If there were a video game that perfectly encapsulated the edgy, sexually charged machismo of Marvel Comics’ Ultimates era, it would be the forgotten 2005 Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.
Marvel Nemesis, made by former StarCraft: Ghost developers Nihilistic Software, is a grim Mortal Kombat style beat-em up fighting game inspired by the Marvel Nemesis: The Imperfects comic. Marvel Nemesis released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Nintendo DS, and Sony’s forgotten son, the PSP in September 2005.
The story follows an overly ambitious scientist named Doctor Niles Van Roekel, who dabbles in human experimentation with a mysterious green alien serum in hopes of creating the ultimate lifeform. Naturally, titular Marvel heroes like The Thing, Elektra, and Spider-Man are compelled to fight their infected teammates, aliens, and Van Roekel’s elemental cybernetic freakazoids The Imperfects.
Because of Van Roekel’s alien virus, every infected Marvel character has a smug haughtiness that runs in contrast to their comic book characteristics. While I don’t remember a lick of the game’s plot, its character introductions and taunts have free real estate in my mind as some of the most ridiculous and occasionally iconic line deliveries I’ve ever heard in a fighting game, including Spider-Man telling a defeated foe they just got a “web-slinging ass kicking” and Magneto negging his opponents in a bored and posh manner.
Although the game’s trailer attempted to entice players with buzz words like “authentic super powers” and “destructible environments,” publications and gamers weren’t buying what Marvel were selling. IGN found the game’s use of the word imperfect to be apropos and rated it a 4.8 out of 10, citing the game’s mediocre move sets as one of its biggest shortcomings as a fighting game.
“Once you’ve learned one guy, you’ve pretty much learned them all,” Jeremy Dunham said in his IGN review.
Gamespot gave Marvel Nemesis a 6.4 of 10 for its “ugly in-engine cutscenes,” “homogenous, button-mashing gameplay,” and its unbalanced fighting system. It also garnered mixed reviews on Metacritic with a 53 percent score and some scathing player reviews. One typo-laden review by some dude named SumDood gave it a two saying:
“Terrible game! Not appealing, very confusing, and not to meantion tough as crap. I wish EA could put its stamp on somethig good other than sports games for once! U guys have all that Madden money spend it wisely!”
I was a preteen around the time I first played Marvel Nemesis and every valid gripe others shared about the game was why I found it to be so fun. The game’s simple button-mashing move set served as a soft barrier of entry. Since my prior experience with fighting games was limited to Tekken Tag Tournament and Virtua Fighter 4, I found Marvel Nemesis’ crunchy, over-the-top violent finishers where characters could get vaporized into dust wicked cool in contrast to the squeaky-clean portrayal of their silver screen counterparts.
My favorite stage, The Daily Bugle, was probably one of the game’s most broken levels, as it was littered with explosive environmental items and there was a high probability of defeating an opponent by simply yeeting them off Peter Parker’s place of work. Oddly enough, I had no problem with Parker throwing explosive barrels at his fellow superheroes and not pulling his punches. In fact, I made my own headcanon that Uncle Ben told Parker to “kill them all” on his death bed instead of going on a long diatribe about responsibility before it was cool.
To be fair, kids are notorious for having bad takes on media. But I’d argue my adoration for Marvel Nemesis was thanks to its edgelord content. That made it stand out to me among the crowd of other Marvel games that were towing the line with their movie counterparts. Hopefully we’ll get another Marvel fighting game that is as unapologetically jaded as Marvel Nemesis.