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Top 3 Comic Book Games (Top 3 Tuesday)

Welcome, readers one and all, to the newest entry in Top 3 Tuesday! Today MichaelBtheGameGenie wants to know your thoughts on your three favorite games based on comic books (and you better get over there and watch his video before you start my article). Now I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that none of the games I picked are on his list, or any other video responses as of this writing. With that in mind, and an understanding that I’m going to use a very liberal definition of just what constitutes a ‘comic’, let’s run down my list together, shall we? PROTIP: The text-based video response can be viewed in full-screen mode by pressing F11! Click on the game titles to see video of the game in action.

3) Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon (SNES/MegaDrive)

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that pretty much everybody’s response to this topic will  involve a crap-ton of beat ’em ups and one-on-one fighting games. They seem to be the go-to point for game developers who get a comic license dumped in their laps, and it’s little wonder. We’ve long since perfected the formula for making a game in this category, and Konami and Capcom have proved that comic properties ranging from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons to Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and The X-Men generate metric butt-tons of money when (ab)used in this fashion. Basically if you find an excuse to get your characters throwing punches, the games write themselves. It should surprise no one that Bandai produced a Sailor Moon re-skin of Final Fight for the arcade when they got their hands on the property. What surprised me was how much fun I had playing the home version.

Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon gives one or two players control over one of five Sailor Senshi, each of whom has a different outfit, attack style, special moves, and element.

“Player Select” (c)

Left to right on the character select screen, you have:

  • Sailor Mercury (Water) – A fast-moving, close-range fighter whose attacks do little damage by themselves but can chain into longer combos than anyone else.
  • Sailor Jupiter (Lightning) – The brawler with the shortest combos and largest damage output of the team. She’s the one you want going toe-to-toe with the bosses.
  • Sailor Moon (Moon) – The ‘average’ fighter against whom the others are judged. She’s OK at everything, but every other scout outclasses her in one or two specific area.
  • Sailor Venus (Love) – Venus, wielding a long chain, has the best range of all the scouts. Between her ability to smack people at a distance and a three-hit takedown combo, she’s excellent for crowd control.
  • Sailor Mars (Fire) – When it comes to special attacks, nobody tops Mars, who charges her ability faster than any other scout. She’s also got decent range with her kick-based melee attacks.

The game works due to its simplicity, and it spawned a massive number of sequels across the Mega Drive, Game Boy, and Super Famicom. Sure it’s in Japanese, but how much of the story do you need to comprehend in order to enjoy walking to the right, killing everything in your path? While I’m aware the music and artwork are clearly inspired by the anime, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon was a manga before it was an animated series, and in my mind, that makes this entry perfectly legit. In the name of the Moon, you should go play this, like, right after you finish reading.

2) Snoopy vs. The Red Baron (PS2/PC/PSP)

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron

The first time Snoopy crossed paths with his nemesis in video game format was Snoopy and the Red Baron from 1983 on the Atari 2600, and while it’s a simple game I have to give it props for being amusing and enjoyable despite that simplicity. In typical 2600 format, no matter how good you flew or how many rounds you fired, the Baron always downed you in the end, leaving you to wave your fist at the television and vow revenge. Twenty-three years later, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang joined forces to ground the Red Baron for good with Snoopy vs. the Red Baron, and it…kicks…butt! Imagine a cross between the controls of a flight simulator, the open world, mission-based aspect of Grand Theft Auto, and the combat stylings of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and you’ll see what developer Smart Bomb Interactive was going for. Insane as it sounds, it totally works.

While the gameplay itself is rendered in a fully-polygonal 3D fashion, all of the 2D artwork (including the sprites on the title screen) look ripped straight from the original pen-and-ink drawings of Charles Schultz himself.

Dogfight! (c)

The plot, if you suffered brain trauma in the last five minutes, involves Snoopy’s desire to send that familiar Fokker tri-plane into the dirt. To do so, he’ll get help from all the neighborhood kids. Marcie is the flight school instructor who trains you to maneuver your doghouse (later your Sopwith Camel), Lucy’s the General who delivers your mission orders, Pigpen’s the depot engineer who sells upgrades for your plane, Woodstock takes his position as a tail gunner in some levels, and so forth. It’s all delightfully silly as the entire neighborhood gets behind the World War I flying ace’s quest, and if you get bored of the single-player campaign there’s always Dogfight Mode where you go head-to-head against other members of the Peanuts gallery (sorry!) using machine guns, rockets, water balloons, and anything else you can get your paws on to claim aerial superiority. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s a phenomenal bang for your gaming buck if you like Peanuts, flight sims, or re-engaging your inner child. Newspaper cartoons are comics, dang it, and I’m sticking to my guns on this: Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is terrific.

1) Justice League Heroes (PS2/Xbox)

Justice League Heroes

Do you have any idea how long I waited for a good Superman game? No, you don’t, because you have no idea how much of a massive Superman nerd I am. I count Richard Donner’s original Superman: The Movie as my favorite film of all time. I grew up reading the comics. The Big 4-0 encroaches closer with each passing second that I work on this article, and I’m still reading Superman stories. One thing I wanted for so very, very long, dear readers, was a game that let me play as Superman that didn’t flat-out suck Kryptonite. I’ve tried darn near every last one of them, and always walked away disappointed. From Superman on the Atari 2600 on up through the reasonably competent arcade game, from the degenerate trash which clogged the Nintendo 64’s library on through Blizzard’s own Death and Return of Superman on the 16-bit systems, I will never stop giving the Man of Steel’s every outing an opportunity. Sometimes, as with Superman: Shadow of Apokolips, I very nearly find what I’m looking for. Then Snowblind Studios (the guys behind Baldur’s Gate: Dark AllianceChampions of Norrath, and its sequel, Champions: Return to Arms) comes along and delivers Justice League Heroes in 2006, a sort of action/RPG take on the DC universe, and suddenly I want to sing and cry at the same time. This is the Superman game I’ve always wanted, and the only downside is that it’s called ‘Justice League Heroes’, which means I have to play as somebody else sometimes.

Superman and Batman (c)

Justice League Heroes is as close to a DC-themed Marvel Ultimate Alliance or X-Men Legends game we’ve seen so far. It features an all-star cast of A-listers from the DC universe: Superman, Batman, John Stewart’s Green Lantern (with Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner as unlockable alternates), Wonder Woman, The Flash, Zatanna (who’s been given a boob job a-la Lara Croft for some reason), and Martian Manhunter for starters, plus a slew of other characters and a bevy of different costumes waiting to be unlocked. Two at a time, either with a friend or the computer AI, you guide your heroes through each level, fighting robots, aliens, clones, and other mook enemies until you face off with a boss villain. These range from B-lister annoyances like The Key and Killer Frost all the way up to the heavies of the DC world like Doomsday and Darkseid. When all’s said and done, you’ll have been to Mars and back, traveled to the Moon, looked down on Earth from the orbiting JLA Watchtower, and set foot on Apokalips itself all courtesy of a story penned by famed Justice League writer Dwayne McDuffie who is, sadly, no longer with us. The voice acting is superb, with Ron Perlman pulling off an impressive, gravelly-voiced Dark Knight and Crispin Freeman rendering the best Superman voice since Christopher Reeve. Yeah, I’m geeking out over this game like mad, and I don’t even care. Justice League Heroes is truly in a league of its own, no pun intended, and the fact I’m still waiting and wishing for a sequel ten years later should give you an idea of just how much love and energy I’ve poured into it over the years. Why can’t I get a Superman-only game like this, you silly game devs? Why, why, why?

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV. If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at (If he didn't make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That'll show him!)

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2 Responses to “Top 3 Comic Book Games (Top 3 Tuesday)”

  1. Captain Algebra says:

    Nice choices! I’ve been wanting to play Snoopy vs. The Red Baron for awhile but haven’t found it yet.

    • Michael Crisman says:

      Thank you, Captain! (Sorry, I didn’t see this comment show up until today). Snoopy vs. the Red Baron is far from perfect, but it’s the perfect way to use the source material and turn out a game people will actually enjoy playing. I hope you find a copy soon!

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