What is the Superman problem?
Simply put, it’s making a good Superman game.
To view the extent of this problem, try typing “best Superman game” into Google. Soon you’ll be met with the equivalent of a shrug, as the only results are people asking if there ever has been a good Superman game. Specify that search to read “top 10 best Superman games,” and the most relevant result is the “top 10 worst Superman games.”
That’s right. The Superman problem is so great that it even breaks Google.
While it’s impossible to attribute the problem to any single issue, the biggest one has to be Superman himself. Simply put, Superman is too powerful, and doesn’t make an effective video game character because there are only so many things that can cause him harm, or scenarios where he is in actual danger. So unless you’re going to equip every thug with kryptonite gloves (which you shouldn’t because it’s a terrible idea), there is a very limited rouge gallery that can even contain the god-man. On the other hand, the entire reason you want to play Superman is to use those very powers that makes him an issue in the first place.
As a result, mediocre games like “Death and Return of Superman” and “Shadow of Apokolips” are held in higher regard than they should be because they do nothing more than let you play as Superman, and not suck too bad. Meanwhile, Superman’s actual best roles are cameo appearances in lego games, and fighting titles.
That last part got me thinking. Maybe the solution to the Superman problem lies somewhere in the fact that so many Superman games have been 3D action titles. While that would seem the most likely home for the man of steel, it’s beginning to look like a truly great Superman game will not emerge until a developer is willing to chart some unconventional territory.
Specifically, that territory may be an adventure game, and that developer Telltale Games.
Ok, so it’s not the first thing you think of when you think Superman, but that’s the point. It’s something outside of the Superman comfort zone, that has turned into the rut the character’s games are in. For instance it would be interesting to see “Walking Dead’s” choice system make a return, and force gamers to actually grapple with the decisions that come with essentially being God on Earth, rather than just wail on baddies level after level. Hell, Clark Kent could even be made useable, courtesy of some journalistic investigation sequences
Best of all, they wouldn’t even have to trim down on the few highlights that do exist in Superman games. You could still have flying, you’d still have the epic feel of playing as Superman, and the powers issue is addressed as you would still be able to use all of Superman’s abilities, but with the emphasis now on plot and progression, there would be no need to trim them down, as the developers could instead have greater control over the action sequences where you get to use them.
It’s not the only Superman idea out there, and it’s certainly not one that is guaranteed to work, however it is an example of how the Superman problem doesn’t have to be one without resolution, and that there are still ideas for the series that haven’t been explored which could potentially turn the games from running joke, into a franchise that is as anticipated as the next “Batman” game.
Although yeah, personally after Telltale is done with that incredible looking “Fables” project, I’d love to see them take a shot at the franchise, and do what no company has done in the 34 years since the first Superman game for the Atari, which is simply make a game that associate’s Earth’s greatest hero with the word good.
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