We take a deeper look at the crumbling world of the superhero genre and how that affects the gaming world.
As a kid, I’d feverishly wait for Saturday morning because that was the time that the X-Men animated series would air on Star World. Yes, I’m that old! To say that I’ve loved comics and superheroes would be an understatement. I’ve been collecting comics since I was 5 and I’m almost 40 now so you do the math. I’d wait for movies like Spawn and Steel just to catch a live-action glimpse of the heroes I’d worshipped on pulp pages. It was the same story when it came to games. I vividly remember the 8-bit Captain American and the Avengers where you’d battle supervillains like The Wizard, Crossbones and Ultron on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
There was a slate of DC games on the Super Nintendo as well, with the Death and Return of Superman being my personal favourite. The Sega Master System also saw games like Comix Zone and more. But as we’ve been getting more watered-down, corporatized versions of our favourite characters, the same level of malaise seems to be seeping into the gaming world as well. Without any sort of gatekeeping, the comic book world has been dealing with an infection of people who have no attachment to the product apart from driving it into the dirt. This has moved into the gaming world as well with the dismal announcement of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. Like, stop trying to make Harley Quinn happen, guys! Please Stop! (We’ll dive a little deeper into why the latest game by Rocksteady was so cringe-worthy.)
Sure, there will always be the odd Spider-Man 2018 and the Batman Arkham series here and there but with the Disneyfication of Marvel and DC playing catch up, the superhero game has been kicked to the curb. I tried playing Square Enix’s Avengers game and I felt physically ill. The game was full of the worst predatory gaming practices with loot boxes and Games as a Live Service jammed into a terrible story with even more cringe-worthy graphics. They may have some of the biggest box office hits but Marvel does not have the same luck when it comes to gaming. Again, apart from the Spider-Man games (which had little to no input from Marvel, since the rights to Spider-Man belong to Sony), literally, every Marvel video game is the bottom-of-the-barrel, discount bin stuff.
All the great Marvel games have nothing to do with the main company itself. The excellent X-Men Legends was probably the last good X-Men game with the movie tie-in Wolverine: Origins coming in at a close second. The underwhelming Marvel: Ultimate Alliance wasn’t completely unplayable but it did not set the gaming world on fire. But then again, this can all be traced back to the mishandling of characters. Exactly what’s going on with the MCU? But enough about Marvel games, what about the good folks over at DC/Warner Media?
The guys over at Warner do treat their properties with a little more respect than Marvel does which is why they’re the only bastion for decent games. Although, DC does have its fair share of duds as well. Back on the PS2, we got a Justice League game that was very similar to the Marvel Ultimate Alliance formula but was just better written and had its characters based on the wildly successful designs of Bruce Timm from the DC animated universe. The company does not have the best record when it comes to games but has, over the years, tried bringing its much-loved characters to the gaming world. Apart from the steaming pile of dung that was Superman 64 and Aquaman for the N64, DC has tried its best at delivering fun experiences.
The 2D action of the SNES era saw a ton of DC games hit the console. From the Death of Superman to Justice League Task Force, the console was home to a bunch of games that followed a similar beat 'em-up style. It wasn’t until Rocksteady’s Arkham series did we actually get a AAA superhero game that did not suck! Arkham Asylum changed the way we looked at superhero games and gave us a dark, gritty adventure starring the caped crusader and his extended Bat-family. The sequel was an even bigger success, expanding the world to include Gotham City and then introducing the tank-like Batmobile in Arkham Knight. To see a studio like Rocksteady fall so far from grace is quite sad, really. Suicide Squad looks so generic and boring that this writer will probably not even play the game. I’ve loved these characters and can’t bear to see how they destroy them.
On another personal note, why are all these superhero costumes so overdesigned? It’s like they all tried to copy the god-awful designs of Horizon Zero Dawn. The new Suicide Squad just looks too over-designed with even classic villains like King Shark looking like they walked into a Brazilian parade! It’s so distracting that it turns me off from even playing the game. I booted up Forbidden West on the PS5 and in 5 minutes I had enough. The costumes and design were so distracting and pulled me out of the world. Maybe it’s just me but I prefer the sleek look of the Batman as compared to the rainbow colour scheme found in games like Zero Dawn and now the Suicide Squad.
As superheroes become even more mainstream, we’re starting to see the sharks circling their prey. Predatory practices like games as a live service, loot boxes and the dreaded Battle Pass have all made their way into the world of superhero games and we’re worse off for it. There doesn’t seem to be any hope on the horizon as companies dig their sticky fingers deeper into the genre. Marvel has already been leashed by the geniuses at Disney and Warner Media has their own issues, like bankruptcy to worry about. The only hope we have is the new Hellboy game but even then, it really is just the indie studios picking up the slack. As a fan of comics and superheroes, it’s painful to watch the death rattle of the genre but as with all good things in life, they must come to an unceremonious corporate end.
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