Think About It
Despite having put out a dozen films that each made over $200 million at the box office, Marvel has struggled mightily on the gaming front. It’s not that there haven’t been some good, popular titles. Most anything with the Marvel name stamped on it is going to sell. And the company has recently had some success, particularly in mobile gaming. But there haven’t been many full-fledged video games to rival, say, the Batman Arkham series by Warner Bros. and Rocksteady Studios.
Interestingly enough, if there are games that come close to reaching the quality or ambition of the Arkham series, they’ve almost universally involved Spider-Man. The lone exception might be X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a wonderful 2009 game by Activision that was based on a horrible film. Otherwise, however, Spider-Man has dominated the best of Marvel gaming. But… why is that?
As a disclaimer, there have been Marvel-related video games for several decades now. So in a way it’d be fair to say that most every major Marvel hero has been the subject of repeated efforts in gaming. But if one zeroes in on the modern era of superhero cinema – basically the 21st Century so far – none can match the wall-crawler’s exposure in gaming.
The 2002 film, simply titled Spider-Man, was one of the first of the modern superhero movies, and produced a direct gaming adaptation by Activision and Capcom. This review gave that game an 8.4 “Great” rating, effectively kicking off a decade-and-a-half of successful Spider-Man games. Since 2002 there have been numerous standalone Spider-Man console games, some based on films and some more independent. Ultimately, developers have just had more practice with these games, and even though the 2002 one was quite good, some since have been even better.
Video games are moving increasingly toward open world formats in which players are virtually unbound by their environments. In a way, that might seem to be ideal for characters like Iron Man and Thor, who can both effectively fly around and might be a blast to control in a game. However, when you really think about the best open world games, most are subtly, almost sneakily constrained by boundaries. In Far Cry 4, for instance, you can only swim so deep before oxygen becomes a problem, and you can take a flying machine only so high before it malfunctions. In Fallout 4 your reach is more or less endless but the environment is peppered with interesting speed bumps to keep you from simply darting around the map.
Unrestricted movement like what we’d see with Iron Man or Thor is still pretty much unprecedented. And on the other end of the spectrum, Captain America may as well be a generic soldier for video game movement purposes. Spider-Man is an ideal middle ground. His swinging and leaping work wonderfully in big, open environments and make a gamer feel free – but they’re also naturally restricted by what Spider-Man’s able to grab onto or climb.
With the exceptions of Loki (who sometimes blurs the line between villain and reluctant hero) and the Winter Soldier (who’s turning into a good guy), Avengers characters just haven’t faced off against memorable villains on screen. Accordingly, their games don’t have much existing material to build on beyond the comics. Spider-Man, is a different story.
Both Spider-Man film franchises we’ve seen have publicized the Green Goblin for modern audiences, making him a very easy villain for games to adapt. The Goblin features in several console games, beginning with the aforementioned 2002 title. This site even brings a number of Marvel-themed casino games to mobile gamers, and among them is a Spider-Man game entirely revolving around the Attack of the Green Goblin. In that instance the gaming action revolves around a slot machine rather than a 3D adventure, but it still underscores the role of known villains in Spider-Man games. We’ve also seen the likes of Venom, Rhino, and the Lizard – all of whom have appeared in film – in various Spider-Man games.
A Set Location
It’s a pretty basic idea. The Arkham series has thrived largely thanks to the setting that Rocksteady Studios has put together based on the fictional Gotham City. It’s a rich, detailed environment that’s been developed with incredible creativity, and yet it’s one that players are familiar with in one way or another from so many Batman films over the years. None of the popular Marvel characters can boast such a firm, understood setting – except for Spider-Man. New York City may not be as open to creepy re-imagining as Gotham is (after all, Gotham is basically a twisted comic take on New York), but it’s still a much more established venue for Spider-Man’s antics than any other Marvel hero can boast. That lends the games an aspect of familiarity that gamers find appealing.
Gamers like personality in the characters they control, and this has been an area in which a lot of Marvel games have fallen short. In fact even some of the popular mobile games the company has been attached to in the last two or three years have been criticized for making the characters generic in all but appearance and a few special attack moves. At the other end of the spectrum, check out this video of gameplay in the Deadpool game that was re-released on consoles late in 2015. The personality and character banter are center stage from the very beginning. Spider-Man can never match Deadpool for personality, but he’s still viewed by most comic fans as a sort of sassy, joking superhero, and that’s come through in some of the better console games.
To some extent it also comes down to the fact that developers have simply put together more interesting games when working with Spider-Man than with other Marvel heroes. However, these reasons all factor in, and really they make it pretty understandable that Spider-Man is the company’s best asset in gaming.
Words by Guest Writer: John Pennington
John is a freelance writer and editor and lover of film, music and all things nerd. Although he loves them both he’s a card-carrying member of team Marvel rather than a DC devotee, despite his love of Batman. When he isn’t hunched over his keyboard he enjoys hiking, camping and spending time with this wife and two dogs.