Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Superhero Games I Wish Existed

The way things are right now, I still don't have time to write the in-depth, fleshed-out articles I used to write. But I still have a lot of thoughts about videogames, and most of them don't really fit into 140 characters. So from time to time, I'm going to revisit this space with what's on my mind.

Today I am thinking about superhero games. These, like film tie-ins, are so rarely done well that it's actually noteworthy when they don't suck.

Spider-Man 2 box artArkham Asylum box art

Part of the problem might be that superhero games tend to confine themselves to the "third-person action game" format. Sometimes that works - GTA-like mechanics fit Spider-Man surprisingly well, and taking several pages from the book of Bioshock (switched, of course, to third-person) paid off well for Batman.

Still, this scheme puts severe limits on the types of gameplay available, and not every superhero fits well into those limits. If we branch out into other genres, however, things really open up, and there are plenty of superheroes just waiting to star in a good game. Here's the ones I have in mind, and the games from which they should take their cues.


Green LanternScribblenauts promo art

Green Lantern's power ring gives him the ability to create hard light constructs of anything he can imagine. Sounds great - the problem is, in a game the player would be limited to what the developers had put in ahead of time. The inevitable tie-in game for the upcoming film boasts "over a dozen constructs." Picking from a handful of pre-selected objects cannot possibly capture the feeling of being the Green Lantern, and wielding creativity and imagination as a weapon.

Scribblenauts is a game in which the player is presented with a series of puzzles, each of which must be solved by creating any objects the player can think of, so long as they are within the game's extensive vocabulary. The sequel, Super Scribblenauts, adds in support for adjectives, and apparently has 24,000 objects, modifiable with 9,000 adjectives. Now we're talking!

A Scribblenauts-inspired game would let players feel much more like they really were Green Lantern - using their own creativity to create what they decide is necessary to solve puzzles and accomplish goals in their own way.



She-Hulk, a.k.a. Jennifer Walters, has a reduced version of the condition affecting her cousin, Bruce Banner. Like him, she turns big and green when she gets angry; however, her transformation is less monstrous and doesn't rob her of her human intelligence and personality. This is handy, because Walters is a practicing lawyer, who spends a lot of her courtroom time hulked out.

The Ace Attorney games lie somewhere between adventure game and visual novel. The player takes the role of an attorney in a legal system where this role is somewhat expanded - investigating crimes, gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and then arguing the case in the courtroom.

In the interest of drama and fun, the legal proceedings allow things which would never fly in reality. Correspondingly, it carries a sense of humor which is often over the top and tongue in cheek. This makes it a perfect fit for a character like She-Hulk, who has often been held up as a standard-bearer of the "comics should be fun" movement. She even used to break the fourth wall on a regular basis. There's a lot of potential in an Ace Attorney-style game where She-Hulk takes on other beloved Marvel Universe characters as clients.


Squirrel GirlLemmings box art

Squirrel Girl commands an army of squirrels. It doesn't seem like much, but she's defeated a ridiculous number of powerful enemies, including Doctor Doom and Thanos.

In Lemmings, the player controls an army of lemmings, guiding them through levels and past obstacles to a goal. The game is extremely well-regarded and considered a predecessor to modern real-time strategy games.

It's time for Lemmings-style gameplay to make a comeback. Who better to accomplish this than Squirrel Girl and her surprisingly-useful allies?


The FlashSonic the Hedgehog

Okay, this one's a gimme. The Flash is a guy who runs really fast. So is Sonic. The old Sonic games were largely about building and maintaining forward momentum - focusing on and expanding that element would create gameplay that fits Flash beautifully.

A game inspired by classic, side-scrolling Sonic the Hedgehog action and starring the Flash makes a lot of sense.

I would love to see any of these games get made - though to be honest, the one I most want to play is She-Hulk. (It could be like Harvey Birdman, except good!) But really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you're willing to include a variety of types of gameplay, the potential for great superhero games becomes clear. Got any good ideas of your own? What superhero games are you eager to play, if only they existed?


  1. Deadpool - Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (though actually Saints Row 2 would be even more appropriate)

    X Men - Brutal Legend: You directly control a leader of an X team. You can run around and talk to people and do side quests on your own or with a small team, but periodically you'll have to coordinate larger battles with various mutant allies against sentinels, evil mutants, etc.

    Avengers - also Brutal Legend.

    Superman - Magic Carpet: You fly around, have a ton of different spells, and are quite physically tough. Yet Magic Carpet and MC2 still manage to pose the player a challenge. The base building aspects would have to be radically modified or replaced, and things like Supes being able to save people added in (something Defender-esque?), but the combat aspect of Magic Carpet is just about right for Superman.

    Lex Luthor - Evil Genius: swap out the Bond Villain theme for Super Villain.

  2. I would SO play She-Hulk:Ace Attorney. That would be brilliant. And I like madtinkerer's idea for Deadpool. But I'm a big fan of the Merc with the Mouth, so I'm biased. It'll probably be a better idea than whatever they wind up doing to tie in with the movie.

  3. I would think a Daredevil/Ace Attorney-kombo would be more obvious, but putting She-Hulk in there i Wright'n'Wrong-land seems more original, I'll give you that.

  4. The main problem here is that knock-off games don't get many resources. The business folks know that it will sell a certain number of copies even if it is crap, so they have little reason to hire a good team. Cases like Arkham Asylum are remarkable, and I'd love to know the story behind its development.

  5. WayForward already developed a quite good take on a Flash game for the GBA. It's a beat 'em up, but the Flash's powers are integrated really well. I think it laid out the template for a really great Flash game if someone threw a bit more money and time at it.