Superman is the embodiment of the very idea of a superhero. The last son of Krypton is the defender of truth, justice, tolerance, and presumably puppies. Armed with super strength, freeze breath, heat vision, incredible speed, the power of flight, and a host of other situationally convenient abilities, there are times when it seems that there is nothing Superman can’t do.
Well, except star in a decent video game, of course.
While Superman’s film history isn’t exactly stellar, the Man of Steel’s video game appearances have been almost universally disappointing. From a NES game that seemed more preoccupied with teaching children about Wall Street then it was letting them play as Superman to the infamous Superman 64, which just may be the worst game ever made, the quality of Superman video games is bad enough to justify the Man of Tomorrow spending the rest of his life as Clark Kent simply to avoid association with them.
The biggest reason that Superman has yet to star in a truly exceptional game is ironically Superman himself. While his seemingly infinite supply of entertaining abilities should make him the perfect video game character, instead they create something of a game design paradox. How do you develop game around a character that is nearly unbeatable? Where is the sense of challenge when you are essentially playing as a god? What fun is it to have unlimited abilities when you still must complete rudimentary tasks and adhere to the moral code of a boy scout?
It’s certainly a conundrum, but considering that we are approaching an age in gaming when virtual reality (of all things) will soon be viable, it’s getting more and more difficult to believe that a truly great Superman game is beyond the grasp of the medium.
Perhaps what is needed is a change in approach. Instead of the standard 2D beat-em-ups and generic 3D adventures that Superman typically stars in, it’s time that Superman takes flight into a different kind of game.
Like what, you ask? Well like…
Superman Must Die! – A Strategic Villain Simulator
If one of the major issues with Superman games is their lack of challenge, then surely the easiest way to add difficulty to the experience is to have gamers assume the most difficult job in the world: a Superman villain.
Modeled after the supervillain base-building game Evil Genius, Superman Must Die! puts players into the role of a brand new, custom-created supervillain in Metropolis. There they must not only work with or against the city’s most notorious villains, but acquire the resources and technology necessary to turn your mom-and-pop evil empire into a Multiverse superpower. The game doesn’t end until you are able to formulate a plan capable of destroying Superman once and for all.
If nothing else, Superman Must Die! could amuse players by granting them the ability to send underperforming minions on an assignment to mug humble reporter Clark Kent.
Superman Legacy – A Metroidvania Game
Although it’s never quite explained how the heroes keep falling for it, one of the hallmarks of the Metroidvania genre is the way they strip away your character’s powers in the beginning of the game and force you to reacquire them one by one as you make your way through Dracula’s Castle/A Space Pirate Hideout.
It’s that element that makes the genre perfect for the far too gifted Superman. After enduring a particularly strong dosage of gold kryptonite, Superman starts this game out with nothing more than Clark Kent strength and the ability to wear a really tight spandex outfit without shame. As you progress, though, you will gradually earn your powers back and use them to access new areas and beat new foes.
This genre would directly address the issue of Superman being an all-powerful deity and make his abilities feel like a reward as opposed to an obligation.
Man of Steel – A Supermassive Adventure Game
Although not every Superman movie has been great (hey there, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), they have at least done a better job of conveying the more positive elements of Earth’s mightiest hero than the games have.
So why not incorporate those cinematic qualities into a video game? Supermassive Games shocked the world with their cinematic horror adventure Until Dawn, and they may be able to do for Superman what they did there for the horror genre. An interactive Superman movie experience would go a long way to removing past Superman games need to buffer the gameplay with repetitive assignments and could even feature Clark Kent as an actual investigative reporter.
Telltale Games would also be a candidate to make this kind of Superman title, especially since they’re already making a Batman game, but Supermassive Games’ technological and narrative style deserves to be expanded upon.
Superman: Rise of Darkseid – A Rocksteady Action Game
Although Batman’s video game history is far superior to Superman’s, the Caped Crusader didn’t receive his own definitive game until Rocksteady Studios released the action classic Arkham Asylum in 2009.
Now that the team is done with the Batman franchise, it’s easy to imagine them transferring the Arkham engine over to the Superman universe. One of the great things about the action in the Arkham games is that Batman wasn’t that far from invulnerability himself. The stellar Arkham combat system allows for an incredibly capable main character, and the open-world design of later titles in the series would fit Superman’s flying abilities perfectly. Imagining Superman flying around a desolate city filled entirely with criminals and using his considerable powers without need to fear civilian harm sure sounds entertaining in any case…
Tweaks would certainly have to be made to accommodate the capabilities of Superman, but even on a blueprint level, there is more capability in the Arkham series for a great Superman game then there has been in any Superman action game thus far.
Bizarro’s Fun Time Adventure – A Destructive Open World Game
Okay, I concede that Bizarro is not actually Superman and this therefore is not technically a game starring Superman. You’ve got me there.
But Bizarro does offer a solution to nearly every problem that plagues Superman games. Possessing the powers of Superman but free of the pesky moral codes that limit the fun America’s favorite godlike hero can have, Bizarro is the perfect candidate for an Incredible Hulk-style open world game that allows players to simply wreck shop on the entire city and anyone that gets in their way.
Punch hot dog vendors clear across the city, destroy entire buildings by flying into them at high speed, cause Louis Lane to receive an endless stream of parking tickets by lifting her car and placing it in non-parking zones every day…The potential for entertaining superpower-fueled hijinks is simply endless.
Matthew Byrd is a freelance contributor.