Comic books have become a major staple in the social culture of the world, and they have been for quite some time. Whether it’s been the friendly neighborhood Spiderman, Peter Parker, or the brooding, billionaire vigilante Bruce Wayne running around the rooftops of Gotham as Batman; comics have become synonymous with the youthful, adventurous spirit in all of us. They give us a sense of adventure, intrigue, and make us feel amazing as we follow the vibrant pages of story lines from cover to cover. The sad truth of the matter is that the vast superheroes that we’ve witnessed over the years, haven’t really translated well to a video game screen.
The mass populous has become ensnared by this comic novelty and many graphic novels and comic books are becoming mainstreamed blockbusters, epic television shows, but it’s only been in the past couple of years where I’ve seen comic book superheroes really crack the preverbal barrier of video game console success. Today we’re going to take a walk down memory lane and discuss some horrifying examples of superhero games, as well as two current titles that I personally believe optimize what our gaming industry is capable of when it comes to bringing our comic book alter-egos and childhood heroes to the virtual screen. Let’s begin with the bad so we can climatically rise to the aspects of the good games that work and why they work.
Bad Superhero Game # 1: Superman 64
Now I was in love with my Nintendo 64 as a child, and I coddled my cartridges like a baby coddles a pacifier, but Superman 64 was like the black sheep of my love affair. The game was utter garbage and is considered one of the worst superhero games to ever be created. This was disappointing for me, because I love the Man of Steel. I grew up believing that through all the trials and tribulations in my life that somehow I must be like him, if I was able to deal with all of the struggles of my life like lead bullets bouncing off Superman’s pectorals.
This game makes Superman look like a drunken pub brawler, and makes his ‘Man of Steel’ persona fade faster than a plate of nachos at a football game. The worst part about this game, is that I ultimately wish it had never been made – that way, I didn’t have to destroy Superman’s reputation and say that his pixelated flying into walls and poorly timed fighting mechanics didn’t make me cry inside. [ Rocksteady, if you’re watching, I suggest this is the franchise you decide to save next! ]
Bad Superhero Game # 2: Thor: God of Thunder
Do I even need to explain why a movie game title is going to inevitably be bad? Look at [almost ] any direct movie/game superhero title and you’ll see the average scores on those games are horrendous. The reason I included Thor as my second example though, is because it’s a MODERN game. It just came out recently following the release of Thor in theaters, and even though I’m not a severe Thor lover, I was really hoping for a game that would MAKE me love him.
The sad truth is that this game doesn’t even play well. The mechanics are clunky. The storyline makes me long for my yesteryears when I didn’t even know video games existed, so that I ultimately wouldn’t have to experience this mess, and just overall in the realm of things the game doesn’t sell what it was designed to sell. Perhaps it’s because the developer was Sega, and sadly, most every movie game that Sega has produced – to me – has been lackluster at best. I would love to see someone attempt a reboot of this franchise, but until then, I’m content with my Batman and Spiderman success stories.
Successful Superhero Game #1: The Batman: Arkham Series [ Asylum and City ]
My goodness, if there was one game in the past couple of years that I can honestly say made me truly FEEL like the superhero that they promoted it would have to be the Batman: Arkham series. London developers, Rocksteady Studios, has made me a true believer that video games based on my favorite superhero can be truly possible! I grew up with Batman fever. I knew every line to every Batman: The Animated Series episode, I read the comics, I even played the NES games and anything that was Batman I followed. In the recent release of Batman: Arkham I was blown away though.
Batman: Arkham City – 12 Minutes of Gamplay:
Never before had I witnessed a game that had stuck so true to the core fan-base. The intriguing storyline, the meaningful characters, the challenge maps to make me feel like Batman, the Riddler challenges to allow me to have to think intuitively during gameplay and the vast wiki-like backstories that I could collect as Easter Eggs throughout the game. All of these pieces made the Batman: Arkham series a standout in how superhero video games should be made.
Now were there flaws, certainly, I won’t ever say a game is exactly perfect in every shape and form. There’s always room for improvement upon the last idea, but the fact is, that the Batman: Arkham series is a stand-alone master class in what a good superhero experience should be. The fighting mechanics were fluid, the story lines were solid enough, and the menu work made accessing weaponry fairly easy. People should take notes from Rocksteady, and Rocksteady should take note that their DC lineup that Warner Bros. has backing them is extensive and fans would love to see other superheroes get ripped off those pages as well.
Successful Superhero Game # 2: Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions
Now I was skeptical about this game when it first came out, because I knew nothing about the developer Beenox, and thought that a brand new company couldn’t possibly design my hero Peter Parker in the shining light that some of the current movies had cast him in. The game also featured four dimensions instead of sticking with just Peter, and that concerned me, but you know what? I was wrong. The game actually works quite well, despite a few qualms I had with certain levels. Beenox gave me a quippy, witty, smart ass Peter Parker. They gave me cell-shaded graphics, which, for that particular game were a perfect and welcome transition.
The gameplay mechanics could have been smoother in places. I often times felt like some of the 2099 Dimension levels became cumbersome and difficult to handle in terms of the swing mechanics. The storyline, while a tad odd, made sense to me and it wasn’t too confusing. The game itself, due to the cell-shading decision probably isn’t too grand of a choice for players like color-blind gamers, due to the harsh contrast tones on some of the models. The game though is a great stance on what a good superhero game should be. These games could definitely incorporate some other functions like subtitles for actual sounds within the game, rather than just dialog for deaf gamers, but both the Batman: Arkham series and Shattered Dimensions sell me on superhero games.