As long as video games have been in the public consciousness, licensed titles have played their part. Comic book adaptions have been one of the longer-standing examples of this, where players have been exposed to decades of successful and unsuccessful translations. In general terms, these games have run the middle of the pack. There have been some, however, that have been major standouts and industry super-hits. Taking a look at some of these, we want to explore what it is about comics that made this success possible.
An Abundance of Choice
Ever since the arrival of Famous Funnies in 1933, comics have been a constant evolving hit. With so many themes and stories over the years, there has pretty much always been something to appeal to everyone. This means that developers and publishers who want to license a property always have something to draw from, able to select whatever they feel fits their game best.
Such variety doesn’t just benefit video games either, as it has also shown to be immensely successful in related interactive entertainment experiences such as online slots. Titles like Wonder Woman Gold lean on long-standing interest, giving instant recognisability. Indirectly, games like Thor: Hammer Time, while being based on Norse mythology, found success through obviously referencing the more culturally relevant Marvel property.
For traditional video games, the advantages of licensed comic properties depend on the skill of the developer. Created with the right amount of respect and reverence, this combination can be an enormously positive one. One of the most popular examples of this has been the Batman Arkham series of games.
Originating in 2009, this series was the best example seen until that point of illustrating the Batman mythos. In this game, no one man was a threat to Batman, with his special form of free-flow combat adding difficulty in the number of enemies fought at once. With a little skill, Batman could be played just as he is in the comics, a near-unstoppable punching machine. So successful was the combat, that it effectively created a new subgenre.
The same concepts also applied to Batman’s gadgets, where the developer Rocksteady Studios has decades of examples to draw from. These would expand over the length of the games, with Batman using his trademark adaptability to overcome each new obstacle as it appeared.
As a more modern example, at least until Rocksteady releases its new Suicide Squad game, there are the Spider-Man titles from Insomniac Games. With the first one released in 2018, these pursued the difficult idea of allowing a more realistic active world in which a superhero could play.
Set in Spider-Man’s home of New York, this game borrowed from the framework created by Arkham, raising it to new web-slinging heights. This was taken a step further with the re-release and expansion developed as a launch title for the PS5. Adopting ray-tracing technology, and higher frame-rates, the new game again raised the ceiling on what comic-book games could accomplish.
Taking a look at the big picture, and the pattern seems to be one of gaming tech constantly pushing the envelope of comic book settings and stories. With decades of examples to draw from, each tech upgrade lets developers stretch their legs more, and create games ever-closer to comic book ideals.
It might have started with 2D Spider-Men trying and failing to climb single buildings, but each new year pushed further and accomplished more. With modern systems having come so far, we can finally explore these worlds in a way that comic writers could formerly only dream of. Whether using the Batmobile to pull down walls or Spidey’s web-shooters to stick enemies to also walls, we can become active parts of the comic stories, and it’s only going to get better.