Monday, August 18, 2008

Top 25 Gaming Icons
#1 Ryu (Capcom)
#2 Goro (Midway)
#3 Noob Saibot (Midway)
#4 Dhalsim (Capcom)
#5 Ken Masters (Capcom)
#6 Johnny Cage (Midway)
#7 Sonya Blade (Midway)
#8 Guile (Capcom)
#9 R. Mika (Capcom)
#10 Sagat (Capcom)
#11 Raiden (Midway)
#12 Fei Long (Capcom)
#13 Akuma (Capcom)
#14 Sakura (Capcom)
#15 T. Hawk (Capcom)
#16 Jin Kazama (Namco)
#17 Rose (Capcom)
#18 Chun-Li (Capcom)
#19 Vega (Capcom)
#20 Birdie (Capcom)
#21 Kano (Midway)
#22 Scorpion (Midway)
#23 Liu Kang (Midway)
#24 Balrog (Capcom)
#25 Sodom (Capcom)

Rankings are obviously
based on site statistics,
and not stature or value
to gaming as a whole.
Click links for stat info.
Iconic designs, colourful worlds, trademark attacks:
Superheroes and video games go together like a two-hit
combo! Prepare to be outraged as the Infinite Wars
rattles off the greatest comic book inspired games EVAR!

Longtime readers of the Infinite Wars should know by now, we're no strangers to the land of the interactive!

Our preference for immersive narratives and cinematic FMV cut scenes might be outdated in this era of shoot 'em ups and online gaming; but adoration for the PSX-era hasn't stopped us diving headlong into relevance with the release of Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe!

As part of our recent spate of expanded content on Mondays, we're turning the scope away from franchise favourites like MK and SF to bring it all back to the superheroes that make the Infinite Wars possible!
This means our top six list will not include Street Fighter Alpha 3, Tekken 4, or Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, nor will it feature some popular internationally inspired imports, like; Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 or Ghost in the Shell (1997); even though these are all worthy admissions.

DC fans can probably quite rightly checkout right about now.
Their history in video games has pretty dismal, peppered with only occasional glimpses of hope. Highlights almost exclusively include crossmedia adaptations, including: Batman Begins film; Batman Returns (Master System two-path platformer); the Batman animated series; and Death of Superman event.
The latter scores points with us for it's forced-playable inclusion of Steel!

The future, however, looks relatively bright for the DC Universe.
Among the major releases looming - DC Universe Online - an MMO that will attempt to mine the untapped promise of the massively multi-player genre that seems inherently favourable to the format of superhero universes. The experience will offer players the chance to develop their characters as young heroes in the DCU, boasting adventure/action gameplay uncharacteristic of the format.

DC has the genres covered on consoles, serving: Lego Batman (3D platforming), Arkham Asylum (narrative heavy action/adventure in the mould of Silent Hill), and Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe (neo-classic 1v1 beat 'em up)!

On the internet, the future's a long time away, so in the mean time, let us look back to the milestones of the past, which are sure to enrage and confuse many!
For more on MKvsDCU be sure to check out our brief one-on-one with Jimmy Palmiotti - one of the writers on the crossover video game - and stay tuned for more as we talk to the MK side of the writing to probe for more details!

#6 Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Marvel)
Publisher: Activision Release: October 2006
Platforms: GBA, PC, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Starring: Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, Blade, Dr. Doom

With a storyline that facilitates little more than a parade of Marvel villain cameos; this slot probably belongs to the slightly superior X-Men Legends 2: Rise of Apocalypse.

Consider it the expansive representation of the Marvel Universe that gets Ultimate Alliance into our top six.
Players have a smorgasboard of characters at their disposal as they option groups of four to tackle incremental obstacles that lead to a disappointingly villainous Dr. Doom.

While not nearly as repulsive as Tim Story's big screen version, (besmirched onscreen by Julian McMahon), the Doom featured here is so manically driven to dominate Earth, he uncharacteristically threatens all of existence itself with the godly powers he assimilates. Though arguably familiar to the source material, it is far from the definitive, or most admirable of depictions for the iconic villain.

Hack & slash gameplay offers little in the way of replay value in this action RPG, enhanced not at all by a yes/no stack of optional ending sequences, delivered by the Watcher dependent on your success in side missions performed in-game.

Fusion - a sequel announced for a 2009 release - will build on the espionage storyline of 2004's Secret War. Little is known about the sequel save for the introduction of Green Goblin and Venom as unlikely playable characters connected to the secret plot of Latverian and government sponsorship of super villains.
Inclusions like these into the substantial roster of heroes will be necessary to improve upon the formula of the first game, which, admittedly, rests almost solely on the name value of locations and characters together in a video game for the first time.

Which the game's X-Franchise predecessors weren't necessarily impressive, their adherence to a plot felt more involving than the arbitrary chain of encounters felt in Ultimate Alliance. Likewise, the originality of the experience maintained some level of awe after the first, enhanced by fan favourite inclusions like Deadpool.
Ultimate Alliance introduced interesting inclusions, like; Ghost Rider, Ms. Marvel, Black Panther, Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Nick Fury, as well as a host of platform exclusive characters and downloadable packages for the Xbox 360.

#5 Spider-man/Venom: Maximum Carnage (Marvel)
Publisher: LJN Release: September 1994
Platforms: Genesis, SNES
Starring: Spider-man, Venom, Black Cat, Firestar, Morbius, Captain America, Iron Fist, Carnage, Shriek, Doppelganger

In a strange twist, the red cartridge edition of Maximum Carnage bares as much nostalgic fondness as the comic does ill will. It's a dichotomy that makes this one of the more interesting games from a strictly comic book perspective, not just for the differing reception of the adaptation between mediums, but for it's literal use of panels straight from the comic book crossover!

While comics as a medium were dragging their heels toward an industry-wide recession, the presence of Marvel superheroes in video games was reaching forward toward a new pinnacle!

While Maximum Carnage lacked the diverse playable options, it clearly benefitted from the example set two years prior by Konami's 1992 X-Men arcade game. Many are sure to feel the latter should have appeared on our list, but the Spidey vehicle steals the show by taking much of what made Konami's classic work, and refining it to serve a stronger narrative, and more involving and attractive game.

In 2005, Activision erroneously promoted Ultimate Spider-man as the first game that granted players the opportunity to take control of Venom in a game. Maximum Carnage, of course, was the first to present that unique experience, rallying off the mounting success of the symbiote through the early nineties. LJN parent company, Acclaim, milked one more round out of the symbiote double-header with a less enticing Maximum Carnage sequel, Seperation Anxiety.

Maximum's formula was undoubtedly repetitive and as steeped in the tropes of the genre as any other post-Double Dragon scrolling beat 'em up, but did it well with quality sprites and variation in gameplay between it's lead protagonists.
Also on cue was a variety of cameos that not only reflected the ragtag collective seen in the comic, but added that extra bit of excitement in an era where the icons of Marvel and DC comics still had mythic significance to the gaming public.

It's debatable whether or not the games had any role in foreshadowing the genre crossover into it's Ultimate Alliance future, but as a successor to X-Men, it is a significant time capsule for two industries that have changed substantially over the last fifteen years. Maximum Carnage is not only a testament to the development of technology, but also a reminder of simpler times for both mediums, when the four-colour hero and growing presence of story was king.

#4 Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Marvel)
Publisher: Capcom Release: June 1997
Platforms: PSX, Saturn
Starring: Spider-man, Wolverine, Captain America, Hulk, Ryu, Sakura, Chun-Li, Ken Masters, Akuma, Apocalypse

Say what you will about Capcom's business practises.
It won't change the cultural significance of their many iterations of the Marvel/Capcom Versus franchise!

In many ways it was this series that took Marvel's presence in gaming to the next level, beyond that of our era-defining #5 pick.
It began late 1994 with the Japanese arcade release of X-Men: Children of the Atom, but expansion for the franchise saw a highspeed volley of updates that brought us 1995's Marvel Super Heroes, and 1996's X-Men vs Street Fighter.
It was here the longevity of the Marvel/Capcom relationship was solidified as the titles meandered their way from arcades to home console over the course of several enduring years.

The Versus series culminated with 2000's hyperactive penultimate instalment, Marvel vs Capcom 2. By this stage the series had accumulated a sizable cast of selectable characters that came to include Cable, Marrow, and a bone claws Wolverine, with this new chapter. While the '97 Marvel/Street Fighter lacked these broad inclusions, (and favourites like Venom), it is, for me, the moment in time that most defines the excitement and balance of this era of games.

Before characters from Mega Man and Resident Evil found their way into the game, it was all about the arena of the Street Fighters.
The clash of superheroes, and world warriors, in the format Marvel had borrowed meant the ultimate realisation of arcade curiosity. While very few have actually stopped to ask whether Sub-Zero could beat Batman; the natural progression of these games meant the rivalry between Marvel and Street Fighter was ripe for the picking in these, the final glory days shared by both arcade cabinets and home consoles.

Despite the legend of Japan's distain for American brands; Capcom showed great intuition for adapting the heroes and their trademark assaults for the gaming language. Catchcrys like "Final Justice" and "Berzerker Barage" accompanied high quality animations that sent the likes of Captain America and Wolverine into animé-inspired renditions of their iconic comic book attacks

The transition to the fighting genre wasn't necessarily inherently suited to the advantages of superheroes, but created a strange new standard, yanking the super powered characters out of platform gaming, into the arena of pure combat.
Marvel probably didn't benefit a great deal from the fictional value of the appearance, which featured a new level of arbitrary for Capcom writing, but without this series of games, one wonders if Marvel's success in the medium would be as diverse as it is today. Despite the heavy repetition of sequels, these games helped sustain mainstream interest in both brands for years, and continue to have great value as a milestone of entertainment history.

Of course, it wasn't all good.
The lasting influence of the Capcom games inevitably gave license to studios like Activision and EA to produce much less admirable beat 'em ups like Mutant Academy and the now infamous, Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.
Interestingly enough, only the Imperfects found their way into Marvel tie-in comics, with plans for a Marvel/Capcom mini-series falling by the wayside to the dismay of many, I am sure.

#3 Spider-Man (Marvel)
Publisher: Activision Release: April 2002
Platforms: Gamecube, GBA, PC, PS2, Xbox
Starring: Spider-man, Green Goblin, Vulture, Shocker, Scorpion, Harry Osborn

How interesting it is that our preselections are providing such clean segues: The winding history of Marvel's game licensing saw Activision accompany their unfortunate 2000 X-Men beat 'em up, (the afformentioned, Mutant Academy), with the redeeming release of the first instalment of what would become a series of 3D Spider-man games.

The release of Spider-man on Playstation, Nintendo 64 and other contemporary platforms redefined what was expected of the web-slinging experience. Rising from the ashes of a plethora of 2D platformers; Activision expanded Spidey's world, using their popular Tony Hawk engine, to include planes of movement that allowed a depthy experience of indoor/outdoor wall crawling, rooftop web-slinging, and a range of familiar acrobatic attacks.
After drawing heavily on the trademarks of the comics, the series turned to the cinematic success of Spider-man to propel the franchise forward.

The advancements of a new generation of consoles allowed Treyarch to render beyond the black void that had enshrowded the lower levels of skyscrapers in previous games, expanding New York City into a photo realistic playground.
While the street would be out-of-bounds for one last time, 2002's Spider-man offered up a blend of story driven level design, and free roaming web-swinging.

The plot, which largely centred around events from the film, also managed to weave a fairly competent narrative that connected Norman Osborn to other characters in the Spider-man universe - like Mac Gargan, whose arachnoid enhancements as Scorpion are mistaken for Spider-man by Oscorp attack droids.

While the game lacks designed replay value of it's successors; which relied on repetitive chance encounters to keep players moving around New York City; the lure of playing Harry Osborn as the Green Goblin offers a truly unique gaming experience which might even prove more fun than playing Spidey. The goblin glider is equipped with all the tricks you'd expect, giving players an extreme range of movement and maneuverability that makes the game easier and consequently, more tolerable, on a second playthrough. Continuity nuts might grizzle over the inclusion of a secondary post-movie narrative, which sees Harry attempt to uncover the identity of yet another Goblin, whose connections seem to suggest manipulations of his father, but this arbitrary clash with 2007's Spider-man 3 was a welcome addition at the time.

This year's Web of Shadows will mark the eighth annual instalment of Activision's console license. While technology has continued incremental innovation in the games, the brand is certainly feeling tired. Having toured the Ultimate and movie universes, gimmicks are the pitch behind the most recent versions, like 2007's movie-cameo heavy Friend or Foe - a 3D beat 'em up that merged a Marvel Team-Up concept with the tradition of [#5] Maximum Carnage.
Sadly, none of these really measure up to the first few games.

#2 Phantom 2040 (King Features Syndicate)
Publisher: Viacom Release: June 1995
Platforms: Game Gear, Genesis, SNES
Starring: Phantom, Graft, Rebecca Madison

A crossmedia franchise far from being exhausted is the Phantom! In only his second video game appearance, the ghost who walks is brought to life as the twenty-fourth incarnation of the character, in the year 2040.

In 1994; Peter Chung (of Æon Flux fame) was offered the opportunity to put his stamp on the character for a new series designed to reimagine the character that began in 1936 for television audiences of the mid-nineties.
Borrowing heavily from the tropes of popular sci-fi animé and manga; Chung's characteristically lanky designs populated the futuristic landscape of Metropia - a grim realisation of New York City in recovery from an industrial disaster that seemingly claimed the lives of the 23rd Phantom and his apparent arch-nemesis, Maxwell Madison.

Survived by his wife, Rebecca; Madison's Maximum Inc. continues it's corporate malevolance in an effort to manipulate the ecologically harmful redevelopment of Metropia as Cyberville. The game follows this plot relatively closely, casting players as the young Kit Walker, whose responsibility is to inherit the legacy that has been handed down to generations of Phantom sons over five hundred years.

Metroid style power-ups give players the chance to equip the Phantom's trademark guns with a diverse range of new powers, while basic gamplay mirrors the character's abilities from the television series. Elements of gameplay, like rope swinging, managed to excede much of what was established in games starring rival franchises like Spider-man and Batman.
The true key to the games success, however, was an interactive narrative that allowed players to navigate through a multitude of plot deviations that would completely change the course of any given game. Prioritized by the decisions of the player, a range of levels familiar to fans of the series were on offer, some universal to paths, but reshaped by the course of decision making.

More conventional was the presence of multiple endings awaiting players as they careen toward their confrontation with a resurrected Maxwell Madison. Decisions made throughout the game ultimately decide the depth of the ending, and whether or not the twist ending from the TV series is revealed.
The lure of details like these, as well as elusive power-ups and levels available only in certain courses, make replay value considerable for a game of the era!

Loyalty to Peter Chung's designs compliment immensly memorable gameplay and writing. If fans could have been torn away from the more popular trademarks of Marvel and DC, this drastically underappreciated game might just be remembered as one the most complex 2D platformers ever made!

Though dwarfed by the expansion of modern, open world gaming; titles like Phantom 2040 will make virtual console downloads well worth the money for gamers tolerant of nostalgic technologies.

#1 X-Men 2: Clone Wars (Marvel)
Publisher: Sega Release: May 1995
Platforms: Sega Genesis
Starring: Wolverine, Magneto, Gambit, Cyclops, Beast, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Apocalypse, The Phalanx

I pity the fool who chose Nintendo in ye olde console wars! Putting aside the continually befuddling output of inferior technology; those who opted for the clunky graphics of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System willfully chose to pass up the Sega-exclusive experience of what I deem the greatest comic book video game ever made.

Those fiercely dedicated to Konami will agree with the brand, if not the title, but oh, I can only assume you never experienced the sheer glory of X-Men 2: Clone Wars.

If your memory of the mid-nineties is forever marred by Spidey's endlessly convoluted tussle with clones, fret not! Inspired by 1994's Phalanx Covenant; the story of Clone Wars throws you into a paranoid world tour of the X-Universe, throwing players in locales of many iconic X-foes in an effort to mount an offensive-defense against the invading alien menace of the Phalanx!

In the battle against assimilation, players control Beast, Psylocke, Gambit, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine, eventually recruiting Magneto into the playable fold, as well! As a chief villain in many previous games - and a boss in this one - the opportunity to control the revered master of magnetism proved a massive sales pitch with fans! Other villains, like Apocalypse, also help round out the name spotting of the game.

While not nearly as involving as Phantom 2040; a competent plot makes Clone Wars an enjoyable experience, but as with many games of the era, the true lure of progress is conveyed through the interactive details of levels and characters, which are sourced regularly from the comics themselves.

I have to admit, when I sat down to take screenshots I was reminded that I might be looking at the game through rose coloured glasses. It truly is worthy of our top spot, but graphics might not have been the Capcom-grade hand drawn quality I had remembered. That, however, does not take away from a visually competent game that offers a great balance in differentiation between levels, whilst honoring the iconic designs of the Jim Lee-era characters very well.

The ultimate secret to X-Men 2's success is the quality of quantity.
If you're at all like me and sometimes find yourself crying yourself to sleep for one more 2D Shinobi sequel, you're going to want to give this a shot! Platform gaming takes on a very Shinobi-esque approach in X-Men 2, recalling similar level designs, as well as a range of abilities that mirror those of Joe Musashi. Wolverine in particular bares resemblence to the character - sans shuriken - with his ability to run, flip, slash, and claw his way through an environment that offers reward to the player willing to exploit these abilities (particularly climbing). Other abilities, like the wall spring, are shared amongst other characters, who all play with a speed and grace defiant of any Nintendo equivalent!

All the characters, it should be said, possess their own unique gameplay elements, expressed, as with all details in the game, far better than the clunky midgets of the previous Genesis X-Men (1993). This diversity contributes not only to the fun of choosing a character for each level, but make the eventual unlocking of Magneto all the sweeter for his abilities to hover, blast, and explode!

Nightcrawler's teleport takes on a more specific method than the Konami-esque side-to-side jittering, restricted by level boundaries in ways not seen in the previous game, but more a more fluid inclusion that joins his acrobatic and climbing abilities. Nightcrawler lacks his sword, while Gambit his staff, as well as fullfilling projectile attacks, along with Cyclops. Beast plays the powerhouse, slightly less mobile in his acrobatics than Wolverine or Psylocke, who steps into the interchangable female role to replace Dazzler, for those Konami enthusiasts.

I'm not sure I can express adequately what makes this game so great, but maybe in the coming months I'll get another opportunity to elaborate, if not sell a few more of you, on the quality of the entry. In the mean time, we're running very late, and there's a lot of other rushed, poorly conceived writing to be done!

Be sure to stay tuned for more superhero fisticuffs and our on-going coverage of Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, which will include an interview with the MK team sometime in the near future. It should be very interesting! There's also the Jimmy Palmiotti interview, which, if you're taking note of post dates, was conducted in the future. Haw!

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