Let me take you back a second. The year is 2014 and you’re a fan of superheroes. You just had two great Batman games, an okay DC fighting game, and two more Batman games are coming out soon. It’s a good time to be a Batman fan. However, what about other superheroes? After all, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is becoming more and more mainstream by the day and introducing you to so many new characters, so surely they must have some good video games coming out, right?
To your dismay there are none. For the rest of the decade, superhero games are restricted to just Batman and Lego games. Even video games that try to emulate the feeling of being a superhero, like Sucker Punch’s Infamous aren’t releasing anymore. Superhero video games just don’t exist. This wasn’t always the case, previous generations saw many superhero games made to tie into movies. Many ended up being bad, but we had several gems like Spider-Man 2 and X-Men Origins Wolverine. Both incredible games from studios who knew exactly what to do with these characters.
I won’t pretend that we should mourn the death of the licensed film game though, a majority of them were bad or at worst shovelware. After all, video games take time to develop, years in fact. It isn’t realistic to expect a game to have years of development and then release in time for the film it’s tying into. Well, that is the case in most scenarios, but there is a big franchise that announces it’s film’s four years in advance: The Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When one of the world’s biggest and most successful franchises is announcing film projects years in advance, more than enough time to hire studios to develop good tie-in games, why did we never get good MCU games in the 2010s? Why is there no Black Panther game where I can run around stages in Wakanda? Why is there no Dr. Strange game where I can combo magic attacks? Why is there no low-budget 2D Ant-Man platformer?
Aside from the creative opportunities that superheroes offer when creating games there’s also the wasted financial potential. How often would kids have their parents buy them the latest Marvel game if there were some releasing as the MCU was peaking? Any of you who remember getting movie games in the 2000s can attest, it would have been a lot of them.
So superhero games other than Batman were dead for nearly a decade, another subgenre put to rest in the competitive games industry. That’s not where our story ends though, there’s been a resurgence lately and we can all thank our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man
The friendly Resurgence
In late 2016 Insomniac games announced that they were working on a new Spider-Man game for the PS4. This announcement was met with resounding positivity but the announcement itself didn’t change the industry’s direction. A year after the announcement Square Enix announced they had plans to work on an Avengers game, but nothing more than that.
Then In 2018 everything changed after Insomniac’s Spider-Man was released.The game was a massive success, critically and financially. The friendly web crawler took the public by storm and became the talk of social media for months and still has people sing its praises today. This success paved the way not only for Insomniac to create another game, but for other studios to dip their toes into the Marvel pool.
Things were quiet for the next year as time moved on. Sony released an Iron Man VR game but that somehow flew under the radar and most of you reading this probably forgot it existed. Then at E3 2019 we finally got our first look at Square Enix’s Avengers game; it was disappointing.
The first look at the game wasn’t the only thing that disappointed, everything about the game just didn’t look great and certainly not worthy of an IP that’s last film was the highest grossing of all time. For Square to be given this golden opportunity and screw up this badly will go down in history as one of the company’s greatest blunders.
The critical and financial failure of Avengers worried me as I thought a failure this big would kill the chances of the superhero game genre coming back. Thankfully that wasn’t the case as 2020 brought us Insomniac’s second Spider-Man game: Spider-Man Miles Morales. Miles Morales didn’t set the world on fire like the first game but it was still the talk of the town for a good amount of time and a financial success.
Now we come to the present, or rather we look to the future, what does the game industry have in store for superhero fans in the next few years?
On the DC side of things we have a children’s game based on the show DC Super Hero Girls developed by Toybox for the Nintendo Switch, a cooperative multiplayer Gotham game where players play as members of the Bat Family in an open world Gotham City, and a Suicide Squad game from the studio that brought us the Batman Arkham series. While DC’s immediate gaming future is still heavily Batman related it’s at least more varied than just games where you play as Batman and I expect the future may involve a wider variety of heroes if all goes well.
On the Marvel side of the comic industry we have a wider variety of games coming out. Over the past few months we had some great announcements like a Guardians of the Galaxy game by Square Enix’s Eidos-Montreal that already looks leagues better than Square’s Avengers game and has Dan Abnett involved which I’m told by people who actually read comics is a good thing.
We also have Marvel’s Midnight Suns coming from the developers of Xcom. A strategy game with characters like Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, and Blade? This strange concept and variety is exactly what I want from superhero games! The only downside I can see is that the game has a card system and I can easily see the greedy publisher 2K monetizing this game to hell and back fast enough to make Ghost Rider jealous.
Finally for this article we have yesterday’s announcements of Spider-Man 2 and Wolverine from Insomniac. Spider-Man 2 is practically guaranteed to be both great to play and a success in the marketplace. Wolverine on the other hand is a game full of potential even though we know very little about it, the positive reactions on social media show I’m not the only one who thinks this.
The future looks bright for superheroes in the medium of gaming. There’s no way of telling what the future holds for each individual product. Some will be good, some will be bad, some will be remembered for generations, some will be Iron Man VR. Regardless of each product’s individual quality the one thing I can confidently say is superheroes are here to stay in gaming