Last week during The Game Awards, viewers were excited to see the reveal of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, the long dormant Marvel Comics action-RPG series that hasn’t seen a new installment since 2009’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. What was most surprising about the announcement of MUA3 though is that it’s not a multiplatform title like the first two entries, but rather a Nintendo published Switch exclusive developed by Team Ninja (Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive, Metroid: Other M), marking the first time Nintendo has made a game based off a property with its roots in comics since Popeye way back in the early ’80’s. While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 will be the first Marvel video game published by Nintendo, their consoles have been home to exclusive Marvel games going all the way back to the NES, whether that’s games only appearing on a Nintendo platform or multiplatform games that have unique versions exclusive to Nintendo machines.
Nearly every Marvel video game that appeared on the NES came from maligned publisher LJN, most of which only appeared on Nintendo hardware like the decent side-scrolling action game Wolverine, the atrociously bad top-down co-op game The Uncanny X-Men and the best of the bunch, The Punisher, a unique rail-shooter that has some strategy involved in that you can move your character to avoid fire like the arcade game, Dynamite Duke.
For the non-LJN Marvel exclusive NES games there was the tough as nails – and not in a good way – shooter Silver Surfer that’s only redeeming quality is its stellar soundtrack. Data East put out a version of their game Captain America and The Avengers as well that is unlike any other version of that game. The arcade game, which would go on to be ported to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, was a side-scrolling brawler where you could play as four characters: Captain America, Iron Man, Vision and Hawkeye. The NES game reduces the roster to two: Captain America and Hawkeye, and is instead a side-scrolling action game with lite-RPG elements where collecting items from fallen enemies increases each character’s health and attack power. Captain America and The Avengers on the NES is an okay title that would be a lost classic if not for its repeated level designs and limited soundtrack that will make you turn down the volume pretty quickly given the amount of grinding you have to do early on for both characters.
The Game Boy’s Marvel claim to fame is that the handheld is home to the first ever trilogy of Spider-Man video games, the first of which, 1990’s The Amazing Spider-Man, was developed by Rare. The other two: Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3: Invasion of the Spider Slayers were terrible follow-ups handled by Bits Studio who also handled Spider-Man’s debut on the NES. Spider-Man would also cameo in The Punisher: The Ultimate Payback, a poor conversion of the NES title that loses that game’s unique mechanic where you can see The Punisher on the screen and is unfairly difficult.
Though a lot of its DNA is taken from the console game, the Game Boy port of Spider-Man and X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge is unique to that platform in that it has fewer stages than even the Game Gear version. In all other version of the game, the player is required to complete two stages with each of the playable characters: Spider-Man, Cyclops, Gambit, Storm and Wolverine however the Game Boy port only requires you to complete a single stage for each.
Nintendo’s second dedicated home console would see Capcom take on the Marvel license in two of the best 16-bit superhero games: X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse and its spiritual sequel, Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Games, the latter of which has a plot that is partially inspired by The Infinity Gauntlet storyline. Both are a mash-up of Capcom’s Mega Man and Street Fighter series where the player can choose the path they wish to go through via a stage select, playing characters like Wolverine, Cyclops, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man and Spider-Man, each of which have moves that are activated via motions ripped straight out of Street Fighter II.
1995’s Spider-Man, or Spider-Man: The Animated Series, released on the SNES as well as Sega Genesis, and while they share similar level themes and bosses, each version is wholly independent from the other. Both open in Empire State University, but each game’s level layout is different and things diverge as early as level two with the Genesis game’s follow-up being Coney Island which doesn’t appear until level four in the SNES game. Villains like The Wrecking Crew also don’t appear in the SNES version.
This was also the case for Wolverine: Adamantium Rage, the second solo Wolverine outing also from LJN. It came to both the Genesis and SNES, however unlike Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Adamantium Rage shared only a name in common on both platforms as each version came from different development teams and have unique level designs and mechanics. Unfortunately neither are worth playing no matter what console you own or preferred, however the SNES game is a tad easier but can still be skipped.
The most interesting 16-bit Nintendo exclusive Marvel game is one that never left Japan. Exclusive to the Super Famicom, The Amazing Spider-Man: Lethal Foes developed and published by Japanese toy company Epoch is one of the better interpretations of Spider-Man in the 16-bit generation with some excellent sprite work and animations. The game itself is just okay though as it’s plagued by poor collision detection during boss fights and uninteresting level design. If you’re a Spider-Man fan though, it’s worth checking out anyway you can despite its faults, whether that’s by tracking down the actual cart or by commissioning a reproduction cart.
GAME BOY COLOR
The Nintendo 64 would be home to exactly one Marvel video game, a port of Neversoft’s Spider-Man, which would get a conversion to the Game Boy Color by Vicarious Visions. Because of the hardware it was developed for, Spider-Man on the Game Boy Color couldn’t be 3-D, however it has an interesting design in that it’s an open-world, 2-D side-scroller where there’s no levels and you’re free to swing around and explore a small world made up of interconnected areas like New York City, the docks, and a sewer maze. It features a similar plot to the console game with Doc Ock trying to harness the power of the symbiote race, the Klyntar, but it features two exclusive bosses: The Lizard, who only makes a cameo in the console game to guide you through a maze, and Hobgoblin.
Neversoft’s Spider-Man would get a PlayStation exclusive sequel, but months before it was released the Game Boy Color would get one too: Spider-Man 2: The Sinister Six. Developed by Torus Games but using the same engine as Vicarious Visions’ original, its plot takes inspiration from the first appearance of The Sinister Six in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man’s first ever annual and is a level-by-level game where you explore a level and then conclude it with a fight with a member of The Six: Vulture, Mysterio, Sandman, Scorpion, Kraven the Hunter and eventually, Doctor Octopus.
The Game Boy Color arrived at the start of Marvel’s foray into feature films with the likes of Blade and X-Men with both franchises getting their very own Game Boy Color games. Blade is a hybrid Double Dragon beat-em-up with shooting levels thrown in to break up the pace and was developed by HAL Laboratory – the studio that brought us the Kirby games – who would also craft an exclusive X-Men side-scroller: X-Men: Mutant Wars.
The PlayStation fighter X-Men: Mutant Academy would not see an N64 port like Neversoft’s debut Spider-Man game, however a paired down version would come to the Game Boy Color courtesy of Crawfish Interactive who also brought Street Fighter Alpha to the handheld. Mutant Academy on the Game Boy Color would even get two exclusive characters in the form of Pyro and Apocalypse who were absent from the PlayStation original. Like it was with the NES and SNES, the Game Boy Color would also get its own solo Wolverine game, X-Men: Wolverine’s Rage, a middle-of-the road side-scrolling action adventure.
In the year that Blade debuted in theatres, another comic book film arrived in theaters that many didn’t even know was based on a comic book at all: Men in Black. Originally published by Malibu Comics, the property was absorbed into Marvel when they purchased the company in 1994. The Men in Black would star in a pair of Game Boy Color side-scrollers from developer Crave Entertainment inspired by the animated series. The first was not that great and launched close to the launch of the Game Boy Color, however the sequel, Men in Black 2: The Series, is still one of the better games based on the franchise.
GAME BOY ADVANCE
The real successor to the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance, finally arrived in 2001, and shortly after its launch in North America in the summer of that year were two Marvel games from Activision: Spider-Man: Mysterio’s Menace, a 2-D side-scroller from Vicarious Visions that expands upon their debut Game Boy Color game and features a stage select as opposed to an open-area to explore and X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse, a brawler that poorly tries to emulate the classic arcade brawler from Konami.
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man films would each get companion games of their console counterparts released for the Game Boy Advance, the first two of which would try to push the hardware into limited 3-D. Each were developed by Digital Eclipse and were once again 2-D action side-scrollers, however the first game would feature a pseudo 3-D portion featuring Spider-Man swinging around the New York skyline. The sequel would build upon this even further with between level segments requiring you to explore a fully 3-D New York City. It didn’t look the best nor did it control particularly well, but it was impressive to see what Digital Eclipse could do with the handheld nonetheless. The final movie game, 2007’s Spider-Man 3, would see Vicarious Visions return and would be the best of the trio however its ambitions were far less greater as the game was content to simply be a linear, 2-D action game.
2007 was a late time to be releasing dedicated games for the Game Boy Advance, but it didn’t stop 2K Games from joining Activision by releasing Ghost Rider, a 2-D action brawler released around the time of the Nicolas Cage film that mixes in elements of EA’s Road Rash series where you fight enemies on the title character’s Hell Cycle. What’s most disappointing about this game is that the character’s weapon, a chain whip, lends itself to a Castlevania ripoff, however the whip here is mostly useless with your fists being your best way to take care of enemies.
Between the second and third Spider-Man movies, Activision kept their line of games going with Ultimate Spider-Man, a game set in the Ultimate Universe that debuted at the start of the century that reimagined Marvel’s characters for a new generation. Ultimate Spider-Man was an open-world game on consoles like Spider-Man 2 (2004) where the player could use both Spider-Man and Venom. Unlike Venom’s other video game appearances, he played far different from Spider-Man: he couldn’t swing on webs for example with his locomotion handled by building clearing leaps. Venom in the Ultimate Universe also had to consume fresh DNA in order to survive, which in the video game translated to you consuming enemies.
Ultimate Spider-Man would make its way to the Game Boy Advance, again from Vicarious Visions, and it too would be a side-scroller but like the console game, you could use Venom who still needed to “absorb” people to keep from dying. It follows a similar plot to the console game, but it loses most of the bosses in favor of a far more lean story.
Ultimate Spider-Man wouldn’t see a sequel on consoles, though it would get one sort of on handhelds. 2006’s Spider-Man: Battle for New York released on both the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS and is a poor man’s Ultimate Spider-Man on both machines. It looks the same graphically on both devices, however it feels far worse with hits barely touching enemies which is incredibly annoying. The DS also has tacked on touch-screen mini-games that drive up the frustration factor even more. Battle for New York’s hook was that the player could use Ultimate Green Goblin, who unlike his original counterpart was a hulking green monster who could hurl fireballs.
Activision’s Marvel output largely was games based on Spider-Man and the X-Men, however the Game Boy Advance saw the first and only Iron Man game from the publisher. The Invincible Iron Man is a short, but great, side-scroller that can best be described as Mega Iron Man and is easily one of, if not the beat game with Iron Man in the title.
Activision’s largest expansion with the Marvel license was with the universe crossover game, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, an action-RPG and successor to their X-Men Legends series developed by Raven Software. It arrived in 2006 when the Nintendo DS was out, however it skipped that handheld in favor of a handheld tie-in for the then five year old Game Boy Advance. It features nowhere near the expansive roster of the game on any platform, and is easily the worst Marvel Ultimate Alliance game. For more on the game, watch this review from Diego Rivera:
Marvel movies became big business in the early ’00’-s with every studio buying up rights to characters. More Marvel movies meant a pile of tie-in software, such as 2003’s Daredevil, the first and only solo outing for the character that tied into the film of the same name. It was supposed to arrive with a console game for the PlayStation 2 from the same publisher, Encore Games, however development troubles eventually led the game to be cancelled. The Men in Black would return with one final game, Men in Black: The Series, weirdly titled in that it was the third game in the series and is not only one of the worst MIB titles, but of the bottom tier games on the Game Boy Advance’s entire library.
2003 saw two other Marvel movies arrive during the summer: X2: X-Men United and Hulk, both of which would get odd tie-in games. X2 released along with X2: Wolverine’s Revenge on consoles and Game Boy Advance but neither game were set in the X-Men movie universe. The console game arrived on Nintendo’s GameCube, but it was the same as on other consoles on PC. The Game Boy Advance game on the other hand, was a solid 2-D action side-scroller once again from Vicarious Visions with some terrific boss encounters and level design, so much so that it feels like a lost 16-bit game. Hulk on consoles was a pseudo-sequel to the film it was based on, however the Game Boy Advance game was inspired by the comics, going by the name The Incredible Hulk and was an isometric action game taking place shortly after the explosion that brings out the Hulk in Bruce Banner.
The final X-Men game for the Game Boy Advance is one of the more disappointing as it hails from WayForward who normally turn out solid games, licensed product or otherwise. Their take on the confusingly titled X-Men: The Official Game, set before the events of X-Men 3: The Last Stand, looks great, but its controls leave a lot to be desired as like in Battle for New York, your hits barely register when fighting enemies. What’s probably most notable about this game is that it marked the video game debut of X-23, a female clone of Wolverine who would eventually take on that mantle.
Another isometric perspective Game Boy Advance title arrived two years later alongside Fox’s first Fantastic Four film where players could freely swap between all members of the team at any time. Later that year a side-scroller was released only on the Game Boy Advance titled Fantastic Four: Flame On, developed by Torus Games who handled The Invincible Iron Man and feels very much like that game. It’s set in the same universe as the film with skiing and motocross mini-games being present expanding on brief parts seen in the film. It deviates from the film greatly however, featuring characters like the Skrulls and even Galactus.
Nintendo’s first dual-screen handheld didn’t have much in the way of exclusive Marvel titles like other consoles, however the unique two-screen, touch-screen interface led to some very creative comic book games. A character that really shined for the most part on the DS was Spider-Man, especially in games like Spider-Man: Web of Shadows and Shattered Dimensions, both developed by Griptonite Games that marked the debut of the first ever Spider-Man Metroidvania’s. The game that would launch around Spider-Man 3 for the handheld would also be the best version of that game, due in large part to its innovative controls, derived from the DS version of Ultimate Spider-Man.
Like in every other version of the game, Ultimate Spider-Man on the DS allowed the player to use both Spider-Man and Venom, however unique to the DS is an interesting way to control Venom. Should the player wish, they can perform all of his actions save movement and jumping with gestures on the touch-screen. You can swipe with his claw, pick up and throw objects and grab enemies to consume them with swipes, taps, and holds on the lower screen. They’re not as precise as simply using the face buttons, however it helped the DS game stand out on hardware far less powerful than the console game.
Where these controls were expanded upon greatly was in Spider-Man 3 (2007). Here, unlike Ultimate Spider-Man, you have to use the touch screen for every action save moving, jumping and web-swinging. A brief tutorial at the start of the game gets you accustomed to this, and it’s not long before you’re able to grab enemies, pull them towards you and follow-up with an attack. Everywhere else, except maybe the Game Boy Advance, Spider-Man 3 (2007) was a disappointment coming off of Spider-Man 2 (2004), however the DS is clearly the best game to launch alongside the film.
That’s not to say that Spider-Man didn’t star in some duds on the DS. Spider-Man 2 (2004) was a confusing to navigate side-scroller that featured no map to speak of the lower screen and is best avoided. The same goes for Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, a co-op brawler on other devices but a boring action game on the DS with terribly tacked on touch-screen mini-games. Spider-Man: Edge of Time and the last game to star the web-slinger on the device, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), were games that tried to follow in the footsteps of Web of Shadows and Shattered Dimensions but failed due to ugly graphics and poor map design.
Other heroes to suffer poor transitions to the DS are the Fantastic Four in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a boring, short tie-in to the film of the same name where you fight villains like Doctor Doom by playing Pong. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is also of the worst Wolverine games, though at the very least you can swap out the designs for the characters as they appear in the film with their comic book outfits and the DS makes the “snikt” sound when you close it.
Wolverine fared far better in the DS version of X-Men: The Official Game, where you had to swap between him, Iceman and Magneto who you all move with the directional pad but attack with the touch-screen. It works really well, and it drives home the team aspect of the franchise as you have to use certain characters’ abilities to take out enemies. Unfortunately the X-Men didn’t close out their time on the DS well in X-Men Destiny, a boring bland looking game from the makers of Spider-Man: Edge of Time but was exclusive to the DS nonetheless.
The Nintendo DS’s life cycle went hand in hand with the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it was home to many companion titles to console games published by Sega, a few of which found better homes on the DS. Iron Man for example was a brief, but highly enjoyable mixture of the character with a twin-stick shooter like Geometry Wars where you controlled the character with the directional pad and aimed with the touch-screen. Iron Man 2, while a 2-D action game, used a form of this too in how you controlled the secondary character: War Machine. You moved him exactly as you did Iron Man in his first DS outing and War Machine steals the show with how much more fun he is to control.
Captain America and Hulk fared the worst compared to their phase one brethren, starring in some mediocre, forgettable side-scrollers, but the same couldn’t be said of Thor. Thor: God of Thunder, like Spider-man 3 (2007), is the best version among the three unique variants and is a gorgeous looking 2-D action side-scroller from WayForward. The game can get repetitive at times, but the level-to-level action is broken up by some very challenging bosses that at times exist on both screens.
The Avengers never teamed up in a DS game like they eventually did on the big-screen, however there were a few unique Marvel mashups to be had like Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. MUA2 is closer to its console counterpart than its Game Boy Advance cousin, however the DS really struggles to have four playable heroes on screen at once with the heroes you’re not in control of often finding themselves running into walls or into enemy attacks. The rest of the DS Marvel team-up games came in the form of more family friendly outings in the Marvel Super Hero Squad, a side-scroller based off of the cartoon show and its sequel, The Infinity Gauntlet, which was far more enjoyable as you had to use your team of available heroes to solve simple puzzles and would also be ported to the 3DS. Both Squad games are far more recommendable than Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, the only Marvel fighter game on the DS that also manages to be the worst Marvel fighter on the DS.
The only real Nintendo Wii exclusive Marvel game was only released in the PAL region with others either coming to competitor platforms or Nintendo’s own 3DS. Marvel Super Heroes 3D: Grandmaster’s Challenge was a board game style title where you could play as characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man with its selling feature being red-and-blue 3-D glasses with character specific flourishes like Spider-Man and Captain America’s mask that came packaged with the game.
The only other Wii exclusive Marvel software came in the form of Thor: God of Thunder, a pretty good overall character action game where it’s admittedly quite fun to wave the remote and pretend you’re using Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, Captain America: Super Soldier, a game with a odd art-style but saved by point-and-shoot controls for Captain America’s shield and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), a game that uses assets from the game on other consoles but eliminates the open-world and replaces it with a series of levels. All three would come to the 3DS where motion controls were replaced with buttons and touch-screen commands with only Captain America: Super Soldier suffering in the transition as the way its shield handles is far less intuitive than the Wii game.
Zen Studios’ catalog of Marvel pinball tables would be sold in an interesting package on the Nintendo 3DS that would mark the first ever Nintendo exclusive Marvel downloadable title. Marvel Pinball 3D includes tables based on Iron Man, Blade and the Fantastic Four and all are playable in the system’s built in 3-D.
In 2014, Disney released the animated film Big Hero 6 based on the Marvel superhero team. Alongside the movie, GameMill Entertainment released Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay, an average, run-of-the-mill side-scroller that as of this writing is the only dedicated console or handheld game to feature the team. A version also came out for the original DS.
The 3DS would join the Super Famicom and the Wii as devices that would have exclusive Marvel games locked to a specific territory. Marvel Disk Wars Avengers – Ultimate Heroes based on the anime would release in Japan from Bandai Namco and is a simple arena battle game where you play as stylized versions of characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Wasp and Spider-Man.
NINTENDO Wii U
The Wii U’s sole exclusive Marvel video game wasn’t a few years ago, but now due to expired licensing rights it is and is a must buy if you have the hardware. In 2012, Activision released The Amazing Spider-Man to launch alongside the film of the same name and it featured post-launch DLC such as mini-games where you played as The Rhino and The Lizard as well as a mode where you controlled the late Stan Lee complete with spider powers in a quest to recover pages from his lost manuscript. Because Activision lost the rights to the Spider-Man character, that content is no longer available for purchase on digital store fronts if you hadn’t bought it prior to it getting taken down.
Early in 2013, Activision released The Amazing Spider-Man on Wii U and dubbed it the “Ultimate Edition” as it has all of the game’s DLC on its disc. Save the Stan Lee add-on content, you’re not missing out on not being able to buy The Amazing Spider-Man’s DLC, but for those who want the whole package, right now that’s only available on the Wii U game.
What are some of your favorite Marvel games that have appeared on Nintendo consoles? We’d love to hear your picks in our social media channels!