Ever get the feeling that superhero games miss the whole point of what a superhero is supposed to be? My first taste of superheroes was when I watched the original Fleischer Studios production of Superman cartoons and saw a mild-mannered Clark Kent toss his tie over his shoulder and grip the sides of his business button-down to reveal the “S” upon his chest. This was when I realized that superheroes are better than us, but they are tragic, beautiful pictures. They’re gifted with all of the power — and cursed with all of the horrific loneliness — of having a world to save but, well, it’s this world. Their hair is always neat and their alter egos are always so tortured and their lives are only given brief respite in fortresses, lairs, and hidden enclaves where they can be themselves.
The Superhero at Home
Usually, these secret headquarters are equipped with gigantic supercomputers and other supergadgets, along with a change of wardrobe to replace the tatters of cloth that remain from fighting villain after villain, night after night. They sink down into their chairs, illuminated by the glow of high tech, and await the next wave of crime to fight. That, my friends, is the life of a superhero. They are indestructible because of duty, hormones, mutations, or sheer revenge; comic books, movies, cartoons, and legend have painted them as absolutely untouchable figures in our own international mythos.
So you can imagine that I don’t want to play a video game where a lowly, unnamed henchman can bop Batman against the back of his head and kill him with a single blow.
Makes sense, right?
Out with a Whimper
It’s difficult to imagine being given all of the duty, the power, and the training embedded in your genetic code only to sail effortlessly off of a building like an anvil and die. There. On the ground. Like so many suicide attempts gone right, there you are, supposedly “super,” but a failed button press has brought you to the end of your mortal coil and the player, more than likely me, is sitting there staring at a screen. Where was all this training then, hmm? Where were all those quick reflexes? If Batman’s body was controlled by a mere human, it would be the most pathetic story of all and there’s no way DC would dare print that up in its pages, would it? (Unless maybe it was a story where the Joker creates a chip that he has planted on Batman that makes him become a character in a video game that some kid plays, not realizing it’s the actual Batman he’s controlling? I’ll get DC on the horn.)
Honestly, I’ve given a good go at a lot of the games in the past 10 years that had to do with being your favorite superhero (Did you know that term is trademarked by DC and Marvel respectively? It is.) or even a hero of your own making that donned a cape and mask to thwart crime and all of them left me sighing with disdain. In these games, you essentially are given the reigns to be a superhuman and yet you have things that make you fallible. Set Superman in a video game and watch as dumb, ridiculous things are the cause for his physical distress. Does it make sense? No. Unless these dumb henchmen are lined with kryptonite, nothing should be hurting the Man of Steel. Nothing. In Injustice: Gods Among Us, you pit heroes and villains against one another in a fighting game style that makes no sense to me whatsoever. To me, giving the heroes an opportunity to die by someone outside of the mythos just… hurts my soul. Do we need to do that? I have a hard enough time with keeping Batman on his feet through the streets of Arkham despite his massive amounts of training. So the fact that you could fall into chasms and be thwonked by mere vehicles, people, and more made no sense to me. It took away from the charm and mythos of a series I had been following since childhood.
A Better Paradigm for Superhero Games
You take someone like Batman, DC’s answer to the superhero. A man who is just a man, absolutely, but he has such focus and need for revenge that he has become superhuman in his own right. You take Batman and then you look into his backstory, one rife with training, beautiful, beautiful toys, and the narrow-eyed focus on revenge and then you give me a controller. Me. Someone who doesn’t have any of those things. Before you know it, you’re watching the villains in Arkham Asylum leer at you with the darkness behind you whenever you die because they have won. The villains have won because of a few miscalculated button presses. In the LEGO Batman series of games, you get to take a campy, cutesy look at the series that doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever, so it doesn’t hurt your childhood every single time LEGO Batman goes into a dozen pieces and blinks back to life to fight more silly crime. No, that one I can handle, but when the Dark Knight can electrocute himself to death by merely sliding under a fence wrong, thus ending the story of Bruce Wayne? Not with a bang but with a muted whimper in a duct shaft somewhere where nobody would find him?
This isn’t what I signed up for.
Make the Superhero of the Game Truly Super
Granted, game designers have reasons for this and they have to put you through peril in order to make it a game, right? But why? Why can’t we have a superhero game in which you’re actually super? Where you get hurt, sure, but the majority of this game is finding out the answers to the puzzles left behind, button-presses that you can’t fail, and you still come out looking like a hero. Interactive comic books, ladies and gents. Why don’t we have those?
Give us the opportunity to have a day-in-the-life through some of our heroes’ most dangerous moments, but stop relying on life/death and health bars, because that shouldn’t be what this is about whatsoever! It should be about the stories, the characters, and what goes into making these superheroes what they are — and that’s not their pulse.
What do you guys think about superhero games, and which superhero is your favorite? Any ideas for how you’d design the next superhero game? Sound off below!
Image: Public domain with author modifications