?Superheroes rarely hit the market without some merchandise in mind. For every new American superhero comic, whether it’s a huge DC mini-series or Mavericks: Quest for Misfire, we’d bet that someone along the production line hoped it would inspire a full spread of cartoons, toys, live-action movies, and, of course, videogames. Many games arose from superhero comics, and many have no reason to exist; they’re by-products of a superhero’s success, slapped together with carelessness that can shame even the lowest movie-spawned game horrors. Certainly, in annals of horribly shitty videogames, these rank among the worst — which Topless Robot has noted on not one but two separate occasions.
But we’re still not done, as there are more horrible games worthy of recollection and ridicule. You’ll note that this list includes two types of these uncalled-for games. There are big-name monstrosities, based on superheroes whose public image could drive all sorts of awful products to market. Then there are the games that were never finished or released, and they’re often based on things that should probably have never been comics, let alone games.
Making a Lobo video game was perhaps a good idea back in 1995, when Lobo was moderately popular and his comic normally involved him slaughtering all sorts of one-dimensional antagonists. That’s a standard Genesis or Super NES action game right there. Yet there emerged a problem: the game market of the mid-1990s valued fighting games first and foremost.
This gave rise to another problem: a fighting game needs a lineup of characters, and aside from Lobo himself, there really aren’t any memorable, consistent characters in his particular comic. That didn’t stop Ocean from making a Lobo fighter for the Super NES and Genesis by fattening up the roster with disposable minor players from the Lobo comic. There’s the generic Shaola, an evil Santa Claus, and Loo, who resembles the shirtless guy with a gun-arm that every 8-year-old boy drew in a notebook at some point. It’s topped off with the sort of ugly CG-rendered graphics that never really looked good.
Caught on fading game systems in a busy market, Lobo was canceled in late 1995. There’s hope that we’ll one day play it, however, as a group of fans is currently soliciting donations to free the game from some collector’s hands and release it into the wonderful not-quite-legal waters of the Internet. We’d suggest donating whatever you’d have paid for this Lobo fighter back in 1995, but that logic would result in the game’s owners paying you to take it.
6) Danger Girl
By the late 1990s, the comics industry was still dragging itself out of a quicksand pit of terrible, creatively cannibalistic superhero comics, and some artists and writers were moving on to bold new territory by ripping off Bond movies and Charlie’s Angels. Such a concoction resulted in J. Scott Campbell’s Danger Girl, in which a team of gorgeous women fights Nazis and adopts names like Sidney Savage and Abbey Chase.
Danger Girl was never made to last, and the comic apparently saw more spin-offs than it did main issues. Yet Campbell’s art sold it to many fans, and one of them must have worked at THQ. Showing the same standards that honed many awful NES games, THQ contracted low-level developer n-space to throw together a Danger Girl title in the last big year of the PlayStation. The resulting game takes a comic known only for its artwork and turns it into this:
It’s all an elaborate warning to drive you away from game itself, a stiff, boring encapsulation of every overused design trend from 2000. It has annoying voice clips, Tomb Raider’s perspective, and stealth gameplay that’s low-rent Metal Gear Solid with more breasts and bare midriffs.
Some of the people responsible for Prime claim that this mid-1990s comic hero is a parody of its era. They pretty much have to say that, because the main character is a ridiculously pumped-up, hyper-muscled shell of a super-dude, inside which is a 13-year-old boy named Kevin. Characters like “Doc Gross” and “Spider-Prime” also suggest a certain degree of comedy, but the comic insists on bringing in drug use and sexual harassment and other things that seem profoundly funny when discussed by a superhero made completely of veins and sinew.
Unintended joke or not, Prime was one of Malibu Comics’ best bets when it decided to make videogames in the 1990s and, consequently, bit off much more than it could chew. A 1993 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly spotlights games based on Malibu’s Prime, Strangers, and Firearm, with a Malibu-run ad in the same issue trying to recruit programmers for those same titles. Strangers and Firearm were swiftly canceled, but Prime eventually jumped from the Super NES to the Sega CD. A routine beat-’em-up, it has Prime wandering along and smacking his ham-sized fists into noticeably smaller enemies.
If there’s one part of Prime that stands out, it’s the theme song: a noodling, seven-minute power ballad about how Prime is ready to RRRRROCK by growing SO MUCH and SO STRONG that he’s GONNA GET HIMSELF SOME JUSTICE. Again, the people responsible for it have said that it’s deliberately over the top, and we’re going to be nice and believe them.
4) Spawn: The Eternal
For many, 1997 was the year that Todd McFarlane’s Spawn started his descent into irrelevance. The toyline was still firing on all cylinders and would do so for years to come, but a live-action Spawn film inspired few new fans, and a PlayStation game called Spawn: The Eternal drove away some existing followers.
Early footage of the game hinted at the problems to come. In comic form, Spawn is best captured as a sleek anti-hero with a writhing, voluminous cape. In The Eternal, he’s a Masters of the Universe action figure jogging through warehouses and alleys, while his demonic enemies hiss through the occasional cutscene. You could blame Spawn’s look on the PlayStation’s technical limitations, but you really can’t blame it for The Eternal‘s boring level design and clumsy gameplay. There are other Spawn games, one for the Super NES and one for the Dreamcast (and arcade), and they’re both better by default.
3) Fantastic Four
It’s hard not to appreciate the truck-crashing scene that opens the first level of the worst Fantastic Four game. It’s a fairly well-done truck-crashing scene for the PlayStation era, even if said truck just barrels through Play-Doh dwarfs and barely damages the building it hits.
Then it’s on to the game proper, in which the four main members of the group (plus THE SENSATIONAL She-Hulk) wander a street and punch claymation-esque creatures half their size. All the while, a tepid jazz score drones on. The game’s not without one helpful feature: switching between characters mid-game and letting you get bored with all of them in short order. Some games take a while to reveal their tedium, but Fantastic Four plants it squarely before the player.
2) Batman: Dark Tomorrow
Choosing the worst Batman videogame is far too difficult. There’s the horrible Batman Forever adaptation and the even worse Batman and Robin one, plus a bunch of utterly average Batman games for everything from the Commodore 64 to the Game Boy Advance. Yet there’s one stunningly awful creation widely condemned as the most disappointing Batman game: Dark Tomorrow.
After sitting through games based on Batman cartoons and movies, fans were perhaps pleased to see a game that drew mostly from the actual Batman comics. Of course, the controls are lousy, Batman’s a frustratingly easy target, all of the bat-weapons suck, and the game rarely shows anything from a proper viewpoint. Kemco indeed spent some money to put the comic book’s cast into cutscenes that didn’t look so bad back in 2005, but they rarely do anything interesting. The game’s final act recycles a world-destroying plot by Ra’s Al Ghul, and any battle for the fate of the planet is apparently best waged through an awkward swordfight.
For a final insult, the story goes nowhere. The bad endings don’t count, and the good one just returns things to the status quo. Not that we expected Dark Tomorrow to show Gotham City ruined and Talia having Batman’s bat-bastard son or whatever, but it could’ve TRIED.
1) Youngblood: Search and Destroy
Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood is frequently picked on for embodying every failing of superhero comics in the 1990s. But let’s set aside the comic itself, distorted heroes and all, to concentrate on the Youngblood spin-offs that never materialized. Somewhere out there is a pilot clip for a Youngblood cartoon that died in the planning stages, and a similar fate doomed a Youngblood game from GT Interactive.
Youngblood: Search and Destroy, a crude-looking overhead action title, spent two years in development for the PlayStation and PC before the publisher realized it was a horrible money-sink and that, more importantly, Youngblood was no longer liked by anyone beyond comic collectors hoping that their poly-bagged #1 issues were still going to make them rich. Before it was justly canceled, the development team put together demos in which Badrock, Diehard, and other Youngblood thugs wander a level to punch terrorists and listen to a comrade’s labored grunts about squeezing thugs for info. He’s pumped and totally hardcore.
?At least one programmer was called in to salvage the mess of Search and Destroy, and he shares his story here. The best anecdote: “Youngblood’s installer (a preliminary version, of course) showed a little animation as it loaded. It was an eight-frame loop featuring Col. Whatever-his-name-was, Badrock, and anal fisting.”