Over a decade ago, way back in 2008, Marvel kicked off its cinematic universe with the film Iron Man. Since then, the company has reaped billions of dollars in profits, kick-started a multitude of film franchises and brought to prominence a superhero team known as the Avengers.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Credit: Nintendo
Before 2012's Avengers film, however, not a ton of people outside of comic book circles were deeply familiar with Marvel's premier superhero team. Now, however, it's a household name. So why, if Marvel has built a franchise with such name recognition, have we not received a proper AAA adventure game starring Earth's mightiest heroes? Let's take a look at the brief history of Avengers games to find out.
Less than marvelous tie-ins
In 1991, the first major Avengers game, Captain America and the Avengers, was released for platforms including the NES, Genesis and Game Gear. After that, there was an arcade game called Avengers in Galactic Storm, released stateside in 1996.
And then, until well into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there wasn't a single big game with Avengers branding. You'd think that when the Avengers hit the big screen in 2012, their video game fate might change. But before we can discuss what happened there, we need to address the "T" word: tie-ins.
Iron Man (2008). Credit: Sega
Ahead of the MCU's first Avengers movie, there were four flicks: Iron Man 1 and 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. All four of these films were accompanied by poorly received console tie-in games.
Herein lies our first clue as to why Marvel may have temporarily veered away from doing major video games, including any dogged pursuits of an Avengers game: The company didn't want to cash in on the hype at the cost of sullying its newly repopularized brand. The fact is that on consoles, quite a few MCU-related gaming experiences have not done well, and Marvel has learned over the years not to play to its weaknesses.
Lego Marvel's Avengers. Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Inc.
That's not to say the Avengers haven't had some worthwhile appearances on consoles. We've had the cute Lego Marvel games, two Marvel Ultimate Alliance games and the surprisingly awesome Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth fighting game, which was exclusive to the Wii U and Xbox 360's Kinect. More recently, we saw the less awesome Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
Then, there's the mountain of mobile cash cows Marvel presides over, which heavily feature the Avengers and other MCU characters. Marvel Contest of Champions, for example, always celebrates the release of MCU films like Endgame with special events. Of course, we've also had games that just reference the Avengers, like 2018's Spider-Man, and games that are comic-centric and MCU-adjacent, like Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy series.
Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy. Credit: Telltale
But all of these games have one thing in common: None have an action-adventure, big-budget focus on the Avengers themselves. There is no epic, shiny, modern console game where fans can play as their favorite superhero team.
That might be because Marvel's found its stride in one-off projects like 2018's Spider-Man and the money-printing genre of free-to-play (but microtransaction-loaded) mobile games. Both of these have proven that an Avengers game wasn't totally necessary for the company's big-picture monetary goals in the years between the releases of Avengers and Avengers: Endgame.
That time THQ couldn't avenge the Avengers
Another component to this theory is that the game we all wanted simply wasn't worth the hassle to Marvel past a certain point. Lest we forget, after the company's string of tie-in failures, it set its sights on the exact kind of game we've been discussing: a big-budget Avengers adventure. This was in development near the time of the 2012 movie but never made it to store shelves.
We're referencing THQ's Avengers game. It was to be a first-person, action-adventure title that would blow the socks off Marvel fans. There's old leaked footage of players controlling Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk. Other members of the team would've also been playable, had the game came out. Unfortunately, when THQ went bankrupt, this project was left unfinished. Given Marvel's prior tie-in track record and subsequent shift in gaming priorities, it makes sense that the company never picked up and completed this project afterward. But even so, it's sad to see a promising framework left to rot.
The future remains bright
When you add up all the aforementioned factors, it becomes clear why we never got a proper Avengers game. With a ridiculously lucrative mobile market, a series of unsuccessful movie tie-ins and an actual Avengers game that got caught in the middle of a company's bankruptcy, it's no surprise that a modern console game for the team never came to be, pre-Endgame.
However, the future isn't quite as grim. On July 19, we're getting Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. That game seems to be heavily influenced by recent Marvel movies, given its story about the Avengers' conflict with Thanos and the Black Order as well as with other MCU villains, such as Ultron and Surtur.
And though you may have forgotten about it since its years-old debut trailer, a mysterious project code-named The Avengers is still in development from Square Enix. This will hopefully satiate the appetites of fans of the MCU's four major team-up movies, especially since evidence suggests that this title will be a third-person action-adventure game. Plus, the project is led by Crystal Dynamics, the fine folks behind the recent Tomb Raider titles. That team has the right resume for the job, and it has clearly been granted more than enough time to do the property justice. So, hopefully, publisher Square Enix offers us a better look at the game sometime soon.
Beyond those two titles, there's still hope for more Avengers games, in both the near and distant future. Rumors are swirling about all kinds of Marvel projects currently in the works, such as a Guardians of the Galaxy game led by Eidos-Montréal, the incredible studio responsible for Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided.
Who's to say that more MCU-focused games aren't next up on the docket in Square Enix's partnership with Marvel? Only time will tell, but we have a feeling Marvel fans hungry for quality console experiences are in for some major treats over the coming years.