One would think comic books are perfect for video games. The larger than life characters, the super-powers, the costumes, the action sequences, it’s all right there. There have been many great games based on comic book properties from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games to Marvel Ultimate Alliance and more. There have been the “fighting games” of Marvel in the 1990s and 2000s to the brilliance of the Batman Arkham Asylum series that makes you feel like the Dark Knight. True, there was a learning curve as early video games didn’t have the graphics needed to make comic books come to life. But when it works, it’s an amazing experience that feels fantastic and playing as your favorite characters.
Sadly, in too many cases, this would-be “dream” turns into a nightmare. Again, you can cut a bit of slack for some early games on the lack of technology needed to make it work. But in some cases, you had the best technology to make a great game and instead it turned out to be total garbage. Bad graphics, terrible play, numerous glitches, they all come together to become a complete mess to play. They waste the concept of these comic books for stupid stories and often a total disservice to the characters. Some are tied into comic book movies but most are original and that just makes it worse as they could have done something great. Instead, they all turn into some of the worst disasters video game or comic book fans can think of. Here are 15 of the worst video games based on comics and why it’s so hard to make the mediums work together right.
15 The Crow City Of Angels
James O’Barr’s comic character is a tragic one. A rocker is murdered and is brought back to life by a crow as a mystical avenger to save others. It was made into a 1994 movie that became infamous when star Brandon Lee was killed in an on-set accident. In 1996, a sequel was made with a new character and this tie-in game was brought with it. It’s the usual style of side-scrolling beat-em-up common at the time but the mix of 3D and 2D elements turns into an ugly hodge-podge to slug through. The backgrounds are ugly, music nasty and the camera is fixed into one place which means the player can find himself running into corners or blocked from seeing what’s happening. The fighting is horrible with bad movements, sluggish controls and terrible AI. Even for the standards of the time, it’s a terrible game that has to stand as both a bad movie tie-in and a bad comic book adaptation and the Crow fails to fly under this terrible presentation.
14 Watchmen: The End Is Nigh
Alan Moore’s masterpiece is known for its brilliant storyline, shocking turns and a gripping take on the psychology of being a real-life superhero. Zack Snyder’s 2009 movie adaptation had flaws but did its best to emulate that deep thinking. This tie-in game just tosses it all out the window. Instead, you get Rorschach and Nite Owl going around streets beating up thugs. It’s supposed to be a prequel showing how the two friends became divided but the cutscenes are badly done with the voice work sounding like rip-offs of the film characters. The action is just button mashing with lame combos and bad AI, the enemies coming at you in waves but no real challenge. The backgrounds are unpolished, looking like something out of a 1990s platform and the music poor too. The fighting engine is okay but the fact is that this is a game that reduces one of greatest comics ever created into a run-of-the mill brawler which is one of the biggest wastes of a property imaginable.
13 Spawn The Eternal
Todd McFarlane’s 1990s comic book character has a very complex background. A black-ops soldier, Al Simmons was killed, sent to Hell and made a deal to return as a soldier in a horrific living costume. This game was developed in 1995 in line with the original comic books. However, it was scrapped to become both a tie-in to the terrible 1997 movie and to use the same style of play as the Tomb Raider games. So Spawn (in a horrible look) basically goes through a variety of buildings and temples, bumping into walls, solving bad or easy puzzles and the occasional sloppy fight. Even for 1997, the graphics are horrible, messy textures and ugly backgrounds and the sloppy gameplay doesn’t make it any better. The voice acting is horrible as is the music and there’s really little challenge. Worse, you barely get to use the character’s famed cape and chains which was what made Spawn stand out best. The Spawn movie was bad but this game even worse and why the character rarely works outside its own medium.
12 Thor: God Of Thunder
A tie-in for the first Thor movie, this game also took obvious cues from the mega-hit God of War series. And it quickly showed how hard it is to make a game like that work. The plotline gets points as not based on the movie but a really good story as Thor goes through various challenges to save Lady Sif from dying. This leads to various alien worlds and monsters and in other circumstances, this would have been terrific. Sadly, the final product is marred by numerous glitches and bugs The Nintendo Wii version actually got good reviews as its controls abled the gamer to mimic things like throwing a hammer. But the other versions for Xbox 360 and PS3 were ravaged for bad design work and game play, the cutscenes with a strange filter and the combat a total mess. The game basically screams “bargain bin” from the moment it begins and the terrific promise of its story and setting is wasted on its bad design and needless bugs. When it comes to being the action god of video games, Kratos beats Thor easily.
11 Fantastic 4 (Playstation)
Marvel’s flagship title has had a rough time over the years with three big screen movies that are seen by fans as absolutely terrible. Their tie-in games weren’t that much better. However, this 1997 entry is actually far worse. The storyline has Doctor Doom transporting the FF around the world and they have to go around in either pairs or alone to defeat enemies. The comic is known for its fantastic scope, using slews of settings from outer space to other dimensions. So to sink the FF into a side-scrolling beat-em-up in cities and jungles seems a real waste. The soundtrack is utterly horrible, a bizarre mix of jazz, techno and rap that seems more likely for an adult film. The game controls are messy, the Human Torch “flies” about five feet in the air and the animation for things like Mr. Fantastic’s stretching is very poor. True, side-scrolling fighting games were popular at the time but saddling the FF with this makes this the least Fantastic game imaginable.
10 Uncanny X-Men (NES)
Back in the NES era, it really seemed developers sometimes knew they had a bad game and so decided to slap a licensed property on it to try and get more attention. Here’s a prime example as this game takes the X-Men and renders them six blobs of color with barely any real showcase of powers. Sure, Cyclops has laser blasts and Wolverine the claws but they’re not presented as anything really special and drain your health the more you use them. The bad guys are likewise just random beings with no flash to them and terrible AI and backgrounds. The action is just going from one end of the screen to the other, no real story to the game at all and nothing that screams out X-Men. Even some of the other poor games of the time (Arcade’s Revenge for example) at least did their best to put in references to the comic book and its characters to feel like an X-Men game. This is just using the title and little else that makes the X-Men so fun. They got better as time went on but this first entry for Marvel’s mutants in video game form also ranks as their worst.
9 X-Men Destiny
It’s always something when a game wastes a great concept. This had the idea of the player able to control one of three brand-new mutant characters working to become X-Men themselves. But this ends up looking bad and not just because of how it appears to use the leftovers of a dozen different games. You’re running around seemingly endless streets of smashed up buildings to fight a random pack of armored foes using characters that barely feel fleshed out. Stories abound about the game being rushed and incomplete and that may have contributed to the final product. The ability to “mould” your character’s powers is odd as mutants are pretty much stuck with one power (good or bad) and have to handle it. The storyline is poor, the voice acting bad and the designs make classic X-Men characters like Iceman and Emma Storm look like poor cosplay wearers at a fan convention. It’s all topped by terrible game play with sloppy AI and combat and a mix of powers that doesn’t fit the motif. A huge flop, this game is a major wasted opportunity made sadder by the flashes of the great game it could have been but rushed into a mess.
As a rule, movie tie-in games tend to be pretty bad. So a tie-in to one of the absolute worst comic book movies of all time never really had a chance. The 2004 Catwoman movie featured Halle Berry in what she herself admits is one of her worst performances (she even accepted her Razzie for Worst Actress in person) as a designer who becomes a “cat warrior.” To be fair, the graphics did manage to emulate Berry’s famous torn-up costume. But that’s where the good ends. The idea of her crawling around walls and leaping from poles sounds good but the actual gameplay suffers with poor combat and terrible voice work. The camera is hard to figure out, often causing you to miss falls and the animation can be lackluster, especially in the rather bad cut-scenes. The “cat sense” dumbs down an already dumb game but not much help with the bizarre “jump puzzles” you’re forced to go through. There’s also how the game seems to want to be kid-friendly as you can wail on a guy, toss him out a third-story window yet we’ll see him rubbing his head okay afterward. Bad as the movie was, the game is actually far worse and a reminder of how bad DC adaptations can get.
7 Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga
Here’s what an Incredible Hulk game should be: Just the Hulk running around massively destroying everything in sight. It’s been done with great success with games like Ultimate Destruction and some of the movie tie-ins and it can be fun. But this game does nothing in that vein. Based on the 1990s comic books, the Hulk looks like just a beefy tall guy, not the monster we’re used to, as he’s captured by a super-powered group and has to fight his way out of a mountain. Sure, you get some classic Hulk enemies like U-Foes and the Maestro but they look just as bad as the Hulk can’t even smash that much. You can throw some boxes and break a few screens, but that’s it. Confining the Hulk inside also does nothing as it’s just strange seeing him waiting to ride elevators and handle puzzles to open doors rather than just rip walls apart. The “combat’ is just some punches, you can’t do any huge leaps and the enemies are just lame to fight against. This is a terrible excuse for a Hulk game as preventing him from "smashing" ruins what makes the character work in the first place.
6 Batman Dark Tomorrow
The basic ideas behind this game were perfectly good and with a little more polish, this could have been something great. Instead, this 2004 entry is seen as the Caped Crusader’s worst video game experience. The cut-scenes of the story are good as Batman faces a slew of his enemies from the Joker to Ra’s al Ghul and a great array of gadgets. But that doesn’t mean anything without good play and that’s where the game falls apart. The camera can be a mess, totally blocked behind a brick wall and impossible to control. The controls are inaccurate so you’ll fail the simple opening task of jumping from rooftop to rooftop several times. The animation whenever you “cuff” a fallen opponent gets old fast and thus seeing it happen a hundred times is annoying. The game’s textures are dark with ugly backgrounds that make Gotham City look like a mess of polygons with shadows fading and the backgrounds muted. Plus, you have to despise a game that punishes you at the very end for missing a single bomb in a hidden room 13 levels earlier. It wouldn't be until the Arkham Asylum games that the “how to be Batman” motif worked well as this was a “Tomorrow” fans want to stay in the past.
5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
If you ever want to see a classic NES fan gnash their teeth, just say “dam level.” While the TMNT arcade games are beloved for their fantastic beat-em-up action, this NES game is a painful experience. The plotline has the Turtles searching for a device that can turn Splinter human while rescuing April O’Neill. While you can play as any of the turtles, they seem interchangeable without that much to set them apart from one another. The controls are whacky as you can’t jump that well and combat with Foot soldiers is rough. The presentation is a mix from sky views to side scrolling that makes it harder to get into. Then, there are the infamous underwater levels as you have to defuse bombs by a dam with the movements horribly sluggish. You have only two minutes to defuse all the bombs, not nearly enough time and smacking into a wall equals death. It’s impossible to count how many NES controllers were broken over the years by frustrated kids trying to get through these nightmarish levels. The game was a commercial hit as the Turtles were hot in 1989, but today it's better known for being so impossible to beat more than any good it provided.
4 Marvel Nemesis: Rise Of The Imperfects
Marvel and EA Games made a big deal out of this in 2005, complete with a tie-in comic. The idea is that Earth is invaded by aliens with Captain America and the Hulk among the heroes killed early on. The energies of the invasion give rise to some new super-beings who try to battle the invaders but end up fighting Marvel heroes. This leads to classic fighting game situations but the waste of Spider-Man, Wolverine and other Marvel characters is appalling. The graphics are needlessly dark and “gritty,” the storyline with horrifically cheesy writing and the backgrounds look flat despite being 3-D. It’s astonishing how much they drop the ball with such potential, the game just wasting the Marvel license and pushing their terrible original characters more. The game ended up being such a critical and commercial disappointment that Marvel and EA cut off their partnership. That would lead to the far better Marvel Ultimate Alliance and showing that trying to push original guys over the Marvel mainstays fans wanted just led to a mess of a fighting game.
3 Silver Surfer
Gamers today can vastly underestimate just how damn difficult NES games were. And few could cause as many absolute headaches and breakdowns as this entry. It has a cool bit where you can pick a path to start, flying about maze-like areas that either side-scrolling or an overhead view, blasting away baddies before facing a major villain. The graphics are okay and it’s cool seeing the Surfer on his board. But what good it does is soon overwhelmed by the utterly insane level of difficulty. If you just merely bump into a wall, you’re dead, right there, no health bar, just one hit and you’re gone. That’s crazy for any game, let alone a being packed with cosmic power. To this day, you see videos of people ranting and raving as guys who have gone through the toughest games imaginable are left in near tears trying to get through this. To take a character known for his great power and render him so fragile is just ludicrous and takes away from any joy blasting aliens on a flying surfboard could give. If you find anyone who’s actually beaten this game (and enjoyed its anti-climactic finish), savor the discovery as this is a game that’s cosmically difficult.
2 Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis
Aquaman has always had to fight for respect. A truly powerful character with super-strength and commanding an undersea kingdom, Aquaman has been dismissed as “the guy who talks to fish.” Sadly, this game does nothing to help his reputation. This was made during the character’s “grim and gritty phase” where he had a beard and hook hand. With the fantastic chance to create an undersea world, Atlantis is basically just empty buildings except for the odd citizen to rescue or bad guy to fight. The “combat” is the exact same two or three punches and the controls react like you really are underwater, sluggish and muted. There are no voice effects, not even grunts and the storyline is told via comic book pages with text. Some levels utilize a submarine for some bad flying combat sequences that are only marginally better than the poor swimming. With the ocean to play with, you’re stuck in Atlantis, complete with a “wall” you can’t get past and almost no actual fish life around. A game like this just makes it harder to take Aquaman seriously and why he’s treated like a joke.
1 Superman 64
It’s not just the worst Superman game ever. It’s not just the worst comic book game ever. Many cite this as one of the single worst video games of all time. Based on the hit animated series, the storyline has Lex Luthor trapping Superman’s friends in a “virtual reality” of Metropolis and Superman has to rescue them. This is used as the excuse as to why the Man of Steel spends a lot of time walking and can only use heat vision and freeze breathe with power-ups. It also seems to be the excuse the game developers use for the horrible graphics where anything beyond a few feet is lost in haze, the “city” barely developed. Most challenges involve picking up cars and moving them a few feet and barely any enemies to fight. Instead, the majority of the gameplay is simply Superman forced to fly through countless mazes of rings. You have the greatest superhero of all and he’s forced into the play you’d see in a lame flight simulator.
It’s not even good flying as the controls are wonky and the presentation a total ugly mess. Instead of a grand adventure taking down slews of his enemies in fun settings, Superman is stuck in this lame presentation. Darkseid, the biggest baddie of the DC Universe, is a mook for Luthor who’s easily defeated as are Brainiac and Metallo. When you can’t make those guys into serious threats, you’re a bad developer but the horrible glitches in puzzles just make it worse. From start to finish, an insult not just to the character but video games itself and deserves its ranking as one of the worst experiences any gamer could possibly put themselves through.