5 Promising Superhero Games Cancelled For Insane Reasons
Video games about superheroes can either go very right (think: Spider-Man PS4, Arkham Asylum, any game where you can make Wolverine stab Cyclops in the dick) or very, very, very wrong (almost everything else). Why is that? Perhaps looking at some failed projects can shed some light on that age-old mystery. Or, at the very least, we can laugh at the stupid decisions behind unmade superhero games like ...
We Almost Had A Decent Superman Game ... But Then They Tried To Arkham It Up
Superman video games range from awkward and confusing to straight-up crimes against humanity, but it's not like no one wants to make a good one. In fact, since the mid-2000s, various companies have worked very hard to produce the first truly great Superman game, but some sort of mystical curse is working even harder to prevent it.
First, according to research by Liam Robertson of Unseen64.net, a developer called Factor 5 spent a year creating an open-world Superman game for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii that would have featured Doomsday and fully destructible environments, which sounds like a GOTY-worthy combination. That's all a Superman game really needs to be: just let us punch villains through buildings, man. Leave the good stories for the comics and the ham-fisted symbolism for the movies.
Unfortunately, the game's publisher, Brash Entertainment, collapsed under the weight of too many shitty shovelware games like Alvin and the Chipmunks and Space Chimps, and they took this game to the grave with them. A few years later, as revealed by concept art uncovered by internet sleuths, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment started another ambitious open-world Superman project that would have featured a "massive Metropolis" and tons of heavy-hitter villains to hit heavily (like Zod or Darkseid). Despite the cool concept art, this one was cancelled pretty fast, probably because WB figured no one would play a game where a red and blue superhero zips around a big city doing superhero stuff.
The most recent attempt that we know about would have been set inside the bottled city of Kandor, which is literally a Kryptonian city shrunk down and stuffed inside a bottle, because comics. Villains included Brainiac and Doomsday, and things looked promising ... until, according to industry insider James Sigfield, WB decided that all their DC-related games had to use the same game engine as Batman: Arkham Asylum (a "heavily modified" version of the Unreal 3 engine, optimized for dudes in bat suits beating up 20 people at once). Arkham-izing the game would have made flying difficult, and flying's kind of a big part of the Superman character, so the project came crashing down like, well, a Superman who can't fly.
A Suicide Squad game reportedly fell victim to the same dumb rule. Now we're getting a game where Superman beats up the entire Suicide Squad, so perhaps it was all worth it.
Zack Snyder Accidentally Stopped A Watchmen Game Where You Murder JFK
The superhero genre allows us to live the aspirational fantasies we all had as children, like fighting crime, protecting the innocent, or assassinating the 35th president of the United States one November afternoon in Dallas, 1963. At least that's what you were supposed to do in a planned Watchmen video game based on Zack Snyder's film adaptation profiled here by Comics Alliance, which was overseen by the internet's favorite director himself.
The idea of the game was showing what the Watchmen characters were doing during various points of the 20th century. One level would have been about the Comedian moving down Viet Cong forces with his blowtorch as Dr. Manhattan's giant dong swung in the background. Given what happens during that part of the comic, we seriously wonder if the game would have included a "Press X to murder innocent pregnant woman" prompt.
And, yes, another level would have been about the Comedian murdering John F. Kennedy like in the movie's opening, as Robertson explains in this Unseen64 video:
The developer, Bottle Rocket, planned a whole sequence where the player had to commit magnicide and then sneak out of the area unseen. But why stop there? We can envision a competitive online mode where whoever kills JFK first wins, or one where you're JFK and have to use parkour to escape from 99 dudes playing as the Comedian. They could have made a whole game out of this tasteful premise!
Apparently, Snyder was perfectly happy with that part of the game. What he didn't like was the wording on his contract as overseer. Snyder asked for the contracts to be remade, which put the whole game on hold and left Bottle Rocket hanging and strapped for cash. At this point, Bottle Rocket was offered the opportunity to work on an open world game based on The Flash. Even though this one offered zero opportunities to murder beloved historical figures, they decided to go for it and ditched Snyder and Watchmen in favor of their new publishers at ... uh, Brash Entertainment, of Alvin and the Chipmunks fame. (Yep, the Flash game eventually died too -- check out the Unseen64 video on that one.)
Ben Affleck (And Tony Hawk) Ruined A Wicked Daredevil Game
Back when Marvel Comics was going through rough times and you could license their characters for the price of a burrito, a small studio called 5000ft Inc. managed to nab the rights to make a Daredevil game. All 5000ft wanted was to make a decent little PS2 action game recreating some of Daredevil's most epic fights from the comics, and they had some cool ideas for it ... but then Ben Affleck butt(-chin)ed in and ruined everything.
The game's publisher learned that there was a Daredevil movie with Affleck coming out, which was sure to be a timeless classic and not something we forgot existed until just now. So, they pushed 5000ft to turn their little brawler into a multi-platform open world game with a bigger budget. Because of this, Marvel, Sony, and Microsoft also got involved, each with their own ideas. According to Robertson in Unseen64, Sony insisted on adding a "grinding" mechanic because the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games were selling well and who cares if that makes any sense? As a result, Daredevil looks like he's riding an invisible skateboard half the time (maybe he had one but dropped it and no one's told him?).
5000ft had to hire more employees to handle the bigger game, but with the extra staff came more internal drama, more partying, and more people showing up to work while absolutely shitfaced. Also, massive technical difficulties meant that their "open world" had to be scaled down more and more. In the end, the company managed to pull together a version of the game that looked nothing like what they originally imagined ... and Marvel said "nope." They still had final approval over the game, and didn't like the Frankenstein monster 5000ft created while trying to please everyone.
Before scrapping the game, the company discussed doing some aesthetic changes to sell it as a totally-not-Daredevil property, but it never happened. Too bad, Ben Affleck Repeatedly Falls On His Stupid Face would have been a fun game.
A Mortal Kombat-Style Lobo Game Got Canned Due To Its Sheer Awfulness
DC Comics' Lobo was basically Deadpool before Deadpool was Deadpool -- an unkillable, hyper-violent bounty hunter with a "special" sense of humor who brutalizes the Fourth Wall almost as often as he brutalizes other living beings. As seen on Unseen64, in the '90s Ocean Software was working on a Lobo fighting game that seemed to borrow all the best parts of Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct (that is, the cool pseudo-3D graphics and the stupid, stupid gore). There was only one tiny problem: it sucked.
The game, which was announced for Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, only had six characters, one of whom was Santa Claus (based on the comic where the Easter Bunny hires Lobo to whack him), but you couldn't even pick the non-Lobo ones in single player mode. The graphics were decent for the time ... as long as you didn't mind seeing the same image of Lobo on his space bike between levels, with only the text changing. There were no other cutscenes, despite what the impressively rendered ad below promised.
The game was considered "finished" enough that copies were sent to magazines, but reviews called it one of the worst fighting games on the Genesis and one of the worst games, period, on the SNES, according to the experts at SNES Central. The controls are awful: "special moves" are almost impossible to pull off and they do the same amount of damage as regular moves anyway. The timer moves way too fast, as if even the game itself wanted this shit to be over ASAP, but that means most matches end in time outs, which is the saddest outcome in fighting games.
The company quietly put this travesty out of its misery in 1996 and tried to make a Nintendo 64 version (which also has an Unseen64 page), but the stink of the previous incarnation must have been too overwhelming, because they didn't get very far. The original SNES game ended up leaking online in the 2010s, at which point some shady company started selling bootleg cartridges for $100 each. That seriously sounds like the plot of a Lobo comic that ends with a bunch of decapitated bootleggers.
A Stupid Tablet Peripheral Doomed An Awesome Avengers Game
The Avengers (2012), the movie, was a landmark moment in pop culture. Avengers: Battle for Earth (2012), the video game released around the same time, was ... not. It got mediocre reviews and, unlike the movie, it didn't inspire any competitors to immediately drop what they were doing and start working on ripoffs. Thing is, we actually could have had a good, maybe even revolutionary Avengers game if it wasn't for this dopey-ass thing:
Once again going by the research of Liam Robertson at Unseen64, THQ Inc. decided to make an Avengers game in late 2009, before general audiences knew or gave a crap about Captain America, Thor, or the Avengers themselves outside of whichever one Robert Downey Jr. happened to play. And, since they had two years to complete it, THQ wasn't interested in making just another movie tie-in game. For starters, most superhero games are in third person view, because you have to show off all those costumes and logos you paid to use, but THQ decided to set theirs in first person. This means the game also worked as an elaborate Hulk Hands simulator.
And, since the Avengers are a team and all, the emphasis would be on completing missions via teamwork with three other players online (or with AI players offline, if your internet sucks or you have no friends). This wouldn't be limited to "I stand here, you stand there" like in other team games -- the fun part would be combining the characters' powers and special moves in insane ways. For the plot, THQ brought in writer Brian Michael Bendis, who knows a fair bit about writing Avengers stories. (Incidentally, Bendis is one of the few people who has a playable copy of this game, and he says it's awesome.)
So what happened? Several factors contributed to the game's cancellation, according to this deep dive on the game by CNET, like hefty Marvel licensing fees or the world's economy being in shambles, but one of the most important and the single most ridiculous one was THQ's infamous uDraw tablet. The uDraw was a drawing peripheral that sold pretty well on the Wii thanks to games like SpongeBob SquigglePants and Disney Princesses: Enchanting Stories. THQ looked at that and thought "Hardcore gamers will love this!" so they decided to invest a considerable amount of money trying to make sure every single goddamn PS3 and Xbox 360 owner had a uDraw in their living room. They quite literally "bet the company" on the uDraw ... and lost it. To the tune of about $100 million dollars.
Obviously, THQ wasn't in the greatest shape after that little miscalculation, and since their Australian subsidiary was the most expensive to maintain it was the first to go. Unfortunately, they were the ones making the Avengers game. The entire company went under before too long. Let's just be thankful that this all happened after Disney Princesses: Enchanting Stories was completed.
Top Image: Marvel Studios