The Marvel franchise has exploded in popularity over the past decade or so, leading to a slew of films, TV shows, comics, and video games. Though, even before the MCU took the film industry by storm, Marvel games were always popular — dating back to the PlayStation 2 days in the early- to mid-2000s (and even earlier).
Over the course of the franchise’s rich history, we’ve gotten Marvel video games based on films, as well as original stories coming in the form of all sorts of genres. There are action games, cooperative multiplayer titles, fighters, beat ’em ups, and others ranging across various styles of play. There’s even a Marvel pinball series out there!
With that in mind, we decided to take a look at the best games the franchise has to offer, looking back over two decades of releases. These are the best Marvel games of all time.
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You knew this was coming. Of course, Marvel’s Spider-Man is one of the best Marvel games out there. There are so many reasons this game is so special, from its fluid combat to the compelling story and performances from its actors to the satisfying web-slinging. We’ve gotten lots of Spider-Man games in the past, but Insomniac Games’ take on the hero is in a league of its own.
It strikes a balance of giving you enough to do throughout New York City without feeling too overwhelming. Because of its accessibility, it’s easy to jump in, swing around, do a few missions, and hop out — without ever feeling like it’s too much to handle. Many open-world games struggle in this regard, but not Marvel’s Spider-Man. Above all else, this game is full of heart and will be remembered for years to come.
Read our full Marvel’s Spider-Man review
On the flip side, Marvel games are also known for allowing you to play with others. And that’s exactly what you can do in Lego Marvel Super Heroes — a game featuring 180 heroes from the beloved comic book universe. The most compelling thing about this game is that it’s easy to drop in and play with friends and family, regardless of skill level.
With so many characters to choose from (even the lesser-known ones like Kraven the Hunter or Malekith), it’s easy to spend tons of hours trying out everyone’s moveset and abilities. While video games are sometimes very skill-dependent, the barrier to entry with Lego Marvel Superheroes is quite low, meaning even inexperienced gamers can find enjoyment with this one.
Here’s a game that does require much more skill — Marvel vs. Capcom 2: A New Age of Heroes. It’s not the newest in the series, but it’s certainly one of the most beloved. Even though it’s over 20 years old at this point, it still has a timeless cel-shaded art style and some of the best gameplay out there of a crossover fighting game to date.
In this tag-team fighting game, players compile a team of three characters across the Marvel and Capcom universes with the goal of being the last squad standing. Critics loved its responsive gameplay and memorable cast, along with the online functionality of the newer versions. There’s a reason Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is regarded as one of the best 2D fighting games of all time. Unfortunately, finding a physical copy has become increasingly more difficult, and it’s not available on digital storefronts anymore either, making this one hard to track down.
While many Marvel games are known for being family-friendly, some — like 2004’s The Punisher — are most certainly not for children. Though, if you’re an adult, you’ll probably find a lot to love with this game. Before Volition became famous for the Saints Row series, it made a name for itself with The Punisher, a game loosely based on the 2004 Thomas Jane film of the same name, along with elements from the comics and original ideas.
It’s a hilariously violent third-person shooter, with all kinds of weapons to choose from, along with various open levels to explore. One of its most memorable mechanics is that it gives you the ability to interrogate your enemies with your surroundings. For example, one level takes place at a zoo, where you can use a piranha pit to extract information from a guard. It’s not one of Marvel’s most popular games, but it really is a hidden gem that shooter fans should check out.
Before we had Marvel’s Spider-Man, there was the movie tie-in series known simply as Spider-Man (and its sequels). Spider-Man 2 is based on the 2004 film of the same name and sends players to an open-world version of New York with tons to do. Nowadays, open worlds are a dime a dozen, but in 2004, being able to explore such a large city as Spider-Man’s was a dream come true. In it, you got to take on missions inspired by the film, along with new scenarios designed specifically for this game.
Typically, movie tie-ins are tolerable at best, but in this case, developer Treyarch made a huge effort to create one of the best superhero games of its time. It might not hold up as well in 2021, but if not for this game, we wouldn’t have some of the great open-world superhero games of today — and for that, it deserves a spot on this list.
The following year after we got Spider-Man 2, Radical Entertainment and Vivendi Universal Games released The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. In many ways, Spider-Man 2 laid down the framework for what would become Ultimate Destruction, giving us an open-world Hulk game with fully destructible buildings and environments.
It’s quite remarkable what this game was able to accomplish on the PS2 and Xbox, offering a compelling story (with voice acting!) and some of the best level traversal we’ve seen from a superhero game. Ultimate Destruction is a game that did Hulk justice, and it’s a shame we haven’t gotten another game of equal quality since then.
While the Lego Marvel games are built more for a casual market, the Marvel Ultimate Alliance franchise offers a bit more depth. In particular, the third installment, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, is the best of the bunch — combining and refining all the mechanics and features from the previous entries. In it, you assemble a team of heroes (or villains) to explore levels, gather experience to level up characters, and unlock a slew of new moves and abilities.
While it’s playable solo, it’s much more fun with friends, and since there is no shortage of characters to choose from, there’s plenty of variation when playing alone or with a group. The wild thing is that Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 3 is a Nintendo Switch exclusive and is developed by Team Ninja, the studio behind the Ninja Gaiden and Nioh series. Because of this, it never reached the large audience of the first two games, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.
Much like The Punisher, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an experience suited for adults due to its graphic violence. But given that its main character is often regarded as a rabid animal, it makes sense to see tons of action, with plenty of different ways to take out your enemies. It’s based on the 2009 film of the same name, and unlike the movie, the game is actually fantastic, giving players fast-paced action sequences similar to the Devil May Cry series.
At the time, the visuals for X-Men Origins: Wolverine were pretty great, and even to this day don’t look too terribly dated (depending on the version you have). It follows Logan on an adventure to remember his past, all while taking out bosses, exploring levels, and using his claws to defeat enemies. It’s one of the best video game renditions of Wolverine — despite being based on a movie that was critically panned.
One of the most unique experiences on this list is Marvel’s Iron Man VR, a game built specifically for virtual reality (VR). In it, you play as Tony Stark from a first-person perspective, with stages that send you soaring through the sky to take out enemies and reach your objectives. Aside from the immersive action, there’s also an intriguing story to enjoy, with well-acted characters and engaging writing.
Of course, the main star of the show is the gameplay, with shooter elements as well as a satisfying upgrade system. VR is still in its infancy, so it’s not perfect, but Iron Man VR definitely accomplishes its goal of making you feel like you’re a superhero. Since you can’t go out and fly around in an Iron Man suit in real life (yet), this is the next best thing, and it works surprisingly well.
Read our full Marvel’s Iron Man VR review
Sure, this list is full of Spider-Man games, but we’d be remiss if we skipped out on one of the very best — Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Serving as a follow-up to 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man, this game sends you on a journey as Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker. That makes it one of the most refreshing and inclusive games in recent memory, as it doubles down on emphasizing people of color in such a tasteful way. You can tell research was done to ensure the cultural inclusion was done right, making it feel much more authentic with its portrayal of Black, Latino, and Asian characters.
But aside from setting a benchmark for inclusivity, Miles Morales is a healthy mix of new and old, blending the beloved gameplay from the first game with a few added twists. Since Miles has different powers than Peter, it’s a blast learning all of the new moves — one of which is invisibility, which makes for lots of fun sequences. Along with that, Miles Morales has one of the best video game stories ever, giving you tons of laughs and just as many tears. This is not one to skip out on, even if it’s smaller in scope than its predecessor.
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