The Greatest (Non-Licensed) Super Hero Games

Until very recently, the world of comic book video games have been an up and down realm of quality, as two mediums that you would think should work harmoniously, end up clashing when it comes to the final product.

The fields become even murkier when talking about comic book video games that aren’t based on existing properties, of which there are astonishingly few. Developers seem to be in no hurry to create super hero style games of their own design, making the sub-genre a near non-existent species. Don’t take that to mean there aren’t standouts in the field though as gamers have, on rare occasion, been granted some truly inspired comic book champions, based on no specific comic at all.

So true believers and gamers everywhere, here are the five best non-licensed super hero video games.

Comix Zone

Ok, so the hero of “Comix Zone” isn’t your traditional super hero, but I could never forgive myself if I didn’t take his opportunity to talk about this Sega Genesis gem.

“Comix Zone” puts you into the role of comic artist Sketch Turner as he jumps into one of his own creations, and attempts to save the day, side scrolling game style. “Comix Zone” had a lot of fun with the concept, as stages are broken into comic panels that you actively traverse. The first time you see your character jump to the next panel is a thrilling moment in smart gaming design, and the feeling never goes away as the game continuously explores the better uses of the idea, and never stops having fun with it. This is especially evident in moments like the artist intervening to finish a drawing, power ups that let you manipulate the stages for attacks, or the ability to become an unstoppable traditional hero momentarily, and the general straight from the comics graphics.

“Comix Zone” is brutally difficult and cruelly short, but even over the years it has remained noteworthy for all the original reasons, and remains a must play for fans of super hero games.

City of Heroes

In a massively multiplayer online world filled with raging medival fantasy style hordes, darkness and uncertainty reigned, as the people searched for a beacon of originality. A champion of a new day. Along came “City of Heroes”, a liberator from the same old, same old.

Like so many other MMO’s “City of Heroes” was rough around the edges when first released, but still immediately presented an alternative to the more traditional MMO, that was accessible, wildly entertaining, quicker paced, and so damn fun, as you created a super hero to patrol a thriving metropolis with others. The hero creation process maybe the game’s best feature, as it allowed you to truly play a role that was uniquely yours (the whole point of the genre remember) and create a perfect facsimile of your favorite super hero, or something entirely unique. From there you could form super groups, demolish massively underpowered muggers, or just generally live out your super hero fantasies with a level of depth never before granted.

It was a sad, sad day when NCsoft dropped “City of Heroes”, as we will probably never see a game like it again. It still stands tall though as perhaps gaming’s greatest tribute to the golden age of comics.

Freedom Force

Actually if “City of Heroes” isn’t gaming’s greatest comic tribute, it might be “Freedom Force”.

If you’ve never played it, think of it as “Baldur’s Gate” for super heroes. While not quite as grand and near flawless as that series, it does echo that franchise’s level of world depth as everything from character design to histories and motives are so detailed that it’s almost impossible to believe that it wasn’t based on one specific pre-existing long running comic series. It does, however, take cues from just about every single golden age comic, and the love for that source material is so glowing that it will make any comic fan uncontrollably grin while playing it. Comic game’s live and die by their sense of style, an “Freedom Force” thrives from it. Trying to summarize it all would be an insult to the work put into it.

“Freedom Force” took a novel concept and ran with it with such authority that it assured gamers no one could ever take a swing at the idea again, and certainly wouldn’t be able to do it with near the creative level of completeness that “Freedom Force” achieved.

Infamous

A first look at “Infamous” doesn’t make it scream “Super Hero Game”. The first time you play it though, you realize that it is one of gaming’s most original super hero creations.

You find yourself playing as Cole MacGrath, a bike messenger who, due to an accident, suddenly finds himself with the ability to manipulate electricity. Cole’s path from here is unclear as the player guides him on the path to becoming a great super hero or super villain, and watch his powers evolve and shape based on those decisions. It carried on the open world, task based super hero game idea that “Spider-Man 2” made popular, and, due in large part to some fascinating uses for the electrical manipulation powers of Cole, things rarely became stale as you were constantly uncovering new uses for the abilities and, thanks to the creative prowess of developer Sucker Punch (creators of the Sly Cooper series), constantly entertained by a strong plot and the comic book style story interludes that drove it.

“Infamous” was one of the first must have PS3 exclusives and, as proven by the eerily similar “Prototype” released around the same time, is a difficult to execute idea pulled off to near perfection here. It represents gaming’s most original stab at the idea of a modern super hero tale.

Viewtiful Joe

Taking its cues not just from comic books, but cartoons and film as well, “Viewtiful Joe” is an incredible sensory overload.

It was Capcom’s glorious big name return to the 2D action genre, and it paid tribute to just about everything the average gamer grew up loving, including video games itself. However, there is no doubt that “Viewtiful Joe” is a super hero, and his powers of time and distance manipulation are original, and uniquely used in ways like slowing down time to take out helicopters (their blades can spin fast enough). In any other developers hands, the amount of things “Viewtiful Joe” throws at you would become overwhelming, and may eventually lose the intended effect. In the skilled possession of one of the all time great developers in Capcom though, the game is a textbook example of how to properly implement the feeling of handling a super hero in a video game, and of the 2D action genre as well.

Considering it’s all time great pedigree, near flawless execution, and commitment to making every frame and moment an absolute and original blast of creative wonderment, I’m ready to call “Viewtiful Joe” gaming’s greatest original super hero creation.

Henshin-a-go-go, baby!

The Rise of “Guilds,” and the Fall of “Heroes”

As one MMO flies to incredible new heights, another that once promised players that very feature is coming to an end.

Recently the MMO world was hit with two big bits of news as “Guild Wars 2” developer ArenaNet posted on their Facebook page, that all first party digital downloads of the new mega hit MMO are suspended temporarily in order to insure server stability. While the game is still available through third party sites and retail stores, the developers themselves feel they have a responsibility to everyone in the game to hold off on new sales directly from them, so that play isn’t interrupted. Currently new methods to expand digital services are being looked at.

Hot off the heels of that announcement comes another from the publisher of “Guild Wars 2,” NCsoft, that they will be folding Paragon Studios, and therefore effectively bringing an end to that developer’s MMO title “City of Heroes” by the end of the year.

The reasons for these individual stories of success and untimely demise are both simple and complex, but ultimately revolve around each other.

First, in case you didn’t follow the insane pre-release hype, or immediately snatch up the product that finally launched, “Guild Wars 2″ is slowly taking the online world by storm in a way that no other MMO has done since “World of Warcraft” itself. It’s doing this through an incredible art style with a scope and integrity never before seen in a game like this, a PvP system that’s so brilliant and well executed it looks to make all other competitive systems irrelevant by the time it kicks into gear, and maybe best of all, a level of difficulty that rewards players for putting more time into it by actually making the game better as you go along, instead of creating more incentive for new players, and providing cold shoulders for veterans. Tying it all together, unlike “WoW,” “Guild Wars 2” is free to play, continuing one of the more welcome video game trends in some time.

I’ve had the privilege of playing the game recently, and I don’t think I could give you an honest critical review of it. That’s because despite some of its flaws, I have such a deep and abiding respect for the game that questions of review scores and likes or hates are irrelevant. It’s one of those stand up and take notice games that only come along once in a while, even if all of the specifics aren’t perfect.

Oddly though, it seems to achieve such lofts, a sacrifice of sorts had to be made. That seems to be the largest reason behind the cancellation of service for “City of Heroes,” as reports still have the game boasting a sizable player base, and even reporting some respectable sales figures as recently as last year for such an aging title.  However, earlier this year NCsoft reported its first companywide loss in a while, and at the time “City of Heroes” was at the bottom of the sales list. With other ongoing projects to support, and bigger titles on the horizon, it would seem “City of Heroes” fell to the archvillian known as fiscal reports, and nothing more.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to look at this as a case of one door closing and another opening. As good as “Guild Wars 2” is, and as great as it promises to be, “City of Heroes” long stood as the somewhat appropriate icon of hope in the MMO world. It wasn’t a fantasy or sci-fi game, yet it produced a well built and, initially, successful MMO. Now that it has fallen to a, admittedly well worthy, challenger to the “WoW” crown of fantasy MMO dominance, I worry that the message will become more and more clear in developer’s minds that new entrants in the genre are unwelcome, especially if they are trying something different.

In a year’s time I feel that the MMO market will be hotly divided by “Guild Wars 2” players, and by “WoW” addicts, and with good reason. At that time, the mention of a title like “City of Heroes” won’t lead to tears, but rather fond memories. Still, I wish that it were possible for the game to continue in some capacity for as long as it can. Because while the game’s sales figures may have been mild mannered like reporter Clark Kent, beneath the corporate visage of numbers lied an idea of originality, individuality, and innovation in the American way.

Underneath it, lied a true MMO hero.

No Guild Wars 2 until 2011

Guild Wars 2 logo.The release of information about NCSoft’s Guild Wars 2 could best be described as a slow trickle. Way back in March of 2007, ArenaNet got everyone pumped up with predictions of a late 2008 beta, which would likely mean a 2009 launch. Well, here we are today and we have neither of those things. There is a light on the distant horizon though, as NCSoft CEO Jaeho Lee recently told investors. We should see at least a closed beta for Guild Wars 2 in 2010, with a public release in 2011.

As Lee put it, “I believe there will be certain public events in the year 2010… at least a closed beta test for those titles. Commercialisation will be expected, at this point, probably some time in the year 2011.” When he says “those titles” he’s lumping in Blade and Soul, the martial arts MMO NCSoft also has in development. I see it as great news for both titles. The Guild Wars announcement is long overdue, but Blade and Soul sounds promising. Besides, who can say no to a little beta time?

Source: Massively

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