Superhero games saw a resurgence last generation with the release of the Batman Arkham games. The studio at the forefront, Rocksteady, has been radio silent about their next big project since the wrap-up in the trilogy with Batman: Arkham Knight and the Batman: Arkham VR. Since then, people have been clamoring for some news with some hoping it’s another dabbling in the DC universe.
One character repeatedly brought up in this conversation though is one often shrouded with concern due to the misconception of the character and some awful titles in the past (particularly one on the Nintendo 64). That character is Superman, and I’m here to say it wouldn’t be as hard as everyone makes it out to be.
However, thanks to the amazing games that Rocksteady released, fans trust that they could very well knock this character out of the park. Unfortunately, it looks more and more likely that their next game will be team-centric and not a stand-alone character adventure like their previous outings. So I’m taking it upon myself to be the new developer for this Superman game.
Before I continue, I would like to say I know a little about Superman. I started reading comics in 1993 with the Reign of the Supermen story arc and Superman was my main go-to book. Back then, his titles released on a weekly basis as one coherent storyline and I was an avid reader for most of 25 years while also dipping into older comics as well.
I want to make this clear because as a fan of Superman, I feel that one important note needs to be cleared up from the non-fans who have continued to spout this nonsense about him being some overpowered near invincible character who never gets hurt. The last time he was anywhere like this was at the end of the sixties or beginning of the seventies when the Silver Age of comics ended. That is as long as you don’t count the non-mainline continuity comics such as All-Star Superman. I do find it amusing though that the character who is criticized for being too invincible has died more than most fan favorites throughout his numerous versions.
I say this is important because that seems to be the crux of why his game can never exist. It’s a false pretense set by people who haven’t read a lot of Superman comics or even seen the animated series where he was constantly being hurt. My guess is they see out-of-context feats that are not consistent from writer to writer or even medium to medium. If not that, perhaps there is just a general consensus among the population at large that Superman is invincible without any knowledge on the character in general.
So my goal with this article is to show that a game with Superman is clearly possible if given some thought and benefit of the doubt.
There is no better place to set a Superman game than Metropolis. Unlike his Worlds Finest friend, Metropolis is far from a dark and gritty landscape. It should also have an exuberance to it with the citizens living here and the general day to day feel of a lively city.
Now, I jump straight to an open world game for one main reason. Superman showcases much better when he is not limited to enclosed spaces. Some superheroes are built for open world games (such as Spider-Man) and throwing Superman in a building with corridors connecting several rooms does a disservice to that character.
I also feel that the secondary characters in the Superman world are incredibly important. While Batman had regular use of Commissioner Gordon and Alfred in the Arkham games, and Marvel’s Spider-Man included the likes of Mary-Jane Watson and Miles Morales; Superman too has a strong cast such as Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Emil Hamilton, Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin. Also, Superman has strong support of secondary heroes that could be used in a similar matter that Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman were in Arkham titles. Introducing characters like Steel, Supergirl, Superboy and Guardian could very well happen.
I do not want an origin story. We all know it and don’t need to witness it again. All-Star Superman did it best when it showed his origin in one page, using four panels and only eight words. Perfect and to the point. Start the game as an already established Superman just like the Arkham games jumped late into Batman’s life or Marvel’s Spider-Man did with Peter.
I also disagree with those thinking it needs to be a story where he is gaining powers as the story progresses. Whether it is his coming of age Superman story or something happens at the beginning to where he loses his powers and he regains them as the game goes on; none of those options sound appealing to me. I never liked the stories where a superhero loses their powers.
The power set is one of the many reasons I enjoy those characters. If I wanted a superhero without powers, I would go read one of the many readily available . This isn’t in a way to say those characters are worse; it’s just that they aren’t Superman. Using his powers should be one of the most fun aspects of the game and not having those options from the get-go would be pretty disappointing.
But I’ll touch on his powers later.
Now, there are plenty of stories I wouldn’t mind seeing in a Superman game. However, these stories could also reflect the side missions and trash mobs around Metropolis. For example the plot could revolve around the invasion of Apokolips. This gives the end goal of beating Darkseid while overcoming his lackies such as the Female Furies, Kalibak and Steppenwolf during the game. He also has a ferocious army of Parademons that could act as cannon fodder against Superman.
Events such as this would produce the random enemies in the open world to mimic the criminals in the Arkham games, but also a reason as to why they are a threat to Superman. Realistically, it shouldn’t be a problem. But with enhanced strength, a mind set on destruction and the sheer number of Parademons at Darkseid’s beck and call; it wouldn’t be impossible to see them as having a chance to take out Superman.
Whether it is Parademons, Brainiac robots or Warworld inhabitants; there are plenty of options to give Superman trouble in the world instead of just relying on bank robbers, car chases or rescuing kittens from trees. Though those options aren’t off the table for additional content that could unlock bonus attire or more.
Combat and Skills
One of the tasks when developing this hypothetical game is applying the powers. Superman has made mention numerous times about how he rarely goes all out in fear of what his full extent could do. This mindset should be applied in the game as well to explain why every threat or disaster he runs across isn’t solved within one second.
The other option is to severely weaken his strength and speed. This would be in line with the Superman: The Animated Series version where every two bit criminal with a power suit could knock him out. This isn’t my choice, but is another example of how he can be portrayed as far from omnipotent.
Superman’s arsenal of powers is quite extensive. His more commonly used ones are super speed, heat vision, cold breath, fast healing, and flight to name a few. That’s not even diving into some of the more absurd Silver Age powers or the solar flare move that would leave him powerless in the New 52 reboot. Several of these abilities solve more suspension of belief factors in other superhero games whether it recovering health or the fluidity of combat.
In fact, the speed of the combat would make much more sense with Superman using the Arkham mechanics. It always appeared too “gamey” when it comes to Batman practically teleporting between enemies during his combat maneuvers. Superman is naturally fast but not so quick that he finishes all enemies within two seconds. So it would seem more plausible with him performing these feats.
The other task is keeping combat fresh by introducing new powers or ways in which to use them. He isn’t known to use super-hypnosis for example, but it is a power he had during the Silver Age run. I guess these more unique powers could find their way in, but I prefer finding new ways to combine different powers or expanding the range in how one particular power is used.
Take heat vision for example. While it may originally be used to melt weapons, it could later be used to kneecap enemies causing them to trip and fall or use more as a force beam to push them back entirely. Mix it up with some cold breath and things could get more interesting.
One thing needs to be said about the actual fighting style of Superman. He isn’t agile like Spider-Man, nor does he possess the martial arts capabilities to throw roundhouse kicks. Superman may know how to fight thanks to his training with Batman and Wonder Woman, but his repertoire still relies heavily on normal punches and kicks.
So instead of making the following skills a power-set, perhaps mix it in with the punches and kicks. Some thunder claps or ground stomps to stagger enemies. These more major moves could be for higher combos while backhands, knees, and headbutts litter the button mashing between them.
I feel like this wouldn’t be my strong suit. So I may leave the technical part to those who know it better than I would.
The rogue gallery for Superman is far stronger than people give it credit. Much like Batman, the villains are varied quite a bit and each pose different threats. But he also has some smaller enemies that are more of annoyances than threats such as Loophole and Riot.
As awesomely terrible as Loophole is, I’m not going to be discussing him here in this section. Instead, I wanted to break down the villains into a few categories. They are the following:
Brute Force: Most people see Superman as a meathead who only uses his fist to solve problems. Well, he has plenty of villains who can stand toe-to-toe with him and give as much as they receive. These include the likes of Mongul, Darkseid, Lobo and Bizarro to name a few. Let’s not also forget the one monster that actually killed Superman: Doomsday. Any one of these villains could easily give Superman the fight of his life.
Magical: Kryptonite isn’t the only thing that effortlessly hurts Superman. Any run in with mystical forces in the comics usually results in Superman reiterating how much he hates magic due to how ineffective he usually is with it. So suffice it to say, these villains could be included to give him some trouble as well. Bring out the demons from Hell such as Blaze or Lord Satanus, write him into another story with the Queen of Fables or even have him on the receiving end of the Silver Banshee’s wail.
Kryptonite: Superman is weak to kryptonite as everyone already knows. Some villains use this to their advantage such as Metallo, the Kryptonite Man, Lex Luthor, and just for giggles, Titano the giant gorilla with kryptonite vision. This category is pretty self-explanatory as to why these villains would work. The one addition to this though is – there’s more than green kryptonite. Involving other colors could prove interesting as well!
Reality Changing: Then there are the villains who just warp reality into whatever twisted thing they devise. If not played out in the full story, these could be a similar recreation to the Scarecrow fear gas sections of the Batman games. The fifth dimension imp Mr. Mxyzptlk could have buildings walking around, Dominus could alter the world to be the late 1930’s Superman or the Milton Fine version of Brainiac could tamper with his mind a bit.
Whatever the decision, there are plenty of villains at the disposal of a developer that could change the gameplay and story up enough to keep it fresh throughout multiple games. The main problem, and possibly the biggest hurdle for a Superman game, is the battles with these characters.
Possibly the most difficult thing for a Superman game to accomplish is recreating epic boss battles. The reason I say this is because I have yet to play a game where the mechanics have done any sort of justice for big memorable boss fights. WAIT! That is not entirely true, but what comes to mind is a mechanic that receives some hate as well.
Several games have been able to pull this method off whether it the recent God of War (especially during the fights against Baldur), Marvel’s Spider-Man (such as the Kingpin fight), or a game that was mostly quick-time events in Asura’s Wrath. Quick-time events gave these moments a more cinematic feel but also allowed for actions to take place that regular gameplay wouldn’t be able to replicate on the same scale. This is the route Superman boss battles need to go. Imagine seeing a cinematic scene that looked as if it was ripped out of the DC animated movies, but requiring every blow or resistance of some force accomplished by hammering a button.
I do feel that these major boss battles should all be quick-time events versus what happens where it also mixes in normal gameplay. This always strikes me as odd as I find it less believable when characters are capable of immeasurable feats in one instance such as knocking a character two miles through a mountain, and in the next, are far more tamed down due to the limitations of the game mechanics and can barely cause the person to move a foot back. It’s hard to make quick-time events sound exciting, but if implemented in a similar way to that of Asura’s Wrath, I bet it would be amazing. Every boss battle would have the potential to be something big and bombastic in a way you would expect with Superman.
Collecting and Unlocks
Let’s face it – some of the most fun in these type of games are the unlockables. It’s always a blast to see a new suit being unlocked, switching it out, and seeing a new version of the hero traversing the city.
Superman has a ton to work with here. He has been a character since 1938. So think of the extent one could go to when it came to collectibles and unlockables.
Some games prefer to go a collectible route by dropping items in an open world to find. My idea would be to tie collectibles behind easter eggs. I loved going around the Arkham games and scanning the scene to find Riddler solutions and it was even better when the solutions were things in the environment tied to things in the Batman universe.
Do something similar here, but instead of Riddler have Deathtrap, and have Superman use his types of super vision to find these clues. When found, progress the side story with Deathtrap but also unlock a cover for a comic featuring what was found. Oh, your solution was an old newspaper clipping of a failed shuttle mission? Boom, you earned a cover of The Adventures of Superman 466.
The real prize every time are the costume unlocks. Superman has had a number of outfits ranging from his time as Gangbuster, to his electric phase and to any number of multiversal counterparts including an analog of Barack Obama.
These would best be unlocked by completing side missions or random activities in the world. I like the same idea of tying in the unlockables with the mission or side activity, but if there are random acts, there should be an incentive to do those as well.
Also, I would love the idea of skins based on other characters like Supergirl and Steel. Even better if dialogue in the game would account for that, though that is realistically less probable.
As I’ve outlined in this article, it’s not impossible to make a Superman game work. Quite a bit of groundwork has already been laid down in other games and much of that can carry over to a Superman title. There are plenty of routes one can travel to make it fun and challenging while also maintaining the balance of having Superman feel like…well…Superman.
While there are definitely some challenges to be had in the development, the biggest hurdle isn’t with the game itself, but instead the reputation that Superman has of being all powerful. If the developers can get over that and show Superman has vulnerabilities to more than just kryptonite and a broken heart, a Superman game could be surprising to many.
-Written by Josh Miller