Image at 25: The Sad History of Image Comics Video Games
Comic books and video games go together like pork chops and applesauce. Video games make the perfect playground for characters with abilities that are larger than life, and over the years we've been graced with a number of strong contenders for the best comic book video game. But like most creative ventures, not every swing results in a hit.
Despite not being around nearly as long as Marvel or DC, Image has had its fair share of video games based on the properties it's published. While lately the Image Comics gaming universe has had a string of successes with the likes of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games and The Darkness from Starbreeze, the going wasn't always this good. In fact, at times, it was downright discouraging.
1995 was not a banner year for Image Comics video games. Todd McFarlane's Spawn: The Video Game was but one of the year's big disappointments within the brand. Following in the likes of Maximum Carnage and Captain America and the Avengers, Spawn was a sidescrolling beat 'em up starring Al Simmons as his massively caped alter-ego. As Super Nintendo beat 'em ups go, it wasn't an abomination, but it certainly didn't bring anything original to the table, other than the ludicrous lifebar that copied the comic's own inane rules for how Spawn's powers worked. It was even possible to not be able to finish the game if you used the powers too much. Fun times!
Before being absorbed into the DC Universe, Jim Lee's WildCATs was the first superteam from Image Comics to make the leap to television and video games. Both may have been less than memorable, but you can never take away the fact that both things certainly existed. Also released in 1995, the SNES WildCATs game was a side-scrolling beat 'em up, but it at least featured a handful of playable characters. Spartan, Maul, and Warblade were all active, and Void showed up to guide players when it was time to walk to the right some more. There's a reason tie-in games are mostly lamented. Though 1995's Image games might not have been the catalyst for that sentiment, they certainly didn't help matters much.
As is typical with the Youngblood franchise, this video game was started, but never finished. Early demos for the PC and PlayStation game from GT Interactive showed an isometric action-RPG in which players would assume the roles of characters like Badrock, Chapel and Diehard as they fought... enemies I guess? Since the game was never finished, it's impossible to say what would have happened in the game. Maybe that's for the best though, as the limited beta footage out there wasn't all that impressive. There's a good reason this game was abandoned before anyone had to plunk down hard-earned money on it.
Often forgotten when it comes to recalling the early days of Image, Jim Valentino's Shadowhawk was born from the same cloth as the rest of the Marvel Exodus. Like many of the founding fathers of Image, Valentino had his eyes on a video game version of his creation as well. He teamed with Studio E Inc to craft a Shadowhawk game for the Super Nintendo. It didn't quite work out, and Shadowhawk never saw the light of day... until a ROM of an early build found its way online. Unlike Spawn and WildCATs, Shadowhawk took its inspiration from Bionic Commando. Since it never released, we'll never know if it could have outshone the other Image games, but it likely wouldn't have altered Shadowhawk's place in comic history.
The rise and popularity of the PlayStation brought about a number of developers and licensors hoping to cash in on the hottest system since the original NES. There are a lot of abandoned concepts floating around for the original PlayStation, and that includes Gen 13. EA and Gray Matter Inc teamed to put together this 2.5D side-scroller, which featured every member of the team in a playable role. Gen 13 also would have had an arena battle mode where players could fight a friend Street Fighter style. Gray Matter went bankrupt before finishing however, so the closest we'll ever get to seeing Fairchild and Rainmaker in action is an archived beta build.
Look, if you had a PlayStation in 1998, you either bought this game or rented it from Blockbuster a few times. Spawn: The Eternal let your rip your enemies' arms off and beat them with it. It was a trash fire of a game, but it let you do that one thing repeatedly, which was all anyone stuck in high school needed to know to have a good time for three to five minutes before turning the game off. Spawn has been in so many games over the years, and none of them have been very good or memorable, beyond this one being so, so bad you can't help but nod your head in agreement any time someone brings up how awful it truly was.
Oh, Danger Girl. Jumping on the popularity of Tomb Raider and Syphon Filter, the Danger Girl video game put you in the shoes of Abbey Chase as she worked her way through uncovering Hammer's plot to rule the world. It loosely followed the plot of the first comic arc, though with some changes made along the way, like Natalia being bad the whole time and a character named JC being added to the team in her stead. The game featured art from J. Scott Campbell, but the controls were sluggish, the action was bland, and there was no real impetus to play Danger Girl when Tomb Raider and Syphon Filter already existed and did everything better.
My goodness. We may as well have called this the "Sad History of Spawn Video Games." Don't worry, this is the last one we're going to talk about, even though there are still like five more we could talk about. None of them are good, so you're not missing anything. The Dreamcast title, developed by Capcom, was an arena battle game that put you in the shoes of Spawn with a lot of guns. Aside from having Spawn and Spawn's enemies as bosses, there's very little about this game that couldn't have been palette swapped with any other license. There was some potential in Demon's Hand, but the difficulty being scaled by swarming enemies and a countdown timer made it more frustrating than enjoyable.
Okay, so Wanted: Weapons of Fate is a tiny bit of a cheat because it's actually based on the movie that was adapted from the comic. Still, it was a Top Cow comic published through Image, so we're counting it. Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' comic was a lot more vulgar and violent than the film (somehow), but the game certainly let you shoot a lot of people with curving bullets. James McAvoy looked good enough though. If it wasn't for the shortness of the game's campaign, which followed some of the film plot and added in a few more beats along the way, Wanted could have been something special. As it stands, it ended up being just another cover shooter that everyone forgot about after finishing it in an afternoon.