Comic books are in right now; whether you actually follow up on the comics themselves, or watch the myriad of movies and television shows, it is hard to go anywhere and not see something that has its inspiration from comic books. And, it is easy to see why there is such a surge in the comic world. When you think about it a lot of us have always had that genuine love for super heroes and villains, it wasn’t until more recently that the comic world has exploded in a way that pretty much everyone can benefit from. Movies and television have been the primary medium for the new wave of comic book exposure. Companies like Marvel and DC have seen an explosion in their popularity as of late and while they have definitely had their blunders, things have been great for the two companies. One of the big things I have heard multiple times, is that Marvel owns the film industry while DC owns the television industry. But, where does that leave us with video games?
Fortunately, we have been given the opportunities to have a cornucopia of video games from both companies. Much like the film and television avenue, both companies have had their share of just outright terrible games. In fact, there have probably been more bad games then there have been good. The good games, though, have the ability of having a huge impact on the community that almost negates all the bad titles. Now if it is alright with you, I would like to take you into a brief history of comic book video games. And, in keeping with the balance and unbiased nature that I will be covering both the negative and the positive when it comes to comic book based games. Why don’t we start with DC?
So for a minute lets forget all about these films and shows in the DC universe. In a way to truly appreciate the older types of games you have to almost forget about the current standard that we have on our comic stories and our video games. We want to experience this as a clean slate and to do so we have to think before the internet was what it is today. I am talking the historic time of 1979, the time that saw the dawn of comic book games.
Of course, one of the first games that would be released in the DC time line would be perhaps one of their most popular and iconic superheroes of all time: Superman. Superman debuted on the Atari 2600 somewhere between 1978 or 1979. It was one of the first single player games that was featured on the Atari at the time and also one of the first licensed on said system. Now I bring this particular game up first not only for its release date, but also because of where video games were at the time of its release. This was the forefront of the video game industry at the time, and while it doesn’t seem like much at first, the level of work that it took was probably even greater than what game developers experience now. At the time, this game was highly praised for being something brand new that hasn’t really ever been seen at this level. After Superman there was nothing for almost ten years.
The next big surge of games came in the 80’s and 90’s. The problem here, and I completely get it, was that the games that came out between 1985 and 1995 were only Superman and Batman for the most part (save for two Flash, and one Swamp Thing games). They had obviously had found their niche with the success of their flagship characters. I get it, they saw their money maker and they continued to milk it for all it was worth. The only problem, and it is something that we see to this day, is that when you have something that works you want to continually see it work. Because, if it’s not broke then why fix it? That mentality, though, tends to have more negative effects than it does positive. The current day equivalent of this is things like Star Wars, and the Walking Dead. When they started, they were getting great reviews and being seen as strong titles in the gaming community. As time went on, however, it was clearly evident that the games were starting to suffer in development even though they were still getting released.
From about 1995 to 2006 the games were struggling for an average rating. There were some good games in that time but they were few and far between. Some titles even receiving absolutely terrible ratings by critics (Superman 64, Catwoman, and Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis to name a few). Now, I am not saying that average games are terrible, and these games probably weren’t aimed at an audience that cared too much about the details of games. In my personal opinion, DC saw that there were was a demographic that would always buy the games and wouldn’t necessarily care about the mechanics of the game so they got complacent when it came to the creation of their games. I also think they had poor choices in companies whenever they were deciding who would be making their games. I personally don’t want to blame DC for everything because there are things that they don’t have control over due to letting other companies create their games. But, ultimately it is up to that company to see what gets released and in my mind, realize that they might have made a bad mistake when it came to that particular game and its production. Be it overly ambitious developers that just didn’t have the resources to create the game that they initially visualized, or just lazy companies that cut corners in order to cut costs and increase profit. I honestly think that the 95′ to 06′ time frame was really a dark time in the DC company in regards to video games.
What happened in 2008, however, is something magical all on its own level. I am hesitant to place one of these games in the list of good games in the DC franchise. Considering that I actually enjoyed playing the game I will place it on this list. 2008, was just another year that 3 particular DC games were planned for release and let us all be happy that they did release them. These three in no particular order; Lego Batman: The Videogame, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Now while Lego Batman was a good game, it is not exactly the most important ones on this list for me. The other two on the other hand, revitalized the DC name in the video game world and for good reason. Let’s discuss them in a little more detail.
Any gamer worth their salt has heard of Mortal Kombat. You might not be the biggest fan of the game or even like it at all but it stands as one of the quintessential fighting games in video game history. Before the company Midway Games went bankrupt they gave it one more shot with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, and it was awesome. It took the fighting of Mortal Kombat and put DC characters in the fight to combat the MK fighters. They removed a fair amount of the gore and the fatality for a T rating approved brutality system that didn’t depict the deaths of the character in such a graphic way. It was definitely out of its element in terms of Mortal Kombat relation but in making that game, paved the way for a brand new much more polished fighting game. Using the Mortal Kombat fighting engine and just having DC characters, Injustice was born. I am a huge fan of Injustice, but I won’t bore you with the details. Give the game a chance and play it and you will see where my love comes from if you enjoy both DC and fighting games.
Finally we have the Arkham series. For the longest time we were getting a string of bad Batman games, from Batman and Robin on PlayStation 1 to Batman: Dark Tomorrow. They just couldn’t figure out the proper recipe for a good original Batman game. That is, until Arkham Asylum was released in 2008. The first critically acclaimed batman game in literally decades and it was finally here. It did almost everything right, from the beginning to the end. Minus a questionable final boss, the game was able to reinvigorate the character of Batman in a way that made it so that the players could actually feel like the caped crusader. You got to fight the bad guys and soar around the Asylum grounds. The game had the perfect feel and an exceptional cast. It was for me the first time I felt properly satisfied by a comic book game. The game did well enough to produce two sequels and one prequel. It is probably the best DC licensed game that exists, it holds the Guinness world record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game.”
So where does that leave us? Well, honestly, we will probably see more fluctuation in the coming years. Everything has a way of having ups and downs. The only hope is that we can continue to have fantastic games with the DC label, preferably something original. Only time will tell if we get another game at the level of Arkham, or of Superman 64.
Oh god, please no!