The climax of December 31st this year won’t just mark the end of another calendar year, but also the closure of an entire decade, and as we roll into the 20’s, it’s time to look back at a ten years of comic book video games. This decade has been an interesting one for comic book, nay licensed, games, maybe even the most interesting one ever. At the start of the 2010’s, we witnessed the decline of the AA game – an area in which most licensed games existed – and the death of the traditional movie tie-in game. For a large portion of the decade, it looked like most licensed games would be limited to the free-to-play and mobile arena as major companies like Disney and Marvel shifted their focus in that direction all the way to the bank. As the years rolled on though, the balanced started to shift back towards more traditionally produced video games, a trend that was slow to take off in a way given the success of 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel that proved that a comic book game could be with the right time and effort.
There were no shortage of comic book video games released throughout the last ten years, and in a lot of respects, this can almost be considered one of, if not the absolute best eras for comic book games. This list will focus on ten titles that stood out among all the rest. Of course this is a personal best list, and if you would like to discuss it – civilly to clarify – feel free to reach out on social media. Now, on with the countdown.
10) THOR: GOD OF THUNDER (2011) (NINTENDO DS)
Landing when it did after three titles that ranged from average to downright poor and in the shadow of a disappointing major console game, it’s understandable why many passed on Thor: God of Thunder for the Nintendo DS. For those who did play it though, they were treated to a beautiful throwback to classic 16-bit comic book games from the wizards at WayForward. Thor has appeared as part of an ensemble in many games since his awareness grew in 2011 and beyond thanks to many big screen appearances, but to this day, no game starring the Odinson has managed to best this humble handheld outing. Gorgeous character design, bosses that fill the entire screen, the video game debut of Hela and great extras to extend your play time prove the old saying that good things do indeed come in small packages.
9 CAPTAIN AMERICA: SUPER SOLDIER (2011) (MICROSOFT XBOX 360/SONY PLAYSTATION 3)
You know you’ve done something right when Captain America himself, Chris Evans, looks towards your game for inspiration on how the Star Spangled Avenger should fight on the big-screen. Such was the case with Captain America: Super Soldier, developed by Canadian based Next Level Games for the first batch of high-definition consoles. Suffering from a similar problem as Thor – these games were released months apart from one another – Super Soldier arrived just as people were beginning to get burned out on movie games. Super Soldier has faults that are inherent with products rushed to meet the release of a major motion picture, mostly that it’s over just as it gets its stride, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for with an astounding representation of Captain America in the interactive medium. The base combat mechanics owe a lot to the Arkham series, but they’re tweaked to work with Cap’s iconic weapon to give this title its own identity. When combined with better than it has any right to be performances from the cast of Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, sound design that makes you really feel every blow and parry with your vibranium discus and Easter eggs that dive into the comics, it makes you wish that Next Level Games would’ve got the chance to do another game with this license with the time afforded to a studio like Rocksteady. It’s no wonder that Next Level is producing games for Nintendo, most recently Luigi’s Mansion 3 that arrived this year for the Nintendo Switch.
8) MARVEL VS. CAPCOM: INFINITE (2017) (MICROSOFT XBOX ONE/SONY PLAYSTATION 4/PC)
After a long absence, Capcom returned to the crossover fighting arena with Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, but just as fast as the series was resurrected, it was put to bed again before rising once more with the 2017 release of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. To many, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was seen as a downgrade coming off of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as it had a significantly reduced roster, one that stirred up much controversy as it lacked characters from the X-Men camp, a reduction in team size and it lost the comic book aesthetic of its predecessor. For those who gave Infinite a fair shake though, they found a wonderful tag-team fighting game that’s more than worthy to belong in the beloved Marvel vs. Capcom series. The fighting mechanics are the most accessible in Infinite than they’ve been since early entries in the series, making this a title that can be picked up and enjoyed by players of all skill levels, and the inclusion of The Infinity Stones make even the most mundane match-ups excitingly unpredictable. This was the first game in the series to have a story mode, and while it never reaches the quality of Capcom’s competitors, it’s goofy fun, especially if you have a love for the characters on both sides.
7 BATMAN: THE TELLTALE SERIES/THE ENEMY WITHIN (2016/2017) (MICROSOFT XBOX ONE/NINTENDO SWITCH/SONY PLAYSTATION 4/PC/MOBILE)
Batman is easily one of the most popular superheroes of all time, but he’s also a character that you can get burnt out on given the glut of multimedia products he stars in. DC Comics has a huge stable of character that could easily star in their own video game franchise, but over and over again it’s the Caped Crusader that steals the spotlight and raises the Bat-Signal in its stead. With Batman: The Telltale Series, and its second season The Enemy Within, Telltale proved that with the right take, there’s still a way to surprise and excite even the most jaded Batman detractors. Though very similar to every Telltale product released since 2012, meaning the game is mostly made up of conversations where you select how your character reacts sprinkled with quick-time event action scenes, it’s everything around those things that elevate the game. The performances from the likes of Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, Laura Bailey and Anthony Ingruber are top-tier, as is the writing. Above all else though, what makes this brief two-season series so special is how it subverts your expectations of what a Batman story can be. There are familiar elements, but the way character relationships and motivations progress from episode to episode will drive you to play through episodes quickly to find out where things are going to go. Happily the new owners of the Telltale brand see the potential in this series, and even released a new noir visual style to both seasons that will motivate you to play through them again if you have already.
6) INJUSTICE 2 (2017) (MICROSOFT XBOX ONE/SONY PLAYSTATON 4/PC)
For years, DC Comics had little to no representation in the fighting game genre, especially compared to Marvel, but they became a contender in the last decade, first with 2013’s Injustice: God Among Us and the game that cemented this young series as a bonafided franchise: Injustice 2. Crafted by NetherRealm Studios, the minds behind the Mortal Kombat franchise, there was never any doubt that Injustice wouldn’t be a success based on their pedigree alone, but it was everything else that was stuffed into the package that made the series so special, especially Injustice 2. Continuing from the first game, and in the vein of NetherRealm’s most recent Mortal Kombat games, Injustice 2 manages to weave a compelling tale between rounds of super-powered beat downs that also cleverly allows the player to sample the assembled roster of fighters, ranging from popular characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to Swamp Thing. Whether you like to play solo or against others online, Injustice 2 has something for everyone from gear you can collect to customize your characters, rotating challenges and traditional arcade story modes. Post launch Injustice 2 received some incredibly surprising additions to its line-up in the form of Hellboy and all four of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
5) MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN (2018) (SONY PLAYSTATION 4)
From the start of this millennium, there was barely a year that went by that there wasn’t a game released starring Spider-Man. After 2014 though, the wall-crawler would be absent from the spotlight, appearing only as part of an ensemble in titles that spanned the entire Marvel Universe, but he was merely biding his time for the right team to come along. That team was Insomniac Games, a studio with a catalog of games that includes franchises such as Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet and Clank, who would reinvigorate Spider-Man’s video game career with what many consider to be the best Spider-Man game ever made in the PlayStation 4 exclusive Marvel’s Spider-Man from publisher Sony. Refining what they learned creating the Xbox One exclusive Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac applied their skills in making high-quality action games with an emphasis on traversal, which gave birth to the smoothest web-swinging ever to appear in a video game and combat mechanics that translated 2-D comic book pages seamlessly to the third-dimension. Marvel’s Spider-Man is rightfully revered by many, but it does suffer from some problems inherent with big-budget, AAA games in that it can feel bloated at times and its story, while compelling and well acted, is stretched too thin across its run time. Still, It’s easy to ignore these problems and zen out swinging around a digitally recreated Manhattan, packed full of famous Marvel landmarks that are ripe for photo opportunities.
4) SPIDER-MAN: SHATTERED DIMENSIONS (2010) (MICROSOFT XBOX 360/NINTENDO WII/NINTENDO DS/SONY PLAYSTATION 3)
When people think of Spider-Man in video games, they think of freely swinging around an open world. For this debut outing on the original PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast though, Spider-Man was stuck in finely crafted levels, a concept developer Beenox explored in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Coming off of the positively received Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, it was easy to come at Shattered Dimensions with a sense of trepidation for how it was regressing back to the pre-Spider-Man 2 era, but it turns out this change was exactly what Spider-Man needed. Boasting four Spider-Men – plus a Ham during the end credits – Shattered Dimensions shook up the somewhat routine by that point trek through Manhattan with futuristic vistas and old time carnivals, each culminating in a battle with a classic Spider-Man villain. Shattered Dimensions is a love-letter to the character of Spider-Man with its four principal actors, each who voiced the character in the past, and plenty of references to close to a half a century of comics. It was also here that the spark for the idea that would become the Oscar winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was ignited. Though this is primarily referring to the console game, it must also be mentioned that the companion game produced for the Nintendo DS from Griptonite Games is a woefully underappreciated Metroid style game.
3) TELLTALE’S THE WALKING DEAD (2012 (MULTI)
Telltale Games, at least in its original incarnation, was founded in 2004, but it wouldn’t be until 2012 when the company truly made their stamp on the video game industry, for better or for worse. It was in that year they produced a five chapter episodic adventure game set within the universe of the mega-popular The Walking Dead from creator Robert Kirkman. While set in the same universe, Telltale’s take on the material only briefly played within it, becoming more concerned with weaving the tale of Lee, an individual on his way to prison at the start of a zombie apocalypse who becomes a surrogate father to a young girl named Clementine, a character players, as Lee, were desperate to help survive. Throughout the course of the first season, you’re presented with tough choices, all of which carried weight and altered your relationship with the small group of survivors you found yourself thrown together with. For all the success, awards and opportunities The Walking Dead opened for Telltale, they would spend the better part of his decade chasing its success before sadly, and abruptly, closing in 2018. Thanks to Skybound, the right holder to The Walking Dead, a complete collection of the series was released for the current generation of consoles and PC, helping to keep the saga of Clementine alive.
2) LEGO MARVEL SUPER HEROES (2013) (MULTI)
After TT Games got the opportunity to turn properties like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and DC’s own Batman into family-friendly games starring plastic LEGO characters, it was easy to dream what exactly the UK based developer could do within the Marvel Universe. That dream was made into reality with 2013’s LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, a game that’s easy to call one of the best ever produced with the Marvel Comics IP and among TT Games’ best work. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes works on so many levels: it’s easy to pick up and play for anyone, regardless of skill; it’s packed full of content from the fifteen chapter story to the open world Manhattan that’s full with side objectives to complete, gold bricks to collect and characters to unlock and a story that touches nearly every corner of the Marvel Universe that both manages to be hilarious for every age demographic, and show a clear understanding of exactly why Marvel has been such a lasting brand. The gameplay is of course simplistic and certain actions like flying can feel like a chore, but minor problems aside this is a game you can sink dozens of hours into and come out learning more about Marvel Comics than you knew before going into it.
1) BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY (2011) (MULTI)
In 2009, right before this decade started, developer Rocksteady, with only one game under their belt, released a game that would show the true potential of a comic book video game: Batman: Arkham Asylum. Topping this ground breaking game would be no easy accomplishment, but they did just that with the release of 2011’s Batman: Arkham City. Expanding upon the formula they built for Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady took Batman out of a claustrophobic, enclosed location and stuck him in a walled off prison city, equipping him with new traversal mechanics and gadgets to compensate for this big, but not too big, open world. Where Batman: Arkham City succeeds where other open world superhero games fail is that it feels like everything is there for a reason, and there’s a lot going on in this game from the main story to numerous side-missions you can tackle at your own leisure. The city is just as big as it needs to be, the plot never loses its momentum and the over two hundred Riddler challenges and trophies offer fun ways to come to gripe with the subtle nuances of Batman’s move list. Combine this with set pieces like the Mr. Freeze battle, amazing as always performances from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill and a truly haunting ending, and you’ve got not only the best comic book game of this past decade, but maybe one of the best games ever built.