The 21st century has been the definitive age for superheroes. They’ve leapt from the pages of comic books and invaded our television screens and movie theaters to soaring success. Each live action adaptation is almost a guaranteed success. However, the one medium that crafting a superhero story around is seen as a risky investment is the world of video games. Superhero games aren’t always a financial success even when released in tandem with a movie.
The obvious successes are that of the Batman: Arkham series and Sony’s latest Spider-Man installments. These games are not only great, they also feature the most beloved heroes of the last few decades. In recent memory they’ve had many interpretations through critically acclaimed films and popular cartoon shows. Anything that has either of their names on it is going to do well no matter what. People buy these games because they want to become Batman and Spiderman. But do people really want to become Superman?
What sets Superman apart from virtually every other superhero is that he is seen as a literal god. A compelling feature to video games is that the character you are playing is not invincible. You have to be cautious with your decisions, as it could cost you your life. But what does any of that mean when you can play as somebody who can murder another person with a flick of their finger, melt them to human soup with heat vision, and tear through tanks as if they were made out of wet cardboard?
The gaming community’s concern over a Superman game is completely fair. The last son of Krypton has not had a good amount of proper representation in the last few decades. The latest Superman films were considered mediocre and the television shows received adequate attention. Outside of Lex Luthor, the public isn’t as familiar with Superman’s rogue gallery as the villains Batman has to face. Hell, the Joker movie is the highest grossing R-rated movie of all time. Superman’s presence in the current zeitgeist is overshadowed by even the B-list characters from the Marvel Universe.
Whenever anyone thinks about Superman in video game form, Superman 64 comes to mind. It is considered to be one of the worst games ever made, with awful design and annoying controls. At this point, it has become a popular meme ingrained in the minds of video game developers, keeping them from expressing a morsel of enthusiasm for making a game based on the quintessential hero. Developers don’t want to take the risk because they’ve never seen Superman done right. But he has been done right, and there is a way to make a good Superman game.
All-Star Superman is what I consider to be the magnum opus of famed comic book writer Grant Morrison. It tells the story of a Superman who is slowly dying after a mission on the Sun overwhelmed his cells with incredible amounts of solar radiation. The comic shows how Superman spends his final days saving humanity from cosmic threats while revealing so much about the personality of his character. It is a story cohesive of all of the elements from the timespan of Superman’s public presence. You’ll find instances referring to the grounded version from early Action Comics, the sci-fi adventures of the silver age, and the Christopher Reeves movies.
The Injustice series shows what happens when Superman’s character is compromised. After being tricked into killing Lois Lane, Superman assumes the role of an unstoppable dictator. There can be consequences to having god-like powers. If you fight for good, the villains will come after you. If you fight for evil, the heroes will come after you. A Superman video game should base the story heavily on the events of All-Star Superman and Injustice.
2. Strengths and Weaknesses
But what about the invincibility aspect? Everyone is fully aware that Superman has a distaste for glowing green rocks. Kryptonite has been used by many DC baddies as an easy way to incapacitate the red and blue boy scout. All things considered, it is a boring plot device. There are better ways to challenge Superman. He also has a vulnerability to magic, telepathy, nuclear weapons, red-sun radiation, and others with abilities comparable to himself.
Another way to dampen Superman’s invincibility is to have it be a less-experienced Superman. This gives the player the opportunity to unlock new powers by advancing through the game. This would include faster flight time, freeze breath, more effective x-ray vision, etc.
Superman also finds the most trouble in dealing with ethical dilemmas. He is a character with a lot of heart that will face difficulty when having to decide when to act above the law, when to save one life over another, and when killing an enemy is justified. Would he save a group of people if it meant the death of Lois Lane? These are challenges that he can’t punch his way through.
You can’t expect petty thugs to cause Superman any trouble. The villains of this game have to pose some sort of challenge to Superman. Villains capable of doing this are General Zod, Brainiac, Black Adam, Metallo, Doomsday, Darkseid, and even Lex Luthor with mech armor. But why stop there when you have the DC Universe at your disposal?
There are the Greek Gods from Wonder Woman, the Roman Gods from Shazam, and the Atlantean Gods from Aquaman. There’s Sinestro from Green Lantern and Gorilla Grodd from the Flash. There are enough overpowered characters to act as a threat to Superman. It puts you in the same position as Kratos in God of War, except that there won’t be as much blood. A lot less blood.
The game should not be limited to flying around Earth, let alone the city of Metropolis. Superman involves himself with the affairs of multiple planets. He will fly out to fight on the planet of Apokolips and return to Earth in time to submit his article for the Daily Planet. The beginning of the game has to start out small but once Superman gets a hold of his powers, he will be fighting wars in space and other dimensions.
Fighting enemies should be very similar to the fight mechanics of the Dragonball Z video games. They show how two overly powered characters can fight one another. It also shouldn’t be asking for much, since Dragonball Z did take some inspiration from Superman’s origins: a child from another planet sent to Earth who uses his powers to become the savior of that planet.
Most importantly, it provides the moments of fan service you would find playing through the Batman and Spiderman games. It’s the cherry on top that will make this game the optimal superhero experience.
Despite having all of this in mind, this is a game that wouldn’t be able to come out for some time. The requirements for a good Superman game demand incredible performance and will be very expensive in order to include the multi-world travel, open-world aspect, and destructive nature that come with being Superman.
There also has to be more time for the public to get interested in such a game. Rocksteady, developer of the Arkham series, had a Superman game in the works, but had to trash it over a lack of support. If the public shows that they want a Superman game, that buzz will reach game developers and give the Kryptonian his due.
Superman is a character with a rich mythos. He is the actual archetype for the superhero. And if we continue to enjoy games about fighting gods and saving the world, then we can enjoy a Superman game too.