So, hey, Captain Marvel is out now! And I’m writing this before having actually seen it, so I can’t say word one about whether or not it’s actually any good. It prominently features a big orange tabby, though, so that’s a mark in its favor; it’s also made a whole lot of toxic people super angry about a character introduced in 1968. But that means this is a fine time to talk about the many, many superhero games we’ve gotten over the years!
When I proposed this idea, our editor-in-chief immediately wondered if we even had 10 entries for this list, but we do. We actually have a lot more edge cases, as it happens, and it’s sad to say that some of these options have shut down or gone away over the years while others are still awaiting their wider release. But hey, let’s get our super on, or at least reminisce about getting our super on.
1. City of Heroes
You knew this would be here and it would be first on the list. Don’t front.
City of Heroes was not a perfect game, but it was a great game, and it casts such a long shadow even several years out from its unexpected shutdown that it still tends to be what people think of when you mention a superhero MMO. And honestly, it seems almost like a platonic ideal of the same. Widespread customization, ad hoc grouping and gameplay, numerous villain groups, active gameplay…
Gosh, I’m getting misty. Let’s move on, shall we?
2. Champions Online
It gets really bland writing the same thing about Champions Online every single time, since it’s really the same story. It should have been the great second wave of superhero games, and instead it’s a janky mess with periodic sputters of life. And it’s disappointing because gosh are there still fun parts about it. Like, you can jump in and have a fun time right now!
I guess that’s what still bothers me so much; the game isn’t bad, it just feels like it has no long-term future beyond what you see now until it gets shut down. Disappointing. I’d still pre-purchase a sequel, though.
3. DC Universe Online
We’re wading into licensed territory now: DC Universe Online is a game I also find to be a janky mess… but one with some ongoing development and an awful lot of people who love it just the same. And hey, I can’t say bad things about that. It has fans, it has stuff that works for it, it has a kind of schizoid approach to the DC properties – but then so does DC most of the time.
So it’s just not for me. Which, heck, I can live with.
4. Marvel Heroes
You may recall that I never much liked Marvel Heroes, and that would be accurate, but it was also a game that managed to really capture the zeitgeist for a bit. Heck, it captured it and ran with everything it had to offer in a way few games can ever manage, complete with both well-known characters and more offbeat options, as well as a commitment to different costume styles that I always appreciated.
Its unexpected and violent closure came as a real shock to everyone. This isn’t a game that petered out and then sank; it’s one that was doing fine and then it suddenly turned out that it’s studio had been a dumpster fire for a while and the license got burned. And it was a really sad loss. The writing hadn’t been on the wall for this one, and it hurt.
5. Super Hero Squad Online
Meanwhile, the writing felt like it had been on the wall for this title since launch… and that’s a shame. Super Hero Squad Online was never a game I played, but it was a game MOP’s Bree played, and she will wax poetic about how great it was for little kids and big kids. And that’s kind of important and good, since superheroes and comic books are for kids.
Yes, I say that as someone who loves superheroes to this day. Sure, it’s fine to have alternative and more mature takes on these characters, but none of that changes the fact that these characters are for kids first and foremost. This game was charming in its visual style, I appreciate it for that, and while I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did, I’m sad that it’s gone.
6. Infinite Crisis
So… here’s the thing. On the one hand, this seemed like it was never a game that quite knew what it had or how to leverage it, and for that reason it’s not exactly stunning that Infinite Crisis sputtered and died. On the other hand, it’s a superhero MOBA. Superhero MOBA. This feels like the most obvious option available. Throw a lot of characters together and have them fight!
Seriously, how do we not already have more of these?
7. City of Titans
When CoH shuttered, some fans got upset, others got programming. The so-called “Plan Z” games are a small group of titles that were all about creating a new superhero game based on what people loved from that title so that it was almost like it didn’t die… or at least like death was not, in fact, a terminus for the game’s culture and design philosophy.
City of Titans is the title most closely adhering to its predecessor’s formula, making a conscious effort to be akin to a near-sequel. Obviously, it can’t quite lay claim to being a spiritual sequel because none of the original developers is there (to my knowledge), but it’s definitely aimed at being close to its inspiration.
8. Valiance Online
If City of Titans is the M2 universe to CoH’s Marvel universe, Valiance Online is the 2099 spinoff. It’s slightly more futuristic, slightly different, and also for a long time seemed to be the one closest to a functional state. Unfortunately its development updates have quieted a bit in recent months, which is more than a little worrying. We’re all cheering for you, Valiance Online.
9. Ship of Heroes
Shall we count this one among the “Plan Z” titles? It wasn’t one of the original batch of spiritual replacements, but it definitely falls into the same basic spirit, and it’s clearly being pushed hard toward a completed and functional space. It also is taking place in space, as Ship of Heroes explicitly refers to a gigantic colony ship that is also floating through space and has a normal city inside of it.
Yes, that feels a little bit odd in terms of thematic mishmash, but it means both space adventures and superheroes in the long term. That’s a good thing! And we’re excited to see where the game goes from here.
10. Secret World Legends
This title is always split between people who agree that it’s totally a superhero game and people who insist that Secret World Legends is more about being a modern occult game. But when you look at the thematic links… you’re a previously normal human who experienced an unusual event, resulting in strange powers that the player character had no idea existed. Upon these powers awakening you go through a period of adjustment, upending your life and changing what you thought you knew about the world.
Yeah, it’s got a lot of that occult flavor as well, but that doesn’t actually separate it from being a superhero setting; a lot of superheroes have similar flavors in chunks or in part. You’re not a wizard, Harry; you’re a superhero who happens to work for the Illuminati.