Nerds love crossovers. It’s a fact. And whether or not it’s an extension of nerdkind’s inherent obsession with collecting, or some biological need to make like Willy Wonka and condense worlds of pure imagination, this truth isn’t about to change. Comic book publishers, animation studios and especially videogame companies understand this, and thus, they cater to their audience’s insatiable lust for fictional characters from different universes to meet…and hit each other. This train of logic has culminated in a video game industry rich with crossover titles – many of which borrow from the other media with crossover expertise. Really, it’s kind of like videogames crossing over with comics crossing over with cartoons, which is probably the best thing in creation. Pick up the pieces of your freshly exploded head to celebrate ten of the greatest videogame crossovers ever concocted.
10) Battletoads and Double Dragon
It’s a simple formula. Take one gaming franchise where two brothers beat up the same four bad guys for hours on end and combine it with another gaming franchise where three bro-ish frogs beat up the same four bad guys for hours on end. The result is, like, five badasses cracking the skulls of at least eight bad guys of varying color patterns. Isn’t fake math awesome?
9) Famicom Jump: Hero Retsuden and Famicom Jump II: Saiky? no Shichinin
Two of the most ambitious games on the list (especially considering the first in the series was released more than 20 years ago), Hero Retsuden brings together 32 different Jump manga series, letting players control 16 of their favorite protagonists including Son Goku, Kinnikuman and Joseph Joestar. Graphically, the games don’t have much to offer compared to 2006’s Jump Ultimate Stars on Nintendo DS, but the sheer novelty of seeing these characters interact in a special storyline during an era before manga was an American commodity is nothing short of wonderful. At least, wonderful enough to inspire a generation of kids who don’t read Japanese to download pirated roms of each of these games and mash buttons until good things happen onscreen.
8) Sega Superstars / Sega Superstars Tennis
Not so much a full-fledged crossover as a sort of Sega company picnic, Sega Superstars mashed together a bunch of licenses to make use of PlayStation 2’s Eye Toy. It’s not quite as flashy as its quasi sequel Superstar Tennis, but the movement-tracker had its moments. Superstar Tennis picks up the slack with more action, better graphics and a wider roster, which includes Super Monkey Ball‘s Aiai and Sega’s original mascot (y’know, before Sonic ousted him) Alex Kidd. Kidd is easy to recognize. He’s the creepy washup in the back hoping Ulala has daddy issues. Wish him well. It’s all he has left.
7) Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
Green Lantern crushing his foes to death in a ring-made energy ball? Wonder Woman slinging sparring partners head-first into pavement? What could be better? That’s what Midway must have thought in the making of this crossover game. Unfortunately, despite fun gameplay, most players remember MK vs. DC mostly for its cheesy storyline, which fused two universes with, uh, rage? The heroes act kind of like D-bags most of the game and the logic behind constraining power levels comes off a bit heavy-handed. Violence is censored in certain fatalities by showing murder off camera and DC’s good guys have “brutalities” instead of “fatalities.” Yeah, all of that’s kind of lame for mature gamers, but it’s a bit asinine to make fun of a game for its writing when it has Mortal Kombat in the title. The bottom line is, this crossover is worth the price of admission and anyone who picked it up for its literary value has spent too much time in the Netherrealm. Still, there’s a reason it’s not higher on the list.
6) Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
Sure, Sonic hanging with Mario isn’t the biggest deal in the world since Sega gave up competing with other consoles, but this game still gives the blue blur some serious love by including his allies from other games. Mario fans have been spoiled over the years. For every cooperative Sonic title, there are five middling Mario sports games, which means the lesser-known characters from SegaSonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles’ Chaotix are a welcome sight. Aside from that, the assembled cast can compete in gaming events players rarely see outside of Olympics-themed titles (fencing, table tennis) making this crossover a well-rounded nerd fest. Another plus? The game doesn’t test its players for performance enhancing drugs. This is much to the benefit of Mario, who without shrooms, radishes, stars and tanooki skins, seems somehow less athletic than his hedgehog rival.
5) DreamMix TV World Fighters
One thing comes to mind when trying to describe the finer characteristics of DreamMix: Fighting is the right of all sentient beings. There’s probably more to like about this fighter than just Prime’s (and Megatron’s) inclusion – Microman, Bomberman and Castlevania‘s Simon Belmont III are present and accounted for as well – but considering there have been approximately zero awesome Transformers games, DreamMix is a wholly justified project. The best part is, since it came out six years ago, players don’t have to worry about Shia showing up and acting like a tool.
4) The Entire Kingdom Hearts Series
Unlike say, comic book universes, Disney properties are by and large completely separate realities with their own distinct flavor. That’s why, even though they all bear the big ass “Disney” stamp, this crossover works so well. It’s flat-out rad to see the Final Fantasy-looking Sora swing his Keyblade against The Heartless alongside guys like Aladdin and Jack Skellington. The graphics are crisp, the music is lively and the storylines are balanced enough to justify all of the wacky crossover action and wash the guilt away from many of the more manly nerds who just so happen to have every Disney princess tune memorized. That’s an enormous accomplishment in itself – one Square Enix ought to be proud of.
3) Battle Stadium D.O.N
Shonen Jump‘s most recent 3-D offering may borrow heavily from Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series, but it’s forgiven for providing players with the full manifestation of what Jump’s earliest games attempted: pulling together a ton of fan-favorites so that they can punch each other. Modern Jump characters like Naruto, Monkey D. Luffy and Bleach‘s Ichigo sparring with their shonen predecessors is the kind of three-dimensional group shot that otaku dreams are made of. Players don’t get too hung up on the varied power levels between franchise stars either, which is nice since they’ve come to expect each of them to pull off the impossible through sheer force of will. Also, the uniform game mechanics act as a kind of universal remote between each of the magazine’s separately licensed fighting games, which can help sate those tired of buying new Naruto and Dragonball Z fighters every three months.
2) Capcom Vs. Everyone Ever
Beginning with X-Men Vs. Street Fighter and continuing on to the soon-to-be-re-released Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, those kooky Capcommers seem to swing at anything that moves. Not content to battle amongst themselves, Capcom’s stable of characters have exchanged blows with Marvel and SNK’s combatants time and again over the years. Each release has improved upon what came before, with better graphics, faster gameplay and the inclusion of additional playable characters. While the storylines are simple enough not to get in the way of the fighting matches, they’re also decent enough to make winning the games rewarding. This is a good thing considering their level of difficulty is balanced to the point that button-mashers can wriggle their way through each release without breaking their controllers and experienced players can earn hidden characters, explore new combos and listen to their fighters yell the names of their moves. Everyone wins.
1) Super Smash Bros. Series
Has it been ten years already? Back in ’99, Nintendo unleashed the ultimate crossover beast upon the gaming community. And it was cute. What began as a kid-friendly battler starring Nintendo’s heavyweights has flourished into a massively popular franchise all its own. With the inclusion of more than 40 playable characters from across Nintendo, plus guest stars like Sonic and Solid Snake, SSB has practically monetized fan service by thoroughly improving from console to console. That’s why it now stands the best looking, most nostalgic and most importantly, most fun video game crossover out there. By working around typical fighter gameplay with inventive twists, the series provides a perfect portrayal of what playing with action figures felt like as young nerds and nerdettes. Unless you were one of those weird kids who made their toys talk to each other out loud. That’s creepy.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.