Back when this site went by the name Comic Gamers Assemble, it became somewhat of a tradition, like it is for many outlets, to hand out “Game of the Year” awards. Given that this site is no IGN, these were mostly acknowledgements given to games, developers and publishers without any physical trophies being handed out. There have also been a fair share of just for fun awards mixed in too, like “Best Telltale Game” or “Best Shadow Drop.”
Given that from the ashes of Comic Gamers Assemble Comic Book Video Games has emerged, it’s time to resurrect the “Game of the Year” awards once more. 2020 has been…well, it doesn’t really need an explanation as it has been a tough year for many. Between sickness, death, rampant unemployment and social isolation, it has been a challenging time for a lot of people. For those who still have the disposable income to afford them, or have a large back log to keep them occupied, video games have been a welcome distraction in these tumultuous months.
There have been a few important releases in the comic book adaptation space, plus many new titles on the horizon from the return of DC to unexpected comebacks like a remaster of the cult classic Shadow Man. With new hardware having just launched last month, it’s exciting to see how studios will bring superheroes to digital life on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X.
In the meantime though, let’s look back on the year that was 2020, at least in terms of video games based on comic books. Here are the first annual Comic Book Video Games Game of the Year Awards.
THE SHOULD I BE PLAYING THIS? AWARD
In 2020 an ongoing, AAA budget title starring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes was pressed on a disc and sold in stores. It has had its lunch eaten for the months after its launch from the free-to-start juggernaut that is Fortnite. Though the season has since passed, the battle royale multiplayer shooter became stuffed with Marvel goodies from heroes like the Avengers and Wolverine to villains like Doctor Doom. You could even start a shootout in a Sentinel graveyard while playing as the shapeshifter Mystique and take on the mighty Galactus.
Despite being one of the most popular, not to mention successful, games on the market right now, Fortnite has a stigma about it that it’s only for kids and obnoxious Twitch streamers. In 2020 however, it became perhaps one of the best Marvel video games in years. With its stylized characters and art direction, it wound up doing a much better job of recreating superheroes in the interactive medium than the realistic approach seen in the big-budget outings from the likes of Sony and Square-Enix.
THE COMEBACK KID AWARD
WINNER: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game
Released in 2010, the retro inspired brawler based on the Scott Pilgrim comics and, at the time, new feature film became a cult favorite thanks to its terrific art style, incredible soundtrack and easy to pick up game play. Since 2014 however, it has been unavailable to purchase. As it was also only ever released digitally, the only way to access Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game was if you already owned it, leaving curious players out in the cold unless they had a friend who had bought it before it disappeared.
For years, players have been begging publisher Ubisoft to resurrect Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game and felt their cries were falling on deaf ears. After over six years of being off of the market, Scott Pilgrim is FINALLY coming back to the likes of the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One consoles with all of its post launch DLC to boot. Originally slated to release in holiday 2020, it will miss this year but will arrive early in the new year on January 14th.
Given how long people have had to wait to but it, what’s a few more weeks?
WINNER: Marvel’s Avengers
It’s hard to get mad at Marvel’s Avengers, but easy to feel let down. After years of silence since the project was originally launched, the game was finally shown off at E3 2019 where it received a fairly lukewarm reception due in large part to its bland art direction.
Originally slated to release in May of 2020, it instead slipped into September and even with the extra time in the oven, the ingredients still didn’t quite gel like they should have. There are many things to like about Marvel’s Avengers, namely its campaign and how fun it is to control the expanding roster, but its Games as a Service roots always overshadow its best parts. For a game that’s meant to keep you engaged with it, there was a distinct lack of interesting things to do for many months, not to mention the myriad of bugs and performance issues it suffered.
But, with the recently released Kate Bishop character, it looks like things could start to finally turn around for Marvel’s Avengers. Here’s hoping it’s eligible for a “Most Improved” award in 2021.
MOST UNINTENTIONALLY HILARIOUS
WINNER: XIII (2020)
When the original was released back in 2003, XIII was an okay first-person shooter that made up for its lack of substance with plenty of style to spare. Colorful, cel-shaded visuals helped it stand out amongst realistic and sci-fi themed offerings in the same genre, and the onomatopoeia that spouted from your guns was a welcome homage to the game’s comic book origins.
It was interesting then that XIII got a second chance via a remaster that launched in November after suffering a one year delay. With all of the modern bells and whistles offered by modern technology though, XIII (2020) was a poor imitation of its source material, getting most of its style and comic book trappings sucked out, making it little more than a bland entry in an already saturated market.
Worse still, XIII (2020) was plagued with problems, many of which are pointed out in our review of the game. Poor background scenery, dying after unintentionally falling through the floor and a floating baton next to a guard to name a few. It’s almost worth the price of admission just to see it all for yourself before the title gets patched and severely discounted.
THE “LETS STAY IN TOUCH” AWARD
WINNER: Marvel’s Avengers
2020 has been a year where people have to learn to socialize anyway they can, including through video games. Marvel’s Avengers is far from perfect, but with the right group of friends, it makes for a great platform to chat and catch up. The developers at Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal assuredly want their game to be more than background noise against a conversation, but the repetition inherent with its design right now fades away when playing with the right people. You can play Marvel’s Avengers completely by yourself – it has even been patched to accommodate that style of play better – but like the team whose name is in the title, it’s far better, if you can, to assemble.
THE STAN LEE AWARD FOR BEST CAMEO
WINNER: Spawn in Mortal Kombat 11
Todd McFarlane’s pride and joy has been away from video games for over a decade and a half now, so it’s great to see Spawn make a return in such a high profile release like Mortal Kombat 11. Developer NetherRealm is no stranger to bizarre comic book cameos in their games, look no further than Hellboy and the Turtles in Injustice 2, and Spawn fits in perfectly with the cast of sorcerers, ninjas and other kombatants. Coupled with the voice of Keith David, the actor who voiced the character in the HBO animated series, and you’ve got a match made in hell in the absolute best way possible.
THE HAPPY ANNIVERSARY AWARD
WINNER: Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
Released twenty years ago at the dawn of the new millennium, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is still among the best comic book tag-team brawlers ever made and cherished in the fighting game community. It was supposed to return to the EVO fighting game tournament this summer, however those plans were sidelined due to the ongoing pandemic. It’s still a shame that Marvel and Capcom haven’t found a way to make this available again on modern devices as it hasn’t been for sale since the console port two generations ago. While it would be nice for this to get the Arcade1up treatment, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 shouldn’t be shackled to a medium that’s prohibitively expensive to many.
THE REASON TO GET A SECOND AND THIRD JOB AWARD
Last year Arcade1up shocked players when it not only brought back three classic Marvel games in one of their cabinets, but also another that housed two of Konami’s classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. They kept the momentum going in 2020, announcing cabinets inspired by X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, each packed with titles in the beloved Vs. Series and even material from the SNES era like X-Men: Mutant Academy and Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems. Not only that, they also collaborated with Zen Studios to make a digital pinball machine using many of their excellent tables. More so than the next-generation consoles, Arcade1up is the reason to envy the wealthy for lovers of comic book video games this year.
WINNER: Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
This isn’t a surprise in that players expected it to be bad and it turned out to be good, but more so that who would’ve thought that there would be a follow-up to Marvel’s Spider-Man turned around this quickly, starring Miles Morales, and as a major title for a new console launch to boot?!
When Sony showcased their first PlayStation 5 offerings the summer, they captivated our collective attention immediately by showing off Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales straight out of the gate. Those who can’t afford a PlayStation 5, or simply can’t get one, weren’t left out in the cold either as the smart decision was made to put Miles Morales on the PlayStation 4.
Clocking in much shorter than Insomniac’s first Spider-Man game, Miles Morales shows that you can accomplish a lot with a little and that this new Spider-Man on the block has just as much star power as the original.
WINNER: Gotham Knights
It’s been many years now since the last major Batman title from WB Games, and in 2021 we’re finally going to be returning to the streets of Gotham City in Gotham Knights. From the developers of the criminally underappreciated Batman: Arkham Origins, WB Games Montreal, Gotham Knights made a big splash during the DC FanDome event this summer where it was unveiled. It’s perhaps been one of the worst kept secrets in video games for quite some time now, but it was nonetheless satisfying to see a cast that actually excludes the Caped Crusader himself (but lets face it, he’ll be back) with Batgirl, Red Hood and Robin stepping up to tackle the Court of Owls. Right now its expected to release in 2021, and hopefully we’ll hear more about this one sooner rather than later.
WINNER: Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League
Arkham series creator Rocksteady Studios has been silent on their next project since they wrapped up the saga with Batman: Arkham Knight. Since then, the only game credited to them has been Batman: Arkham VR . People were eagerly anticipating what the renowned developers were going to tackle next: Superman? The Justice League
Like Gotham Knights, their newest project was shown off at DC FanDome but it failed to excite in the same way. Titled Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, the debut trailer did little than show off some try-hard humor and a worn out premise of hunting down a brainwashed Superman gone bad. The post reveal interview did little to build hype as it was described as a shooter that, like Marvel’s Avengers, is also chasing after the Games as a Service model.
It’s also hard to get excited about new output from Rocksteady given stories that came out about them over the summer and how they fostered a toxic working environment for their small pool of female employees.
WINNER: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Sony has a big year to say the least, not only launching a brand new console in the PlayStation 5, but also releasing award winning software like The Last of Us Part II and Ghost of Tsushima. The company also grew their relationship with Marvel, releasing not one, not two, but three games with them this year. The summer finally saw the release of the superb Marvel’s Iron Man VR after having been delayed out of February, and this was followed by Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales and a remaster of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 5. Cleary Marvel is going to be an important part of Sony’s first-party strategy moving forward with Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales ranking in the top three titles in the November NPD’s behind only multiplatform behemoths like Assassisn’s Creed and Call of Duty.
DEVELOPER OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Insomniac Games
In terms of, big, AAA game studios, Insomniac Games have continuously proven they’re among the best in the business. In 2020, they not only launched Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales on two consoles, but also remastered Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 5, going as far to add new costumes – including the fan requested outfit from 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man – and trophies.
The decision to change the physical character model for Peter Parker was met with some controversy, as was the confusing pathway you had to follow to get the remaster, but it was still an undertaking by the studio to make Marvel’s Spider-Man look even better than what it did two years ago. For those who’re still playing Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4, Insomniac even went in and patched the two new costumes crafted for that next-generation version back into that game.
If you’ve rolled credits on Miles Morales, you know that the next chapter in Insomniac’s Spider-Man saga, whether that’s a full numbered sequel or another spin-off, is going to be interesting to follow, and with Ratchet & Clank: A Rift apart already in the pipeline, the studio is showing no signs of slowing down.
GAME OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Marvel’s Iron Man VR
There’s an epidemic in the video game industry. Players are demanding software with the best visuals and feel that anything with less than 100 hours worth of content is not worth the asking price. In turn, those charged with making games are burning themselves up to keep up with this demand.
It’s refreshing then when a game like Marvel’s Iron Man VR arrives and proves that you don’t need to push technology to its absolute breaking point to immerse the player. Iron Man VR’s weakest points come from the PSVR hardware itself, in that the consumer grade headset isn’t cutting edge, the wires and controllers sometimes have trouble keeping up with you and in a year with new hardware and record low employment, not everyone has the money to buy into the PSVR ecosystem.
Provided you have the means to do so, Marvel’s Iron Man VR is a game you must experience anyway you can. Few superhero video games immerse you in its world quite like this one, and it’s hard not to get lost in the illusion that you, the player, are indeed encased in a mutli-billion dollar suit of high tech armor. This was true the second the demo launched, allowing you freely boost around Tony Stark’s Malibu home and fight off drones while helping Pepper Potts escape from a crashing airplane.
In a year that saw a Spider-Man game launch alongside a major console and where the Avengers received their first non-LEGO game in close to eight years, Marvel’s Iron Man VR sadly became buried under its “Marvel’s” brethren. That’s a shame really, as Iron Man VR can easily stand toe-to-toe with those games and is easily one of the best superhero games of this generation.
Superheroes, and especially Iron Man, are supposed to make us feel optimistic and hopeful for the future. It’s hard not to get choked up in the closing moments of Marvel’s Iron Man VR as you blast off into the sky towards new adventures, a tear escaping from the bottom of your headset because it reminds you how magical video games can be.
In many regards, VR is akin to the early days of 3-D on machines like the Saturn, Nintendo 64 and original PlayStation as teams relearn exactly how to craft games. It’s always exciting trying a new VR experience of the qualify of Iron Man VR as it floods you with nostalgic memories of playing with those consoles for the first time. Sony has yet to comment on what their VR strategy is going forward, but hopefully it involves the continuing adventures of Tony Stark. In the meantime, you can order an adaptor for the PlayStation 4 camera at no charge to experience this first outing on the PlayStation 5.
Thank you to the talented team at Camouflaj for this wonderfully unique comic book adventure.
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