With the impending release of the next Superman movie, Man of Steel next year, there will inevitably be a release of a Superman video game. Most likely it will follow the plot and characters of the theatrical release. This is very loose ground to travel upon since video game releases alongside their respective movies are for the most part, abysmal. Whether it is a constrained budget or the severe deadline to get it out in time, it just rarely works. So this begs the question. Can a company release a competent movie-based Superman video game? Or better yet, is a Superman video game even viable in the first place? With game releases such as Street Fighter: The Movie to the infamous Superman for the Nintendo 64, video games might just be Kryptonite to the Man of Steel.
When companies attempt to incorporate the Blue Wonder into these traditional action-adventure gameplay mechanics, there remains the risk of producing a game such as Superman 64. Generally accepted as one of the worst, if not the worst, N64 games, it left an unsavory taste in the mouths of fans of Kal-El. Even if one were to look past the unresponsive controls and difficult camera angles, the game did not exactly allow one to imagine what it would be like to strap on Superman’s boots. Using his ability of flight to navigate rings suspended in air, a la Starfox 64, or having to acquire power-ups to use his natural talents such as super breath or heat vision to thwart Lex Luthor is a bit hard to accept. This just illustrates the idea that successfully creating a Superman game will most likely forego legacy “beat-em up” mechanics such as power ups or gaining abilities.
Even with the possibility of Superman finding his special niche in a video game, there remains another hurdle due to the fact that the games released alongside movies have a less than stellar track record. The Iron Man and Iron Man 2 video games were poorly received and clearly lacked polish since they were meant to be released with their respective movies. James Bond games are also victims of this as they have seemingly always launched to moderate to negative reviews. Although Rare’s Goldeneye: 007 on the N64 was universally acclaimed, it did not debut alongside the movie and was given the time to mature before being released. If a Superman video game tie-in does occur with The Man of Steel, it will be hard to shrug off the negative stigma surrounding these video game releases.
In spite of these pitfalls that need to be carefully traversed, a quality Superman video game can be released. His contemporary Batman was also plagued with mediocre or bad video games but was finally able to break free when Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. While Superman cannot follow that exact path, the Superman Returns adaptation was intelligent for an action adaptation in that it focused on time as an antagonist. Superman would have to save citizens and quell supernatural disasters accordingly or risk failing. Albeit far from conventional, it would be interesting to see what would happen if Telltale Games were to take a crack at the Superman license. Everyone knows that Superman can thrash baddies and save the world from imminent disaster in a heartbeat, but one of the most defining characteristics of Superman is his attempt to be human when he is anything but. Given the difficult choices and narrative that Telltale produced with The Walking Dead property, it would be fun to see how Superman/Clark Kent would deal with tough decisions when both are being called upon during quick time events. Of course Superman will be able to smash meteors and punch tornadoes in the face but seeing the aftermath of his decisions and who suffers could very well be a much needed new approach. However, even if this is not a possible avenue for a Superman video game or too close to a sitcom series, there needs to be innovation in future Superman titles. Until that time Superman’s eternal enemy will not be Braniac or Lex Luthor but rather, the video game.