In light of recently seeing the movie Man of Steel, I figured it was time to rant a little bit about Superman games. As most gamers know, Superman has been guilty of having some of the worst games of all time, and it’s even up for debate which game is THE worst. That’s not something to be proud of, especially for a superhero that is so well known and loved. It’s not unreasonable to think that most gamers want a great Superman game, and developers would most certainly make one if they knew it would be profitable. Quite a few other comic book superheroes and heroes have gotten excellent games, even if they had some really crummy ones along the way. Why has Superman never gotten an outstanding game? Can this cycle be broken so that gamers can rest easy knowing that someone finally got it right? We shouldn’t be forced to suffer through another awful Superman game.
Let’s first take a look back at what most would argue is the BEST Superman game out there: The Death and Return of Superman (SNES/Genesis). Compared to most awesome beat-em ups, it’s just an average one with some interesting elements and a great re-telling of the comic by the same name. You take on the role of five different incarnations of Superman(Superman, Cyborg, Eradicator, Man of Steel, and Superboy) through ten different stages, beating the crap out of waves of enemies and taking on bosses at the end of most stages. This culminates in the real Superman defeating the Cyborg after he is resurrected. The fighting mechanic is the same with all the characters, as their moves are essentially palette swaps of each other. The controls are a little loose, there is no two player co-op, and the music is somewhat bland. Sure, Superman can fly and use his lasers, but the best way to win is to just use a super power and/or beat guys up.
Despite the aforementioned flaws, Death and Return of Superman hit the concept for a great Superman game dead-on: beating up tons of bad guys in style. Think about some of your other favorite games involving other superheroes/heroes, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What’s the best one? TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, of course. How about Captain America and the Avengers, or X-Men? You’ve got the awesome arcade style beat-em ups on both counts there. What about Batman? Well, you’ve got the first one on the NES, and then the more recent Arkham games. The Arkham games, in addition to mixing in elements of stealth and collecting things(which Batman is supposed to do), had Batman finding creative ways to take down enemies at its core gameplay. These games fit their respective heroes well, and they are remembered fondly years later.
The challenge of making a great Superman game is a little more difficult for a few reasons. Obviously, only two things can hurt him directly: Kryptonite, and super villains (i.e. Emperor Zod and his forces, Doomsday, etc.). Otherwise, he is for all practical purposes, invincible. If Superman starred in a game like the Batman Arkham games, it’d be too easy, since nothing could hurt him and it would just be about saving people, which is boring. There needs to be enough powerful enemies for him to take on, like the aforementioned super villains and other enemies from different planets. For regular humans, like Lex Luthor, it would be necessary for them to wield Kryptonite infused weapons and armor, so that Superman actually has a challenge on his hands. That would work, along with certain Kryptonite traps, which could be placed around a stage or level that Superman would need to avoid or destroy creatively from a distance. Sure, there could be some stealth elements of hiding from enemies, while using his X-ray vision in order to plot the best course of action to save innocents in need. That element from the Batman Arkham games worked really well, and it could work for Superman, too. After all, victims can still be killed, so that would add an element of challenge. At its core, however, 80% or more of the game needs to be about defeating enemies in clever and creative ways using Superman’s abilities, as that is what ultimately would make the game outstanding. Some enemies might be clever and hide behind lead shields, or throw up a kryptonite field(like the bubble shield in Halo 3) at the last second in which they could beat up on Superman mercilessly until he gets away to safety and can recover. The game should either be a 3D open world platformer like the Batman Arkham games, or a 2.5D with transition to 3D type deal, or something similar to the God of War series. Since both Kratos and Superman are like demigods, the same game mechanics could apply quite easily.
Let’s face it, no one wants to fly through rings, jump and punch awkwardly high as Clark Kent without even flying, talk to random people around the city with no clear goal in mind, or suffer mind numbingly bad controls, among other things. The technology and know-how exist for developers to make an outstanding Superman game. I, like many other gamers I’m sure, look forward to possibly seeing a worthy Superman game sometime in the next few years.