Top Five Comic Book Retro Games

Comics and video games are arguably the newest of art forms. As such, the two have embraced each other and have had a long history together. This relationship has birthed some great things so, without further ado, let’s take a look back at five of the best comic book video games.

5. Asterix (Master System)

While the Master System is no stranger to platformers, Asterix is interesting in that the difficulty of the game changes depending on which character the player plays as. Based upon the hugely successful French comic series of the same name, Asterix follows the mighty Gaul and his friend Obelix as they travel from Gaul to Rome to rescue the kidnapped druid, Getafix.

While the game is by no means difficult – it can be completed in one sitting – it does add a level of tactics that other platformers lack by giving you the choice of playing as either Asterix of Obelix. Both heroes have very different abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Depending on which character is chosen levels can prove to be either a lot more difficult or a lot easier (although some levels are challenging or easy no matter whom you choose). This gives the player something to consider when choosing their hero and, on repeat plays, allows the player to consider what levels may be best for which character. While this may not seem like an amazing game element today, for a simple platformer it makes the game feel a lot deeper than it may at first appear. Add to this some truly great platforming action, charming graphics and some wonderful music and you have yourself one of the best comics-inspired games to appear on the Master System.

Link: View Asterix in the RetroCollect Rarity Guide & Release List Game Database

4. Dick Tracy (Mega Drive, Master System)

Some people give Dick Tracy a hard time. They feel it moves too slowly, that the combat is boring and the graphics are dull. While some of those arguments may have good foundations (the backgrounds are a bit boring) I’ve always felt it was a great game. Although the game follows the story of the 1990 film it has more in common with the original 1931 strip by Chester Gould.

Capturing the feel of the comic strip wonderfully, the big, bold character sprites feel like they were illustrated by Gould himself. The game retains the raw violence that the strip became known for with gun battles – which take place across two screen planes, fore and background –  that can become quite hectic, especially in later stages. Stages which see Tracy involved in car chases, hanging from the side rail of his police car blasting away at enemies, can be very exciting. It may not be the greatest game ever made, but Dick Tracy creates a wonderful digital adaptation of Chester Gould’s famous strip. It’s well worth sticking with to get to those later levels, however.

Link: View Dick Tracy in the RetroCollect Rarity Guide & Release List Game Database

3. Batman Forever (Mega Drive, SNES)

If Batman Begins was the first Batman film you ever saw, count yourself lucky. This absolutely horrid 1995 film thankfully produced a game that was not only very playable, but gave you full ability to experience all of Batman’s “wonderful toys.” A beat-em-up at heart, Batman Forever gave you an amazing amount of gadgets to play with. These would be activated in-game using various control inputs, many feeling like something you’d see in a fighting game. Indeed, the game’s graphics were quite reminiscent of Mortal Kombat with smooth, detailed animations and models. These gadgets would allow the player to change and adapt their tactics during battle and different combinations would have different effects. This gave players almost limitless options as to how they could tackle combat.

The game gave players the ability to play as either Batman or Robin which, along with all the gadgets, gave the game a decent amount of replayability. There was also a training mode of sorts which would let you fight as any character in the game – including the villains. The game captured the darker mood of Batman’s comic world well (rightly, the developers decided to leave the neon-light world of the films well alone) and having access to all those gadgets really made you feel like you were experiencing what it was like to be the Batman.

Link: View Batman Forever in the RetroCollect Rarity Guide & Release List Game Database

2. Comix Zone (Mega Drive)

While not actually based on a pre-existing comic series or hero, Comix Zone took its inspiration from the medium itself. The game saw players take control of comics artist Sketch Turner who, through some crazy magical craziness, gets sucked into the comic he is drawing. Sketch has to battle all of the villains he created to escape from his four-colour prison, however doing so is no mean feat as the game is flipping hard!

The game uses the setting of a comic page brilliantly. Panels act as small scenes and Sketch navigates through the page by hopping from panel to panel, sometimes just by ripping the gutter (the space between panels) section of the page out so he can walk through.

Fittingly for a comic book game, the graphics are beautiful and the animation smooth. As you take down enemies a giant hand will appear to literally draw in new ones. There can be multiple foes on the screen at once all using some kind of super power and never is there a flicker or slowdown. It really is amazing just how much this title pushes the Mega Drive.The game was released in the late 1990s and captures the spirit of 90s’ comics wonderfully. In the 90s it was all about the anti-hero, hardcore dudes with attitude. Heck, even Superman had a mullet in the 90s. Sketch, with his pet rat, pony tail and hardcore leathers is almost the digital personification of the mood of comic books in the 1990s.

If you’ve never played Comix Zone it’s worth your time to seek it out. As mentioned it’s darn hard so don’t be surprised if level two is the best you can manage. However, even given its difficulty Comix Zone is a game unlike any other and needs to be played by any self-respecting video game, or comics, fan.

Link: View Comix Zone in the RetroCollect Rarity Guide & Release List Game Database

1. Spider-Man (Dreamcast, PC, N64, Playstation, Game Boy Colour, Mac)

Released on nearly every available system of the time, 2000’s Spider-Man laid the groundwork for what would become staples of every Spidey game to come. Capturing wonderfully the spirit of the world’s most famous spider-powered hero, Spider-Man was the first game to truly give the player the freedom to web sling around New York, even if it did appear that Spidey’s webs must be attached to clouds. The game also introduced the now standard web-based moves such as the Web Shield and Web Gauntlets. This was a groundbreaking game for Ol’ Web Head.  

Focusing on an evil plot by Doc Ock to gas the city of New York, Spider-Man saw a whole torrent of Spidey heroes and villains make an appearance in the game. From J. Jonah Jamerson to Daredevil, Black Cat to Scorpion, nearly everyone was in there and those that didn’t actually appear were at least referenced (who could those pumpkin bombs belong to?).

The game saw Spidey swinging all around N.Y. visiting many varied locations from the city’s rooftops to its sewers and warehouses. The game constantly brings up interesting environments that are strewn with little secrets and are well worth exploring using all of your swinging, climbing and wall-crawling abilities. Combat, while simple, is a lot of fun, especially taking on multiple enemies. It’s very satisfying to web up a villain and send him flying into his allies. Boss battles are equally intriguing, often requiring the use of environmental objects or some other tactic to defeat. While the animation and graphics do tend to look a little dated now they still hold a certain charm, especially when coupled with the character that oozes through every pixelated pore of the game’s heroes and villains.

While the game play is solid what really impresses is just how much Spidey love has gone into this game. Released before the first Spider-Man film and thus relying on the comics for its inspiration the game is a real treat for Spider-Man, and Marvel, fans. Not only does the game feature the aforementioned cast, it is narrated by Stan “The Man” Lee, creator of Spider-Man and many of Marvel’s other heroes. It is also possible to unlock dozens of variations to Spider-Man’s costume that have appeared throughout the characters’ history, from well known variants such as the Symbiote/ Venom suite to more obscure costumes like The Amazing Bag Man. Each of these costumes has its own power set making for a good deal of replay value. The game even has comics that can be collected which, once found, will give players the history to key moments in Spider-Man’s publication career.

What the programmers and makers of this game should be most applauded for, however, is the inclusion of the What If? mode. For those who may not know Marvel has long published a series of comics called What If? which would pose questions such as “what if Peter’s uncle Ben had lived” and then present a story to answer that question. In the Spider-Man game the What If? mode changes the game subtly but noticeably in often hilarious ways. For example, during What If? mode one might see Ghost Rider blaze down the side of a building while they navigate New York city. In another instance you might spot a gold fish swimming happily in Mysterios’ gold fish bowl-like helmet during your boss battle with him.

Spider-Man’s What If? mode, along with all the other inclusions, illustrates just how much love the creators of this game have for the source material. Nary is a corner of the Spider-Man world left untouched, or at least nodded toward. While non Spider-Man fans may simply pass these things off as fan service, it is the fact that the programmers went to such lengths to create not only an enjoyable action game but a game that honours the characters’ roots that earns Spider-Man first place.

Link: View Spider-Man in the RetroCollect Rarity Guide & Release List Game Database


Last Updated ( 17 January 2011 )  

Joe Douglas

A lover of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and dusty old video games, Joe is a Sega man through and through. Combining his love of collecting and blue hedgehogs, Joe runs the site SonicCollectors on which he attempts to build a database of Sonic merch. He is tolerated by one cat, two dogs and his girlfriend.

Other recent articles:

Comments 

(Link to this comment) Arcturius 2011-01-17 14:52
Can totally see why you picked that Spider-man game for the top of the list it was a totally top notch game on the DC back in the day and even not being a huge fan of the comics the little hidden bonuses like the comic covers with the little snippets of history attached really made the game complete as they helped to fill in things that you may not have known which in turn added the storyline and character development.

Here the quick links to these games in our database too just in case anyone wants them :)
Asterix:
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-838.html (SMS)
Dick Tracy:
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-4589.html (MD)
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-880.html (SMS)
Batman Forever:
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-4525.html (MD)
Comix Zone:
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-4570.html (MD)
Spider-Man
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-2364.html (DC)
http://www.retrocollect.com/search/game-3499.html (GBC)
(Link to this comment) Emuaust 2011-01-17 19:11
I agree with everything other then Batman Forever, the game is every bit as bad as the movie. Something like Batman Returns on the Mega CD is a far better title IMO.

YAY for Asterix loving!
(Link to this comment) JoeMD 2011-01-17 21:48
Thanks guys, glad you liked the article! ^_^
(Link to this comment) Vivek 2011-01-18 13:06
Out of the list, I have only played the Spider-Man game for the PC couple of years after its release and completed it. But never knew about the What If? mode and now kinda feel stupid for being ignorant about it.

Cool article Joe, your passion for retro gaming has always been quite infectious and will eventually get me back into it.
(Link to this comment) Lord_Santa 2011-01-29 19:10
Asterix seems to be a must-have to me, as well as Comix Zone... the rest of 'em... meh
very interesting article though , even-though I'd include Spy vs. Spy for the Master System, or better yet Amiga (or C-64) in the list

not only do the games capture the feel of the comics, they're also brilliant mulitplayer games
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