6) The Incredible Hulk
The Hulk is the strongest there is. So any game where The Hulk has to duck to avoid bullets is a fundamentally flawed curiosity. This SNES/Genesis game makes up for this perceived weakness by allowing the Hulk to essentially run through his enemies by popping green pills for extra vitality. Sometimes there are walls to punch too, which is a nice change of pace after running Sonic-style through generic maps to what sounds like some seriously groovy dance number. Seriously a painful mistreatment of Bruce Banner’s power levels in the name of a quick beat ’em up.
5) X-Men 2: Fall Of The Mutants
Older gaming systems can make easy targets out of titles from bygone eras, but some decrepit and barely functional relics deserved the scorn of today just as badly as when they were conceived. This DOS game earns some serious “boos” for its inherent unplayability and near-comedic storyline (Yes, you ARE watching Archangel and Wolverine battle the Viet Cong). With no music, strange semi turn-based combat (or are they dancing?) and other wackiness abound, the only thing this DOS thriller really has going for it are a strong character roster and reasonably fun graphics. That’s just not enough to validate hours and hours of groan-worthy “action.” Although, strangely, the awesome ending is completely worthy of anyone’s time. Fortunately, we live in the YouTube age where such things are possible.
4) Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
While a relatively visually satisfying 3-D rendition of a fan-favorite animated series, there’s something truly disappointing about Batman Beyond‘s most expansive videogame offering. The N64 title centers around combat, something most gamers would happily embrace if it weren’t for an extremely jittery and weightless combat system. As much as the spidery protagonist shimmies and shakes, it takes the game’s boring foes far too long to take notice and engage the hero in combat. A cache of out-of-continuity weapons serves to distract fans from the sloppy fights with a flashier means of doing the same thing over and over again, offering no real advantage or disadvantage in finishing extremely short, unfulfilling levels. Overall, it’s beyond awful (oh, somebody had to say it).
3) Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis
Based on the gritty, hook-handed Aquaman of yesteryear, the highlights of this misguided attack on the senses include watching Aquaman swim without the use of his arms (one of his super powers) through murky water, piloting a space ship-looking submarine for no apparent reason and reading comic sans-infused comic book cutscenes. There’s some fighting too, but given the marionette-like mechanics, it feels more like a bizarre anti-gravity dance party. This would all be well and good if the soundtrack for this Xbox game was an endless loop of Snap!’s “Rhythm is a Dancer,” but Warner Bros. and TDK hate us all too much for even one such concession.
2) Superman 64
After hours of flying through rings in a virtual world of Kryptonite fog, you’ll believe a man can cry.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.