As we have been inundated these past few months with comic book adaptations on the big screen I thought it was time to take a look back to some retro interpretations. But not just your typical video game spin offs. We’re talking the classic, corner store, arcade machine awesomeness!
Here’s my personal Top Ten Comic Book Arcade Games:
10. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs
Possibly a lesser known franchise based on a short-run series originally titled ‘Xenozoic Tales’, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs was mostly your run of the mill beat ‘em up. Now I don’t want to point fingers but the similarities with the much more popular Final Fight are too constant to be ignored. Although in this game the girl is not just the damsel-in-distress to be saved, but one of four playable characters. Who said video games were not politically active?
Jumping. Punching. You know the score. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs also had a broad array of weapons to pick up and use which helps to shake up the repetitive punching. There has to be a reason for this game to make it into a top ten though, right? Beating down human bad guys is the usual fun. But as the titles states there are dinosaurs here too; and they are on no-one’s side. When a dinosaur loses its cool (signaled when they change colour) it will attack anyone nearby. Good. Bad. It doesn’t matter. And I must admit a sick and twisted delight watching the dinos chew into my enemies.
9. Captain America & The Avengers
This one breaks my heart. The Avengers is MY comic; the best of the best. So when I found out that there was an arcade game based on them I was like a fat kid, with ADD, after eating the Marshmallow Man… super excited. At least I was until I played the game and found out that it was lacking some serious creative grunt. And thus it is relegated to number 9. One major plus is that up to four players can each take on the mantle of Earth’s Mightiest Super Heroes, and having Hawkeye as a playable character, for me at least, makes up for its many foibles.
The mechanics are pretty crappy and the fighting monotonous. But what gives this one a thumbs up for me is its focus on long range attacks, over fists and feet. No longer stuck as a rare special move you can throw Cap’s shield, let loose Hawkeye’s arrows, beam Vision’s eye lasers and fire up Iron Man’s repulsors. I really got into this kind of fun, along with the mass of flying levels and damn fine cut scenes for its time.
It may be said that I am Marvel biased (and the account would be correct) but that is not the reason for the lack of DC stardom on this chart. You will find a serious lack of DC based arcade gaming in the past compared to a veritable onslaught of Marvel licensing. So here at number 8 is Superman; another punch everything that moves gameplay with the world’s biggest boy scout.
What gives Superman that little twist is the ability to shift between walking on the ground and flying around the screen at will. Fighting at ground level is the usual exercise, but taking to the air presents you with a serious challenge as you discover how hard it is to judge distance across two axes and not run into all the bad guys. I must however admit two gripes. Firstly I still do not understand how Superman the invincible can be hurt by literally EVERYTHING that attacks him (did no one read the comic book before making this game?). And secondly who is the red Superman that the 2nd player controls? I’m confused.
I believe that if you are reading this blog, then you’ll know this game. X-Men was an exercise in extravagance and marketing might. How do you make a game stand out amongst the rest? Easy – give it a double screen so wide that it feels as though you are playing on a Cinemascope screen at the movies; lay out six (that’s right, SIX!) controllers so that the whole gang can multiplay together, and finish it off with a cabinet that literally took up the entire space in the arcade. Insane.
I have many fond memories of being gathered around this technological beast with the huge crowds as everyone jostled to try to get their hands on the Wolverine controls. Nightcrawler was my favourite to play, teleporting around the screen and making robots heads fly off. So after all of the cool factor, how is this game not at number one? Gameplay sucked. Whilst hacking and slashing is fun for a little while, the scenarios never changed and repetition became a major problem. Shame.
Yep, the movie spin off of Tim Burton’s cult classic. It was a given that I was going to play this game. I had seen the film, bought the soundtrack, and collected all of the bubblegum cards. This was also the first time that Batman made it off the home system and into the arcade (let’s all try to forget his next foray with Batman Forever). Side scrolling beat ‘em up with the Caped Crusader at centre stage.
Working his way through the streets of Gotham, Batman follows the films’ storyline toward a final confrontation with the Joker. To mix it up you can track down batarangs and gas grenades to mess with the hordes of hoods. Moving between the lower and upper levels of each screen with the bat-grapple is one my favourite elements of this game, allowing you to choose how to approach the bad guys instead of just waiting for them to swarm you. But if you asked what the best part is I would say driving the Batmobile and flying the Batwing. The vehicle levels are great fun and bloody hard.
Righto, we’ve hit the top 5 and this is where I start to get all tingly. I LOVED the Spider-Man arcade game. It took the regular punching baddies and gave it a mix up of fun and flair. The most obvious pro is the amazing artwork and the slick comic book look of this game. Add to that a roster of less common characters to play, and lots of actually written “Biff”, “Pow” and “Kersplat” and you have a far better game than Captain America & The Avengers which was released the same year.
Not only could you punch and jump, but grab and throw, swing across the screen and attack from afar. There were so many ways to take out the bad guys that I spent most of my time trying to see which looked the coolest and never settled into that monotony that many punch ‘em ups suffer from. All of this was tops, but the best part is yet to come; at certain points in each stage the screen would zoom out and change from a fighting game into a funky platformer, forcing you to change how you were playing and keeping you on your toes. Awesome! I revisit this jewel in the arcade crown quite often on my home machine.
4. Alien Vs Predator
Now we are getting into those upper reaches where I can remember nothing more than pouring jars full of spare change into the arcade machine on long and lazy weekend arvos. There are few combos that are cooler than taking the perfect and terrifying Aliens and pitting them in mortal combat against the tech-savvy and hunt-obsessed Predators. Gore, gore and more gore. Here you get to play as either a Predator or a human Marine. Seriously? Why would you ever choose the Marine?
The Predators stab, slash, slice and uppercut their way through literal throngs of Aliens. Getting cornered? Not a problem. Just blow everyone up with your shoulder canon. I used to travel an hour into the city just to get the chance to play this badboy on a four player chassis instead of the mod-ed two player one down the street. One gripe with the game: I’m not sure why Predators would eat a pizza to replenish health. It seems a little too much like someone else’s treat of choice (see number 2!).
3. Marvel Super Heroes Vs Street Fighter
Now this is definitely the newest of the games on this list, being released only 3 years before the new millenium. I know that there are other iterations of this that many of you out there will scream are better, but for me there was nothing like finally getting the chance to really fight as one of my fave comic book heroes. A platformer or beat ‘em up is fine; a Street Fighter style kick ass tournament is better!
You get to take control of two of your faves (sure if you want to play as a Street Fighter character then go ahead) and pound the life out of Capcom’s ultimate icons. Shoot Spidey’s web, do a Wolverine roll n’ slash, or rip up the ground as Hulk. And if you know the special combo you can call in your team mate to do a crushing secret attack on your opponent. Back in the day I thought Street Fighter was the best. This is Street Fighter plus.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Let’s be honest. I don’t really need to say anything.
Turtles is that one game that EVERYBODY played. We would hang around for hours just to see if whoever was playing could get to the end, either through sheer skill or over sized wallet. And when you finally saw the end sequence… oh, what a feeling! Donatello was my fave and using his bo staff to throw foot soldiers across the screen is a secret thrill for me even to this day.
1. The Punisher
I’m getting ready for the back lash, but hear me out. There is a reason that I have chosen The Punisher as the number one slot on this Top Ten list, above and beyond all other arcade adaptations of comic books and their heroes. My ultimate explanation for my choice is a memory of the local corner store, a paper bag full of cobbers (chocolate covered caramel for anyone not into Aussie lingo), my school bag resting against the cabinet, and my hard earned 20 cent pieces making that delicious clink as they dropped into the machine. Of every game I played, this is the one that I ran to after the 3 o’clock bell chimed. And I could show off my kick-ass skill to those who otherwise made my life a living hell.
No super powers. No aliens. No dinosaurs. No mutants. Just two cool-as dudes wiping the streets clean of crims, thugs and the Kingpins best hoods. Unlike most other of this genre when you got a gun you could really use it and mow the bad guys down across the screen (as opposed to shooting one ineffective shot and then having the gun spin and vanish). I waited for the levels where I could get my hands on the baseball bat and become nigh on invincible for a short period.
This is the game I will be playing long after the arcade machine has faded into cultural history.
So, that’s my Top Ten.
What have I missed, forgotten or overlooked? What atrocities have I committed here? Let me know, below!
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This article was first posted on September 4, 2011