Supergaming- The Renaissance of Superhero and Comic Book Games, by Jake Black

imgres One of the most personal and enjoyable parts of being a superhero fan, of being someone who crouches over glossy pages of cheesy dialogue, action, and capes, is imagining oneself as the hero. It’s the beauty of comic books, to be invested in these characters and live vicariously through their adventures, heartbreaks, and triumphs. I think this fantasy is what led to the Rocksteady Batman: Arkham video game series’ success. Batman sells, regardless of the quality of product, as very few superheroes have quite the marketing and mass social appeal that he does, but Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Origins are far more than just Bat-merchandizing. The series has proved itself yet another renovation for the superhero genre outside of comic books, in a time where the popularity of the genre has arguably never been higher. The Arkham series is a successful renaissance of the very concept of superhero gaming, proving a valuable and influential adaptation of the comic book material, and becoming an important element in the rise of the superhero genre’s current presence.

With the debatable exceptions of the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom, superheroes did not have a very strong footing in the video game world. With countless failed mobile game disasters and movie tie-ins, superheroes almost seemed like financial poison for video games companies for many years. IGN gives a more detailed history of superhero gaming, ultimately stating one of the major problems adapting superheroes into games is the money required to even purchase the rights to the various characters.

Rocksteady’s success with Batman: Arkham Asylum was the start of a new age. The game was given time to be developed, as it was not made or intended to be a tie in to a film or television series (though it’s release after the enormously successful The Dark Knight film, one of the strongest fighters in the cinematic superhero evolution, probably didn’t hurt it’s chances). The story itself was given great care and attention, written by a veteran of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series and one of Batman’s greatest scribes, Paul Dini. The game is a very loving , respectful recreation and adaptation of the comic book material, taking risks and using previously untapped potential to create a recognizable image of Batman’s universe, but one fresh and unique, specially made for the world of video gaming. The game’s playing mechanics builds a personal, almost intimate relationship with the player; all the fighting, detective work, and crime solving makes the player feel like Batman, and allows them to slip into this world of good versus evil. The game’s triumph led to the even more successful (and better) Arkham City, a game which broke barriers in how to recreate and adapt a comic book, further building the world of these characters.

The Arkham series has become, arguably, the most influential non-comic piece of Batman media since the Animated Series, even going on to inspire the comics themselves. 154850batwing

Batplane_New_52 Batplane_New_52Only the Nolan movie trilogy could hold a counter, but in a world where audiences are desiring less and less realism and more and more “super” with their superheroes, the Arkham games prove a more satisfying middle ground. And since the initial two Arkham games, the superhero genre is experiencing new life in video gaming, with games like Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and the online games DC Universe Online and Infinite Crisis showing how superhero games can be successful (the previously linked IGN article goes into more detail about all this as well). Even non-superhero comics have been adapted a recreated with the beloved tell-tale The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. In fact, the most recent Batman game Arkham Origins seemed to fall flat when suddenly met with a growing, successful medium.

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Superheroes have a new home, and people get to live out the fantasies with quality gaming. Superhero games are now proving to be respectful, original, powerful adaptations and revisions of their sources, recreating beloved characters and universes into a tangible, playable sandbox. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City launched a new era for video games, giving comic books life, and rekindling the childhood dream of putting on the cape and wanting to be the hero.

  4 comments for “Supergaming- The Renaissance of Superhero and Comic Book Games, by Jake Black

  1. jturner2
    February 17, 2015 at 8:22 am

    As an avid fan of both gaming and comic books, to see them blended together in order to bring “the panels to life” so to speak is a pleasing experience. I mean we have the superhero cartoons (Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS, Teen Titans, etc.) that bring the characters and stories to life and into a new medium. With the Arkham series, you get more original storytelling than that of just a thematic adaptation, while also being given the chance to “don the cape” yourself and be the Batman. Instead of just watching Batman go about his business and fight crime, you get to control him and do it along with him. All in all, I think it’s wonderful to see comic books and video games come together in order to create great experiences for fans of both mediums to enjoy.

  2. jamerive
    February 18, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Superheroes have a much more dynamic feel to them in video games, I feel. That said, one of my biggest make-it-or-break-it factors with them comes with how faithful the games are to portraying the character themselves and/or how seriously the game takes itself in regards to story-telling vs. action, etc. With the Arkham games, there’s a familiar gritty feel without being bogged down by too much exposition or too much brevity. Batman is supposed to be a kickass, no names taken kind dispenser of justice and Rocksteady did a great job of delivering that. It delivers the dynamic feeling that I enjoy and somehow makes me believe that a man in a bat suit can realistically use high-level tech and martial arts to stop the baddies whilst flipping across the room for literal yards sometimes to axe kick someone in the neck. I’m glad that superheroes are shining in video games. It’s a home that welcomes them gladly.

  3. Casey
    February 19, 2015 at 8:40 am

    To make a superhero game is to risk it being awful. You mention the growing popularity of this genre, and while that is true, The Arkham games being the best modern example of this in my opinion as well, I think the formula for what makes up a good superhero game is extremely hard to nail. With games like Deadpool or the movie-based superhero games that run rampant, usually giving gaming and superheros both a bad name it’s refreshing for a game to really get the formula perfect. Batman: Arkham City is arguably the best example ever for that. Hopefully, with Arkham Knight in the works, the series will continue to establish a high note in the realm of comic book based gaming.

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