What Do You Need to Make the Perfect Superhero Game?

Spider-Man PS4 is right around the corner, and there is a lot of hype surrounding the new offering. Some are even predicting that the title from Sony Interactive Entertainment set for release in the first half of 2018 could be the best superhero game ever made. Developers have created some incredible titles over the years for various different platforms and, for the webslinger to top the pile, Insomniac Games need to create something special. They must also learn from the mistakes of past title if they are to build the paramount superhero adventure. Here we take a look at what makes the best superhero games so good – and also discuss a few that didn’t quite make the cut, and why.

What are the Best Superhero Games Ever Made?

For as long as video games have been in existence, there have been titles based on popular superheroes from comic books and movies. And over the years, a number of games have achieved wide recognition for being exceptional. One of the most recent game series that will be fresh in the minds of players is the Batman: Arkham trilogy from Rocksteady Studios, which began in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum and culminated with the outstanding Batman: Arkham Knight in 2015, which has an 87% consolidated review score on Metacritic. The final offering pushed the boundaries of next-generation consoles and delivered a visually stunning masterpiece with advanced gameplay mechanics. Some of the ideas used in the open-world installment have inspired Spider-Man PS4, which will surely excite fans of the genre.

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment shipped over 5 million copies of Arkham Knight, making it one of the highest selling superhero games of all time. But there have been other games that have gone down in history for different reasons. Prior to the upcoming Spider-Man release, Activision’s Spider-Man 2, released in 2004 for the Xbox, GameCube and PlayStation, was considered the best Peter Parker game for consoles, while 2014’s Spider-Man Unlimited from Gameloft is up there with the best superhero games created for mobile. Other notable titles over the years include Marvel: Ultimate Alliance from Raven Software in 2006, Freedom Force created by Irrational Games in 2002, and Lego Marvel Superheroes from Traveller’s Tales in 2013.

What Do the Best Ones Share?

To make a successful superhero game, there are clearly a few stipulations that developers need to meet. The comic book crowd can certainly turn on a games company if they feel like their favourite characters have been misrepresented in any way. The square-looking pixelated Superman sprite in 1999’s Superman 64 from Titus Software is a prime example of a character that caused outrage among DC Comics fans. With that in mind, players do like to see games that stay true to the comics and include a lot of their favourite characters. Arkham Knight achieved this superbly by featuring everyone from well-known baddies like the Joker to lesser known villains like Man-Bat. Games also need to make sure the storylines are as engaging as the comics or films they are drawing from. 2013’s Deadpool from High Moon Studios was hilarious and had a highly enjoyable narrative. Arkham Knight saw Batman take on one of his fiercest foes, Scarecrow, while being plagued with visions of the Joker in a highly original concept. And X-Men Origins: Wolverine from Raven Software in 2009 was praised for actually being better than the film that it was based on.

Very importantly, the characters should stay fairly true visually to how they look in the comics or in film in order to be recognizable. Let’s take a look at how they appear in some official superhero video games as cases in point. Mobile offering Iron Man 3 from Gameloft has been lauded for its superb graphics and representing Tony Stark’s creation just as well as the movies in the Marvel Universe, while Kabam’s Marvel Contest of Champions from 2014 features visuals which stick more closely to the comics, since action and atmosphere rather than realism seem to be this developer’s priority. Elsewhere, online slots games have taken a major steps in utilising brands from comics as discussed by Betway Casino, with the brand tie ins of Marvel and DC becoming more popular. Take for example The Incredible Hulk slot game uses the comic’s art for inspiration. Looking at the way the Hulk is represented here, the developers have gone for a more 3D feel than the comics, instead opting for the aesthetic of the film. The Hulk character appears as a background in the game, but also as a wild, which is an important symbol in slots. Endless running mobile game Spider-Man Unlimited has also benefited from the recognizability factor of using a well-known hero. Producing a runner game without the webslinger in the title role almost certainly wouldn’t have attracted as many players, as runner games are already very popular, especially on mobile platforms. The aesthetic in this one is in tune with the comics vibe.

What not to do When Making a Superhero Game

As we’ve noted above, one of the worst things to do when making a superhero game is create characters that look awful or nothing like their comic book counterparts. It’s hilarious to look back at some of the offerings that were produced over the years that were totally wrong. Some prime examples are Probe Entertainment’s Fantastic Four for the PlayStation in 1997 where the characters were horrifically represented, and Wolverine in Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects who looked nothing like the cool comic book character. Fortunately, these titles were released when graphics were nowhere near as advanced as they are today. Those who viewed the Spider-Man PS4 trailer at E3 will see that the developers have got the Marvel hero pretty much spot on.

With the upcoming Spider-Man title it looks as though gamers could be in store for some of the best visuals and gameplay ever put into a superhero offering. If the creators can also fill it with some engaging storylines that stay true to the character, we could well be faced with the best comic book adaptation ever seen in gaming.

About the author

Tom Smith