X-Men, Konami, 1992
(images from The Arcade Flyer Archive, click for bigger)
Let’s begin with a prime slab of comic book art that fuses the powerful nostalgia streams of nineties Marvel and arcade beat-em-ups with Konami’s much-loved X-Men. The game itself might not be quite as much fun to play these days as you remember, but that’s a minor consideration because hearing Magneto croak “Welcome to die!” could transform any game into a masterpiece. Just looking at this artwork means I’ll have “Here Comes the Hero” stuck in my head for hours to come. As for the artwork itself, there’s not much to say about it, honestly. It’s just a nice, large image of all your favourite X-Men characters, plus Dazzler. The most striking thing about it is that I don’t remember Wolverine wearing a huge red belt, but apparently his brown suit did indeed feature a huge red belt. Funny how memory works, huh? And what’s that belt supposed to be holding up, his skin-tight lycra suit? Wolverine’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does is promote the importance of adequate lumbar support.
The Japanese flyer feature the same heroic X-Men in a different pose, overshadowed by the leering face of Magneto. The Master of Magnet looks like he’s just seen someone drop a twenty pound note and he’s about to stand on it until they walk away and then pinch it. As for the rest of the characters, they look good and dynamic, although poor Nightcrawler has to suffer the indignity of having text obscuring his face. If you’re thinking that the art looks like an animation cell, that’s probably because X-Men: The Arcade Game was famously based on the semi-failed cartoon pilot Pryde of the X-Men.
There’s also this flyer, which really gets across the grandeur of the full six-player X-Men cabinet. “Play X-Men today at an arcade near you! No excuses!” it says, and yeah, sure, unless the arcade bought the six-player cabinet and then had to close down because the floor collapsed.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy the full six-player X-Men experience - sorry, "eXperience" - please don’t tell me, because I’d just be jealous.
Spider-Man: The Videogame, Sega, 1991
It’s your friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler, and he’s got his own arcade videogame! That’s right, Spider-Man : The Videogame, the game all about Spider-Man starring Spider-Man and three other people Spider-Man knows. Let’s face it, neither Black Cat, Sub-Mariner nor Hawkeye are in the same league as Spider-Man, are they? I’m sure they all have their fans, and I bet Black Cat has plenty of fan “art,” but Spidey’s definitely the star here. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the artwork on this flyer look a bit old-fashioned for a game released in 1991? That’s not a complaint, it’s a classic look for the characters featured here, even if Namor’s raw sexual magnetism is making me a little uncomfortable.
There’s some interesting text down there on the bottom-right. Describing the characters as “three heroes and a heroine” seems like an unnecessary distinction, but I do like Dr. Doom being called “an incarnation of evil.” An incarnation of good common sense and benevolent leadership who is forever being slandered by the accursed Reed Richards might be more accurate, but this description is much less cumbersome.
The US flyer goes with a daft pun, which makes sense to me because there are two things I associate with Spider-Man: radioactive spider blood and bad jokes. The pun is then re-used at the end of the blurb, because if a joke was lame in the first place it can only get better with repetition. In fact, you could say there’s so much value in that pun that it’s really got legs, oh no, I’ve fallen into some kind of meta void.
Speaking of voids, I spent far too long looking at the background thinking it was some kind of abstracted Spider-Man mask before realising the magenta part is the silhouette of an arcade cabinet and the blue bits are supposed to be the trails of the swooshing screenshots. I was looking for depth where there was only ugly graphic design.
Superman: The Video Game, Taito, 1988
The Man of Steel gets a pretty boring flyer for his eponymous arcade adventure, but then I suppose Superman is so iconic that all you need to sell the idea of a Superman game is an image of Superman bursting though a paper sheet like a winning contestant on Gladiators.
The European flyer is a bit more engaging. Superman hurls a meatball into the depths of space, which at least gets a flicker from the needle of the interesting-o-meter because now I’m thinking of the phrase “intergalactic bolognese.” He also breaks apart some chains with a smile on his face. You see, he’s happy because some villain was dumb enough to attack Superman with regular metal chains and not a kryptonite-powered death machine.
Batman, Data East, 1990
After Superman, logically the next superhero to check up on is Batman, and of course he also got his own arcade game. It’s not that great, from what I remember. As you can see, it’s based on Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, which means this flyer contains little more than Michael Keaton doing a kissy face. Seriously, what is with that expression? Batman looks like he’s just seen the kid in front of him buy the last scoop of chocolate ice cream and while he’ll settle for raspberry ripple he’s not happy about it.
Batman Forever, Iguana Entertainment, 1996
The streets of Gotham City are paved with gold, plus cobblestones and fondant-coated cakes shaped like the Bat-Symbol that act as impromptu manhole covers. You know, if Gotham’s streets were paved with gold it’d explain why so many criminals are obsessed with the bloody place. As much as I like Batman, I was something of an over-analytical kid and it always bothered me that all these crimes took place in the city that’s home to the World’s Greatest Detective. Like, c’mon, man: Akron, Ohio has banks too.
Batman, Raw Thrills, 2013
Here’s a surprisingly modern Batman arcade game, a racing-combat title where you hare through the streets of Gotham – thankfully not paved in gold, because that’d play havoc with the Batmobile’s traction – and chase down some of Batman’s famous foes. I’ve seen this game in action, and the strange thing about it is that it still has the same feel as an arcade game from the late nineties / early two thousands. It’s something to do with the way the action is framed, punchy and hyper-kinetic in a manner that you don’t see in console games. Presumably it’s designed that way to grab the attention of potential customers, as though the enormous glowing Bat-Symbol wouldn’t do that on its own.
I’m especially interested in the claim that you can control “every Batmobile ever” in this game. Now, I know that’s not strictly true, but you can play as the Batmobiles from the sixties TV series and Batman: The Animated Series and frankly why would you want to drive any other Batmobiles? So, I’ll let them off.
Justice League Heroes United, Global VR, 2009
Now this one just feels like a cruel practical joke. An arcade beat-em-up starring the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman and the Joker with cel-shaded graphics, supposedly co-developed by Konami? In another universe this is my favourite videogame ever, but from what I’ve seen of the version we received on this Earth Justice League Heroes United is an incredibly simplistic and remarkably ugly brawler with poor hit detection and combat that’s got as much depth as two junior school kids having a thumb war. Just looking at this flyer is disappointing me and, in the case of the Joker’s face, kinda creeping me out. I know the Joker is supposed to be creepy, but in a “sinister and unhinged” way rather than a Tippexed corpse. Throw in Wonder Woman staring at her own hands with an expression of utter bemusement, and I think we can all be glad that this one never got a home release.
Captain America and The Avengers, Data East, 1991
Ah, that’s better, back to some artwork you might actually want to look at. Well, as long as you ignore Vision’s massive hand / tiny head combo. Other than that, it’s pretty good. Captain America takes centre stage, as well he might, with all the most famous features of his design on display: his mighty shield, his red-white-and-blue suit, the two small tufts of grey hair at his temples that remind you hey, Cap fought in World War Two, he’s an old man now.
These days, it’s kinda weird to see Iron Man shuffled into the background of a superhero team-up, huh? Just bide your time, Tony. One day you’ll be Robert Downey Junior and you’ll never have to lurk behind Hawkeye again. And hey, I could have sworn the Red Skull doesn’t usually have ears. Skulls don’t have ears. Then again, skulls don’t have eyes, either, so I suppose it’s down to artistic interpretation. At least if you draw him with ears you know his Nazi hat won’t keep slipping off his head.
The American flyer for Captain America and The Avengers is… less compelling. Ha ha, “super hero foursome.” Where was I? Oh yeah, you might think Cap’s climbing out of that arcade cabinet, but take a look at the way the monitor glass is broken around his leg. There’s no way his bulging, justice-packed torso would fit through that gap, so clearly he’s just kicked a hole in the cabinet’s screen to get your attention. Now that he has your attention, he can tell you some marvel-ous facts. Go on, read that speech bubble and then admit it, the voice inside your head sounded like a kid giving a class presentation on the exports of Slovakia or something. At least those facts are believable – over on the left there’s the claim that in some arcades, Avengers is out-earning Street Fighter II at a rate of two-to-one. I must conclude those arcades did not contain a Street Fighter II cabinet.
Avengers in Galactic Storm, Data East, 1995
Captain America once more takes the starring role in Avengers in Galactic Storm, and he’s really carrying the whole thing because the other playable characters are… well, they’re down the Marvel Comics pecking order, let’s put it that way. Apart from Cap we’ve got the medieval-themed Black Knight, the element-manipulating Crystal and kinda-Thor-but-not-really Thunderstrike. Crystal has already appeared in the Inhumans TV show, and I’m sure that by 2025 Black Knight and Thunderstrike will have their own movies, movies beamed directly into the population’s brains by the now-sentient Disney-Marvel-Fox Mandatory Entertainment Droids.
Until then, we’ll have to settle for looking at these CG graphics which have not aged well at all. Early low-poly PS1-type stuff can have a lot of charm, but this is a shiny, plasticky nightmare, action figures come to life in a horror-movie version of Toy Story. Cap’s bulbous, over-inflated pectorals are dominating my focus. I can’t look away from them, and I can’t stop imagining the sounds of a clown making a balloon animal when Cap throws his shield.
The US flyer looks a little better. Not good, but better. The nineties really were the heyday of the brown leather jacket, huh? He doesn’t have one in this image but even Thunderstrike wears a brown leather jacket in the comics. I just feel sorry for the baseball pitcher that’s just out of view in the image above, because Thunderstrike has clearly smashed a home run outta the park.
Spawn: In The Demon’s Hand, Capcom, 1999
Oh hey, it’s Spawn! I’d kinda forgotten Spawn was a thing, but here he is in all his gothic, flappy-capes, not-nearly-as-cool-as-Link-Soul-Calibur-guest-character glory. The flyer is a big ol’ picture of Spawn himself, and there’s not much you can say about that. However, the tagline “access the cool and dark mysterious world of SPAWN” is rather glorious, don’t you think? You can access this world, but you are a mere visitor, child: you can never be as cool and dark mysterious as Spawn, emissary of hell and compulsive spike polisher.”
Also, Spawn will strike here. Apparently. Not a believer in the element of surprise, that Spawn.
X-Men: Children of the Atom, Capcom, 1994
To finish, let’s have some palette cleansers with the flyers for Capcom’s Marvel fighting games. I’m not going to cover the “versus Capcom” crossovers in an effort to keep this article comic-book centric, but Children of the Atom is X-Men all the way down and so here it is. Wolverine’s grimacing harder than any Canadian has ever grimaced before, and as someone who was recently told that they grind their teeth in their sleep it’s making me uncomfortable thinking about what this is doing to his teeth. I know Wolverine’s healing factor means he can grow them back, but still, tooth trauma isn’t fun to think about. Luckily Storm’s nearby, and she can calm Wolverine down by electrocuting his hand.
Relatedly, I’m sure I had a Marvel trading card of some sort with this very artwork on it. In this case, I would be happy for the comments to tell me if that was a real thing or something my brain has made up to distract me from the mental image of Wolverine’s teeth shattering under the pressure of his relentless fury.
The Japanese flyer is cool. I have nothing much to add, it just looks really good. Classic X-Men artwork, a strong design, Magneto looking much more menacing than he did on Konami’s X-Men flyer. Good work all around.
Marvel Super Heroes, Capcom, 1995
Finally for today, it’s Marvel Super Heroes and in what has been a running theme, the American flyer is kinda okay but not nearly as interesting as its Japanese counterpart. You’ve got some famous heroes, the game’s title, what more do you really need? Sure, the lighting on Psylocke makes her look very yellow and thus easily mistaken for some kind of wasp monster, especially with her leg(?) looking like a stinger, but aside from that? Perfectly acceptable.
This flyer, though? Get it printed out and hang it on your wall. That way you can live your life under the baleful gaze of Shuma-Gorath, and who wouldn’t want that?