In My Head: Where Are the Superhero Games?

Welcome back to “In My Head”, a weekly feature where I write about anything gaming related that comes to mind. This week, I wondered why there’s not a diverse selection of great superhero games. There are so many great superhero and anti-hero films and TV shows for us to fawn over, but very few games that feature the same characters.

I don’t mean movie tie-ins. Aside from the Spider-Man 1 and 2 outings with their corresponding films, there are virtually no good superhero games that have a silver screen counterpart. I want games that have their own separate story lines, with well structured game mechanics and rich characters. Of course, there has been one recent series which ticked all of the boxes.

The Batman Arkham series is brilliant and gave Batman a very good showing. An excellent series on virtually all counts, with Arkham City being my personal favourite. It begs the question, why aren’t there more? Why don’t we have a plethora of our favourite costume-clad heroes? There are, I believe, two very, very good reasons.

Invulnerability is the first. So many supers are impervious to the average man, and that makes it difficult to create a game that isn’t tying itself in knots to make it work. Look at the Superman Returns game. Good God, that game was just atrocious. It didn’t help that it was rushed and looked awful, but the premise was very flimsy. Superman is nigh on impossible to kill, so instead of a health bar, his home city Metropolis had one. Not the makings of a great game that somewhere doesn’t have “Tycoon” in the name.

The second is the ability to fly. In this day and age having a flying protagonist means creating an entire planet on which they can roam, or having a game mechanic where they can’t go any further and say ‘I should turn back and finish the job’, or something to that effect. It’s not what we want. But it’s true. If the most popular heroes like Thor, Iron Man, Superman, Green Lantern, and so on were to have their own games, they would ironically be hampered by their ability to fly anywhere.

As a result, it’s hard to use the most popular heroes and make a game for them. There are exceptions, of course. Super soldier types. Supers that aren’t bullet proof. Captain America, Black Widow, Spider-Man, Hawkeye/Green Arrow, and many more. Creating a game around them would not be too difficult (compared to others), but for most of them, they become just another run and gun or beat-em-up with a famous lead. Imagine a Punisher game. Now more in the limelight thanks to Netflix’s fantastic Daredevil series, this anti-hero could comfortably have a game. But then it’s just a game about a mercenary/assassin with an agenda.

Batman works because he can be killed, because he has crazy gadgets, ridiculous villains, and Alfred. They can all be used to provide a multi-layered game that’s engaging rather than just a one dimensional one, and it can be different from other games in a similar genre. Spider-Man can be the same. He’s vulnerable and like Batman can be isolated in one area. Crucially, however, he’s different enough in his abilities that he stands alone. And that’s why they work. There are so many different factors that come into play to make the games possible.

Sucker Punch (the people behind Infamous, one of PlayStation’s greatest series) are rumoured to be behind a Spider-Man game. I for one hope it’s true, and more importantly I hope it’s nothing like any of the forthcoming films. It should be fantastic if Infamous is anything to go by, but it also highlights my point. Rather than venturing into an unknown realm with superheroes and using one that hasn’t had a standalone outing, they’re giving Spider-Man a current gen run out. I’d like to think that when they were coming up with the idea, there were men and women tearing their hair out over the fact that making a Green Lantern game might be as terrible an idea as the Ryan Reynolds film. Eventually, they decided that The Amazing Spider-Man game doesn’t count as a proper outing for the wallcrawler, and decided to give him his own (hopefully) series. There have been good Spider-Man games before, and some of the relatively recent games have been respectable, but nothing close to greatness.

I would love nothing more than to see enough superhero games to rival the amount of films coming out. But will it happen? Maybe. Are there any studios willing to undertake the task? To pour money into a concept that might not work, and if it does making sure it’s as good as it can be? I hope so. Realistically, think about it. Can any of you think of a way to make a superhero game a reality? If you can make “Superman: The Game” work, and I truly hope you can, get on the horn to developers and make millions. And be sure to give me a copy, I want to play.

Feel free to comment and voice your thoughts, and let me know if I’ve missed anything glaringly obvious. I want to be proven wrong.


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