As the holidays rapidly approach, it means that 2021 is coming to a close, and while it wasn’t nearly as awful as last year, we’re still not out of the woods with respect to the ongoing pandemic. People are still sick and dying, global supply chains are becoming clogged, and workers are fighting for their rights against massive corporations who put profit before people.
It seems almost frivolous to talk about video games given the state of the world, but we all need distractions in our day-to-day lives, and interactive entertainment just happens to be one of the best there is. Whether that’s getting lost in a beloved classic or discovering a new favorite, video games have become a comfort to many, myself included, in the face of fear and uncertainty.
In the past, this site has praised the work of publishers like Activision who for well over a decade, helped finance and release many classic comic book games. As we end the year, I just wanted to take a brief moment and say that Comic Book Video Games as an entity going forward will not support publishers like Activision, Ubisoft, and sadly many others who choose to do next to nothing to cut cancerous abusers from the industry. Rocksteady helped birth modern comic book related games with their Arkham series, but we will not ever forget that they allowed toxic behavior to permeate within the studio.
Comic Book Video Games shouldn’t exist it it doesn’t look to the examples set by superheroes to be the very best version of ourselves and to be an inspiration for others. We will never stop believing those who come forward with their stories and do everything in our power to give those who can’t be heard a voice. Every year gives us a chance to be better, and with 2022 just around the corner, now’s a good time as any to think about the needs of others above ourselves, love one another, and make the world a better place.
Because that’s what heroes do.
With that all said, it’s time to reflect on another year of titles inspired by our favorite comic books and superheroes.
THE SERIOUSLY, SHOULD I REALLY BE PLAYING THIS AWARD?
We may never get to see a Marvel vs. DC game, and the closest we’ll perhaps ever get to playing one is in Fortnite, Epic Games’ seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Last year, it one-upped Marvel’s Avengers by having more, and frankly better looking, character models than Square Enix’s own live-service game. As the year closes, it not only has a full roster of Avengers, X-Men, and Justice League alum, but also Spider-Man, complete with his own set of swinging mechanics. Say what you will about Fortnite, but it rapidly has become a comic book lovers dream come true.
THE CAN’T STOP STEPPING ON RAKES AWARD
WINNER: Marvel’s Avengers
There’s nothing more I would’ve loved than to have given Marvel’s Avengers an award for “Most Improved game”, and while it’s in far better shape than this time last year, it always seems like it’s one step forward, two steps backwards. The next-generation release has helped speed up load times significantly, and a lot of work has been done in cleaning up its cumbersome menus. Characters like Kate Bishop, Hawkeye, and Black Panther have also become welcome new additions.
But with every positive headline, Square Enix can’t seem to stop themselves from stepping on a rake. Whether that’s adding in consumable enhancements you could buy with real money when they said they wouldn’t – though this has thankfully been removed – or continuously calling the game a failure to the public, it just comes across as something they would rather wash their hands of.
Even Spider-Man, who finally was added to the PlayStation version after many delays, didn’t generate the enthusiasm they thought it would, arriving with no story missions to further the ongoing Marvel’s Avengers narrative. Beyond rumors, it’s hard to say what the future holds for Marvel’s Avengers, but maybe it’s time to move on.
THE BEST SWAG AWARD
WINNER: Limited Run Games
Turok and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil finally made their way to the PlayStation ecosystem this year, and like it was for the Switch versions, Limited Run Games partnered with developed Nightdive Studios on physical releases. Not only did they have editions that came in mock N64 boxes, complete with paperweight replicas reminiscent of that system’s carts, but Limited Run also produced hats, t-shirts, and best of all: pogs. With how focused both the players and the industry at large have become in pushing new releases above all else, it’s great to see companies like Limited Run and Nightdive preserving the past in more ways than one.
THE STILL WAITING AWARD
WINNER: Shadow Man Remastered
Alongside a new volume of the comic from Valiant, Nightdive released Shadow Man Remastered in April of 2021. The kicker? It only arrived on PC. When the project was announced, Nightdive promised versions for consoles, but as of this writing, we still don’t know when they’re coming. The studio has been busy as of late, not only getting the Turok games running on PS4 and 5, but also with high profile releases like a remaster of the classic 90s first-person shooter, Quake. For those with a gaming PC, this has been a non-issue, but for anyone who strictly plays on consoles, all they can do is patiently wait for their opportunity to return to Deadside. From the buzz surrounding the PC release, it sounds like it will be worth the wait.
THE STILL NOT EXACTLY WORTH IT AWARD
WINNER: Next-generation consoles
Due to the effects of the pandemic, the components needed to make many electronics are in short supply. Because of this, you’re still not able to walk into a Wal-Mart and stroll out with a PlayStation 5. Though the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles have each received high profile releases that are locked to that specific hardware, no one should feel truly disappointed that they can’t get their hands on the shiny new hotness. Unlike the second years of hardware like the PS2, PS3 and Xbox 360, many titles are still being released and tuned for systems that are now over eight years old. Sure, games run better and load faster on machines like the PlayStation 5, but provided you’re patient enough, what you have resting below your TV should do you just fine even as we head into 2022.
THE BETER THAN IT HAS ANY RIGHT TO BE AWARD
WINNER: DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power
Does anyone remember that Nintendo both announced and published a DC Comics game this year? No would blame you if you didn’t, as Nintendo did little to market their title based on the popular animated series starring some of DC Comics biggest characters. DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power is not for those who scoff at anything that doesn’t have a Souls level of challenge, however it’s far more than a throwaway kids game you can knock out in a weekend either and features some killer unlockable outfits for its cast. Plus, it’s always great to see the women of any comic book publisher get starring roles too.
WINNER: Wonder Woman
So few game announcements get to surprise audiences nowadays as their existence is normally leaked from a trademark filled in a foreign country or Wal-Mart Canada. That’s why it was genuinely shocking to see the reveal of Wonder Woman, developed by Monolith Productions, at this year’s Game Awards. What was shown was little, but just knowing that Wonder Woman is not only finally getting her own game, but one with some talent and budget put behind it is cause for through the roof excitement.
RUNNERS-UP: TIE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge and Marvel’s Wolverine
It was a given that Insomniac Games was working on a new Spider-Man outing given the success of their previous titles, but to find out they were also expanding their Marvel portfolio with Wolverine this year was pure insanity. It’s been too long since the X-Men in any capacity have had their own console game, and like Wonder Woman, the frothing desire for Marvel’s Wolverine is palpable.
Similarly, everyone across the industry, from fans to developers, took time out of their day to express their love for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge when its debut trailer launched early in the year. A lovingly created throwback to the Konami titles of the 90s with the visual style to boot, this one can’t come soon enough.
WINNER: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge
The worst thing that can be said about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is that it’s disappointing we can’t play it right now. From what has been shown of the retro flared brawler from Tribute Games and Dotemu, it will be worth the wait whenever it eventually drops in 2022. While the Turtles haven’t stayed out of the video game spotlight for too long, none of their digital adventures have captured the same level of joy as their early titles in the 8 and 16-bit era. Shredder’s Revenge looks like its setting out to do just that.
REMAKE/REMASTER OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Shadow Man Remastered
When people think of comic book games released by Acclaim on the Nintendo 64, largely they’ll recall fond memories of blasting dinosaurs and aliens in the Turok series. Released in 1999, Shadow Man was a 3-D answer to games like Nintendo’s Metroid years before they would move that franchise into that dimension. It also happened to quite mature, and soaked in a macabre atmosphere on a console known for platformers starring cartoon characters. Not only did Nightdive Studios lovingly remaster Shadow Man this year, they also went back and finished areas cut from the original release, making their version the definitive one. Hopefully console players will be able to get their hands on this soon, as right now it’s only on PC.
PUBLISHER OF THE YEAR
The only thing holding Arcade1up back from being one of the truly great retro game publishers is that their output is not for the financially insecure or those with limited space. Just this year alone, Arcade1up not only introduced cabinets of various forms and sizes that play the likes of X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes, but also Konami’s X-Men and Data East’s Captain America and the Avengers. Shockingly, they also managed to resuscitate the barely known fighter Avengers in Galactic Storm. With an insatiable hunger for the return of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, it would be great if that was added to their portfolio in the future. If they can rerelease Galactic Storm, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.
DEVELOPER OF THE YEAR
Legacy video game franchises are continuously being remade to either be enjoyed by longtime fans or become an entry point to a new audience. We’re facing the harsh reality that the video game industry itself is long overdue for this treatment. Between horror stories of crunch and overtime to the stories of rampant abuse from publishers like Ubisoft and Activision, we as players need to start caring more about the people who make our games and less about shiny new releases and trailers.
Eidos-Montréal wins Developer of the Year not just for producing the excellent Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy, but also for treating their staff with dignity and respect. This year the Canadian developer shifted to a four day work week, and social media stories upon the release of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy were filled with testimonials of staff no longer at the studio still getting credited for their hard work on the game. Not only that, there were instances of people getting recognition for a role above the one they were hired for. It was also nice to see the writers and artists who worked on the Guardians of the Galaxy comics for the game’s bonus outfits get their due.
Radical change is needed in the video game industry, and right now there’s no better example to follow than Eidos-Montréal.
GAME OF THE YEAR
WINNER: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
The existence of a Guardians of the Galaxy game has been one of the worst kept secrets over the past couple of years, but no one could’ve foresaw exactly how spectacular the finished product would be. It succeeds on so many levels that it’s not just the best game inspired by a comic book property in 2021, but also among the best released across the entire industry.
Video games as of late are becoming needlessly bloated, filled with expansive vistas that, by and large, serve little purpose than to be peppered with mundane activities to give the illusion of value. Cumbersome skill trees and the tedious collection of crafting materials and other currencies test the patience of all but the most dedicated. Whereas costumes were once things you could earn by playing, it’s becoming the norm to now lock them behind pay walls and pre-order bonuses.
For a game based on a license owned by one of the biggest corporations in the world, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is almost punk rock in how it bucks the trend of modern AAA games. Its linear with maps that are big, but not so large that they become tedious slogs to navigate. What upgrades you can unlock are easy enough to be understood by players of all skill levels, and alternate outfits are rewarded for those who wish to tread off the beaten path to find them.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is simply what all modern games should aspire to be, near flawlessly blending fun, easy to understand shooting mechanics, well crafted dialogue, and a story that works for all audiences. Even how the team functions as support players is easily understood in the context of a single-player game. That’s due largely to how the developers at Eidos-Montréal smartly rolls out these abilities as to not overwhelm the player.
Whether you’ve loved these characters in comics for decades, only heard of them once they hit the big screen, or just don’t understand the Marvel hype, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy‘s cast will easily win you over due to wonderful performances from the actors bringing these characters to life. It would not be bold to even say that this could be one of the best takes on the team ever brought into existence. The roller coaster of emotions while playing can have you uproariously laughing one moment, then crying the next and it all feels earned.
This game is for everyone, and not just because of how easy it is to learn and fall in love with, but also because of its exhaustive accessibility options. This goes beyond mere difficulty adjustments, as there are menus upon menus of adjustments that can be made so just about everyone can enjoy this game. It’s frankly what all modern games should have moving forward, and there’s simply no excuse for all studios to not implement this level of accessibility after what Eidos-Montréal has built here.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is on every device that can play games – though you might want to try the free demo if the Nintendo Switch is your only option – and is a title that’s not to be missed. It easily stands toe-to-toe with its fellow “Marvel’s” brethren, including the recent Spider-Man outings from Insomniac. Though it’s filled with alien worlds and species, Star-Lord and his band of misfits are among the most relatable, and lovable, characters in the entire video game landscape in 2021.