Making Superheroes Work In Videogames: Implementations

Last column, I discussed superhero videogames, why they often don't work, and the two elements that would come together to make them work, or at least not suck.

Those two elements? The “thematic" elements (look, story, writing, acting) and the “mechanical” elements of gameplay and game system.

I've come to the conclusion that the big problem superhero games is that the mechanical elements are often done wrong, poorly, or use inappropriate elements from common gaming systems and tropes. Thematic element problems can usually be cured with the right graphics, writer, and self-respect. Mechanical elements on the other hand, seem to be harder.

So to continue my analysis, provide some fun, and provide some advice,if not helpful embarrassment, to videogame programmers, here the game mechanics I would use to implement games based on specific superhero properties. Some of these in a way have already been done or may be in the works, or I simply missed them because there are so many.

Well, pretty much Arkham Asylum did Batman right; this game was a kind of stealth–brawler with psychology thrown in. That's kind of Batman in a nutshell right there. The only way I could see a man being done differently would be perhaps adding a more open world aspect, but one would have to be careful to keep it from becoming Preventing Of Grand Theft Auto.

Example Game: Er, well, Arkham Asylum and maybe Saints Row II.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is about kicking massive amounts of backside combined with fancy bullet–deflection and doing things to people with less. The good wonder woman game would actually be a kind of creative brawler, mixing fisticuffs and creative use of magical equipment. Besides the FPS game Bulletstorm proved that whipping people around is incredibly fun.

Example Games: God of War, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (look it wasn't that bad).

Ah, Aquaman.  Much-derided, hero of a game so bad it became an X-Play joke, and the person who suffers from jests about talking to fish.  These jokes forget the character is a lordly ass-kicker who rules all sea life.  The ideal game for him would be a kind of 3D light brawler mixed in with real-time tactics – imagine the sheer joy of speeding up underwater to ram enemies, punching them in the face, and then watching a swarm of sharks rip them to pieces.  No one is going to laugh when you throw sharks at people.

Example Game: Brutal Legend.

Legion of Superheroes:
Legion of Superheroes is all about teamwork, and teamwork among people with assorted unusual abilities. This is perfect for the classic strategy role-playing game (SRPG), where various characters interact on a large battlefield, perhaps even three-dimensional, to defeat enemies. Done right, with creative combos of powers, this could be a very satisfying game. Get the thematic elements right, and you've got a winner.

For many superhero teams, this style might work well.

Example Game: Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea

The Flash
The flash is crying out for good game–because let's face it, the idea of super–speed is fun. Most games implementing super–speed over speed you up in the game, but in a single–player game of being the flash which should be done is slowing the game world down–and then you take advantage of it.  A Flash game would be a kind of puzzle-brawler where you use the environment and speed to defeat different enemies and save people.  Imagine the changing tactics when foes use lasers not bullets, or being choosing how to use super-speed to save a falling person.  It would almost certainly have to be third person.

Example Games: There's no one game like this, but I see hints of it in Bulletstorm and Fracture (with environmental usage), Trapt and similar puzzle-trap games, and even Angry Birds.

The Merc with a Mouth?  A game using him would have to be highly thematic, and either a First-Person Shooter or a 3rd person military-style action game.  Deadpool would actually fit into several game mechanics depending on the theme chosen and the way he's played.  In his case getting the theme is right, and the chance for turning his adventures into a parody of video game and other elements would make it a winner.

Example Games: Most FPS games with crazy weaponry (Painkiller), Saints Row II (which also had its share of craziness), Eat Lead.

* A note for Deadpool, that a brilliant game for him might have multiple game mechanics as we see the world through his strange mind.

Wait, the sort-of-bad guy?  Yep, Taskmaster is a character with amazing powers of learning and picking things up, which has incredible game potential.  I'm not saying he's marketable, but I'm using him as an example – as he would fit well in an open-world game that would focus heavily on elements of improvement.  As his journey continued he'd learn from the combats he had (and even lost) and would need to seek out new sources to learn from.  It would add a puzzle element to your usual open-world adventure.

Example Games: Prototype and, in a weird way . . . Mega Man.

So there's a few examples of how I'd do certain super-powered characters in video games. When you think of it, there are any number of game mechanics that lend themselves well to superheroes–as long as you choose the right ones.

A few thoughts and closing:

  • The use of real–time and non-–real–time elements can be a difficult choice. A single–player superhero game were you manipulative team may work well is a turn–based RPG. But for multiplayer game, a more action–oriented approach may work.
  • Some mechanics, no matter how appropriate, are just not going to be accepted by the public and the people spending cash on games. We just have to accept that.
  • I think at this time, there is a mixed desire for both simplicity and innovation in games. This could be an ideal time for superhero games try something different.

So, with that done let's get to the big guy.  My final column in the series, and what inspired this all.

How to do a Superman videogame that doesn't suck.

Steven Savage