Welcome, Wondrous and Rambunctious readers!
I can only assume that you’re here at Comic Booked because you have found yourself Comic Booked. Your life is impacted and driven by your love comics: the art, the stories, the respected and established characters, and the new twists and developments today’s writers provide with storied franchises we can’t help but love. Today we’re going look through that same Comic Booked lens and turn it on video games.
For those of us who have been interested in video games for 30 plus years, comic book and movie video games have had a sort of stigma as being pretty horrible. Even the early games based on comic properties, were more based on the movies or television series those comics inspired. The Batman games from the Nintendo Entertainment System were fun and complete, but directly based on the movies. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, despite the first games cover art sharing more in common with the comics, was based on the animated television show. For that matter, most of these licensed games fell heavily into the realm of the brawler, and were most successful in the arcade. How many of you remember the X-men arcade cabinet that seemed to swallow all of our quarters as the original team in the original gold and blue?
One might say that this dismal trend was stagnant, but not necessarily bad, until the advent of Superman 64. While it had one stroke of genius as far as our spit-curled superhero not having a health bar, but the city of metropolis does, this may have been the first game to try and actually let you feel like the Kryptonian title character, and failed spectacularly. We’re talking a metaphorical Titanic. Flying was nearly impossible, the combat system wasn’t terribly different from a 3D brawler on the ground, and it heavily lacked the one element you would expect more than anything; Story.
Now its not to say that there weren’t successful games in the genre that didn’t come from established brands. The stylistic brawler Comic Zone was a memorable and endearing title on the SNES and if you fast forward past several licensed brawlers after Superman let us down, we had the Infamous series on the PlayStation 3. An original IP borrowing heavily from the comic style of storytelling that by the second installment of the series allowed you to make digital comic missions for others on the online community to play.
It was around this time that a wonderful Development studio by the name of Rocksteady slipped onto the scene. They had the idea to take the fan favorite of our Dark Knight, of our Caped Crusader, Batman and make a game based directly on him. I know, I know, we’ve talked about Batman games already. That idea wasn’t new. What was new was their decision to actually make you feel like Batman. Broken into Stealth action segments, Martial Arts brawling bites, and beats of forensic investigation, the Arkham series was born. These games, spanning four major console releases, redefined what a video game based on a beloved character can be.
There had already been a similar level of success with the Spider-Man games, with Spider-Man 2 being the most shockingly endearing title, allowing you to all but feel the wind against your face as you swung through the bustling city of New York. But the Arkham series had done it without a movie as the basis for the story. Arkham, you see, was an original story, a partially original universe.
Though titles like The Darkness and Marvel Ultimate Alliance were very fun and well made, they hadn’t delivered with the story and had not come anywhere near making you feel like your character. Even the heavily popular Marvel vs. Capcom series as well as the Lego hero games capitalizes on the popularity by allowing us to play our favorite characters but its mostly just window dressing for a game feel that has nothing to do with them. Even the rare game that wants to make the leap that the Arkham games did like the Deadpool game by Konami, fall short because of lack of story.
That is where Telltale games comes in. These games combined the natural progression of point and click adventure games and the branching moral decision trees of popular games like Mass Effect to give you a storytelling experience that was like nothing else in comic video games. Thus far they have nailed at least 4 franchises of comics: Fables, the Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman. Even their art style, cell shaded and flat, gives these series a distinct feel of your comic characters stepping out of those glossy pages to play out their action and drama across the small screen.
Comics have also had a tendency to peel off of popular video games. Tomb Raider has a comic series running currently and in the past we’ve seen Resident Evil and Silent Hill in the horror comics, Metal Gear Solid for spy adventure comics, and even Sonic the Hedgehog. None of these have been particularly award winning, many are solid and beautiful comics.
There are many other ways that comics have influenced gaming. From vanity items that can be purchased in games that would make you look like your favorite comic character or unlockable characters like Spider-Man in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, comics are a part of our entertainment culture. Even online casino games can be patterned from Iron Man, Batman, Superman, or other properties.
So whats on the horizon for this merger of nerd genres? Several Telltale series are continuing with new installments, and that wonderful pioneer Rocksteady games is rumored to be trying to make a Superman title to rival the Arkham series.
Have I missed any beats as far as the ups and downs of this crossover? Are there any games you think belong in the same dismal League as Superman 64 or as illustrious level as the Arkham series? Let us hear about it in the comments!