The Nintendo Entertainment System was a hotbed for licensed games, often of dubious quality, so inevitably a lot of our favourite costumed heroes made their way to the classic 8-bit system. I took off the rose-tinted glasses and died repeatedly to see how 11 DC and Marvel games hold up today.
Kemco - 1987
This side-scrolling take on arguably the most well known superhero hasn’t aged well and is impenetrable from a modern perspective. Outside of the charming art design there is very little to enjoy here. Hitting enemies is a chore, movement as both Superman and Clark is clunky and his special moves are ineffectual and don’t really match his comic incarnation.
10. The Uncanny X-Men
LJN - 1989
This top down action game brought together six of the titular Uncanny X-Men to take on Magneto and his evil mutants. Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Iceman essentially boil down to a choice of melee or ranged fighter. It plays like an ugly, terrible version of Gauntlet with you hunting the exit across five stages, fighting well known enemies like worms and random groupings of pixels.
LJN - 1991
Arguably the most popular member of the X-Men, it was inevitable to see Wolverine get his own title. This is the first game on this list that epitomises the “Nintendo Hard” mentality, where games are often unfairly difficult due to poor enemy placement, leaps of faith or taking damage from things off-screen. Wolverine is an unremarkable platformer with ineffectual melee combat that unfairly kills you every few seconds.
8. Silver Surfer
Arcadia Systems - 1990
Seeing the Silver Surfer in a game at all is a rare occurrence so finding out he had a dedicated title at one point was exciting to discover, even more so when I realised it wasn’t a generic platformer. Silver Surfer is a shoot ‘em up that alternates between horizontal and vertical stages, unfortunately the difficulty is so high it’s hard to get into. Unfair enemy patterns that kill you from off-screen along with a single hit being enough to kill the Surfer saps any enjoyment you might garner from this.
7. Spider-Man - Return of the Sinister Six
LJN - 1992
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can, except move properly or avoid getting stuck on obstacles apparently. Another LJN published affair, Revenge of the Sinister Six doesn’t look too shabby, unfortunately Spidey himself controls terribly. I’ve always known the wallcrawler to be nimble and agile, but here he has trouble moving and attacking at the same time, turning, jumping and attacking are all awkward and a bit rubbish.
The game behind this travesty of control schemes is a bland but perfunctory platformer that is made far harder than it would be otherwise just due to the terrible controls.
6. Swamp Thing
THQ - 1992
Swamp Thing on face value seems like a character that should’ve appeared in more games, interesting nature and planet-based powers and his eco-friendly personality seem to be perfect for the medium. His NES appearance however is a basic platformer that doesn’t really use anything unique about the character. He could literally be replaced by anything and it wouldn’t make a difference.
The game itself is underwhelming as platformers go but Swamp Thing controls well. A lack of checkpoints and some unfair enemy placement ruins an otherwise enjoyable title.
5. Batman - Return of the Joker
Sunsoft - 1991
Batman - Return of the Joker is quite simply one of the best looking games on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Big, well animated sprites, detailed backgrounds with a lot of layers of parallax and some really great tunes are let down by the game being unfair at every turn.
The Caped Crusader moves from left to right trying to avoid unavoidable traps and taking out enemies as quickly as possible as you hunt down his arch nemesis. Breaking up the platform stages are occasional shoot-em’ up sections that have a better difficulty curve than the main levels but aren’t enough to save this average title.
4. Captain America and the Avengers
Data East - 1991
The NES version of Captain America and the Avengers is not a port of the arcade side scrolling beat em’ up as you’d probably expect. Instead it’s a side scrolling platformer with each Avenger having different abilities. Hawkeye can shoot arrows in multiple directions and Captain America can throw his shield, use it to protect his feet and perform melee attacks for example.
Throughout each stage you are tasked with finding a power orb that opens the exit. This is hidden somewhere within the various canisters in each level, which also provide point items and health pickups. Everything about the game feels good, with interesting level layouts and tight controls.
3. The Punisher
LJN - 1990
Taking a break from the raft of platform entries in this list, The Punisher is a fun take on the arcade classic Cabal mixed with Operation Wolf. You control Frank Castle aiming at enemies as they walk across a variety of moving shooting galleries. Hidden around the levels are weapons and ammo as well as entry points to bonus areas.
Graphically, it’s competent although some of the background can look a bit muddy at times. There are a lot of really nice effects though with gunshots appearing in most objects and almost everything you’d expect to be destructible being so. Difficulty-wise the game feels fair, although boss fights can chomp through ammo and lives in an instant if you aren’t on top of your game!
2. Batman Returns
Konami - 1993
Batman Returns is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up very much in the vein of Double Dragon and Final Fight. Like most of Konami’s output on the NES it’s an extremely well put together game. Batman himself has a variety of moves and gadgets, from punching, blocking and performing slidekicks to throwing batarangs, there is an interesting range of options at your disposal.
The games’ visuals are attractive, even with the smaller sprites compared to Return of the Joker. The amount of enemies on screen never feels unwieldy and your hits have some nice weight to them, making it a very satisfying game to play.
1. Batman - The Video Game
Sunsoft - 1989
Batman - The Video Game is an exceptionally hard but incredibly satisfying game to play, unlike the other “Nintendo Hard” games in this article the enemy placement never feels cheap and whilst dying can be frustrating it always feels like your fault. Control feels tight and weighty, with excellent wall jumping mechanics and satisfying combat.
Released the same year as the movie in Japan, it takes cues from the film, specifically locations like the Axis Chemical Plant and the Gotham Cathedral Belltower whilst taking liberties with enemies, featuring many comic villains before the final showdown with the Clown Prince of Crime himself.
So there you go, my thoughts and rankings for the Marvel and DC universe games available for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Do you agree? Perhaps think think that Silver Surfer should be in that number one spot, let us know in the comments section!