On paper, the superhero video game seems like a genre that would produce perfect blend after perfect blend of established characters and fun. Instead, we're forced to treat the good ones like an ex that, you know, just wants to chill, get dinner, and catch up. There's such an optimistic enthusiasm for games like the Batman: Arkham series, and everything seems to be going really well until we discover the latest Spider-Man misfire getting to second base with a bartender in the restroom.
They're Plan B pills that you take after a lifetime of enjoying a comic character, and they remove more fun than usual non-fun exercises in superheroes, like superhero puzzles or any Thor movie. Why do they hate us when we want so badly to love them? Well, for starters ...
5They Often Present Lamer Versions Of The Movies
The two films in the Amazing Spider-Man series were a cold reminder to movie executives that no one really likes a movie universe if you take great pains to suck the charm out of it. At one point, the Spider-Man series was the most popular of all the superhero franchises, and the people behind the Amazing Spider-Man films did everything they could to make sure that that shit didn't happen again. The games based off of the Amazing movies do the same thing in relation to past Spider-Man games. They show so little indication that the creators know what makes Spider-Man cool that they may have been developed by J. Jonah Jameson.
"Sup. My name's Chad Parker. People who didn't like Batman V. Superman just couldn't handle how dark it was."
Just look at Peter Parker's stupid noggin. That's meant to resemble actor Andrew Garfield, but I don't know who thought Garfield would look best after having a larger skull shoved into his own skull. He doesn't have to look one specific way, but I start to question how much someone actually gives a shit about underdog Spider-Man when Peter Parker resembles the guy from your marketing course who always asks to borrow the notes you took in the last class.
These movie-based games can never muster up anything greater than "You're playing as a thing that has the same name as that thing you like! Isn't that enough for you goddamn nerds?" And if your idea of ultimate joy is knowing that the red-and-blue guy you're clumsily controlling on screen was in a movie you just saw, you'll dig them. If you need more to validate your purchase, they're like a visit from drunk Santa. On one hand, yay, Santa's here. On the other, Santa just puked into the back of his truck.
On Dasher. On Dancer. On Oxycontin.
I would much rather have a Spider-Man game with an uneven story that wasn't meant to fit into some larger movie plot than one that was. The earlier Spider-Man movie games fixed this by just presenting the movie plots with crazier shit added to them. You got to fight the Green Goblin after you fought his unlimited army of robots. The Amazing games are set before, during, and after the plots of the movies, and if this sounds like a weird way to produce enthusiasm for anything, then you are vastly over-qualified to write a new Spider-Man game. Superhero games love to do this, and they never fail to produce continuity errors in later movies, turning what should be an epic story into the time that the X-Men fought a giant robot and, oh wait, never mind, that didn't happen at all.
And since they're blindly trying to not ruin the continuity of a movie series, you end up fighting all of the villains that probably won't show up in the next film. This means that you get to fight guys like Mysterio, Kraven, Rhino, and fucking Scorpion (aka Spider-Man minus webs, plus tail) every few years. Studios are happy to pit you against Hammerhead in a game because they assume that they probably won't have to worry about shoving him into a movie until they reach Spider-Man 14.
But even superhero games with original stories fail, because ...
4They're Too Focused On A Certain Gimmick
The cover of X-Men: Destiny prominently featured eight famous mutants on it, and you got to play as none of them. Instead, you got to "choose your destiny" and play as one of the three ambiguous primary colors on the bottom of the box. Sure, the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants make cameos, but "You get to talk to ... WOLVERINE" should only be a selling point if Hugh Jackman pops out of your TV to have breakfast with you.
Why PLAY as Wolverine, when you can CHAT with Wolverine? That's what the kids want these days.
Even if they do allow you to play as the first half of the title, somewhere along the line, the makers of superhero games decided that playing as a superhero in a functional, engaging way wasn't enough. No, the game really had to be about the internal struggle between good and evil, or about forcing you to play as different versions of the same character. I'm talking about Spider-Man games again for the most part, because between 2004 and 2014, we received the annual gift of a game that was only sort of about enjoying Spider-Man, and mainly about the different ways that they could get you to not play as regular Spider-Man.
What's so awful about regular Spider-Man that we're always asked to be a shittier version of him? When Amazing Fantasy #15 came out in 1962, was there a silent outcry of people who thought the comic would be way better if Spider-Man just left bystanders to die if he didn't feel like saving them? When I was 13, enraptured by Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, I never once thought "This is good, but what it's missing is more of Spider-Man being a needless dick to the innocent."
"With great power comes the ability to be an ass to anyone who's not as strong as you."
If I'm playing as Venom or wearing the black alien costume, sure, I'll beat villains to death if I have to, because I'm evil as hell. But if I'm playing as classic Spider-Man and the game gives me that tired "OH, THE CHOICES!!!" thing, I'm gonna rescue every civilian from every bomb threat in the five boroughs, because I'm Spider-Man, and when I'm Spider-Man, I do Spider-Man things. And when I'm playing something like Shattered Dimensions, I'm going to be disappointed whenever they interrupt my delight to make me control a goggle-wearing Spider-Man with fewer powers. Give that guy his own game so that I don't have to worry that I'm going to finish a normally-powered level, only to be thrust back into "noir" world where my strengths are sneaking around and quips, and my weakness is everything.
It's not wish fulfillment if I can survive more gunshots than the radioactive freak I'm playing as.
Batman: Arkham Knight had a ton of flaws, but when they plastered "BE THE BATMAN" on their box and promotional materials, they didn't mean it as "BE THE BATMAN, and maybe shoot some people if you feel so inclined." They meant it as "You get to play as Batman, the solemn After-School Detention Administrator of the comics world." But the worst game gimmicks aren't just reserved for dumb plot points ...