THE MARVEL CINEMATIC PHASE ONE, PHASE TWO AND THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF MOVIE PROMO GAMES

We’ve taken quite the journey since the post-credits scene featuring Nick Fury showed up in 2008’s Iron Man: The Avengers have assembled twice; Spider-Man’s tangled web of rights have finally allowed him to join the MCU and we’ve seen characters on the big-screen that we never would’ve imagined would show up like the Winter Soldier and Rocket Raccoon. Marvel has really done some astonishing things with a film franchise that many may not have thought would work, and not only have they made it work, they have become the envy of every other film studio today. Every other week you hear about how one company wants to take a franchise and connect it with another to form a shared universe and “Big 2” competitor DC Comics and Warner Bros. studio start their own series of interconnected films next year with Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. 

But not only has the landscape for the movie industry changed drastically in such a short period of time, but also how companies handle movie promotional games. Summer normally meant a drop off in must-play games as companies purchased licenses to produce games based on movies that had not even proven successful. leading to a glut of cheaply made licensed games languishing in bargain bins of your favourite game store. To be fair, not all of those games turned out to be bad: just look at titles like Spider-Man 2 or The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, but for every one of these you had a Catwoman or a Van Helsing. 

captain america super soldier 360 cover

Proof that not all of the Phase One Marvel games were turkeys.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe leading up to the first Avengers film had been a victim of this, with many okay to awful games being produced starring Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk and Thor. While we got a few good games out of the bunch, namely Captain America: Super Soldier on PS3/Xbox 360 and Thor: God of Thunder on the DS, nearly every other one, especially the Iron Man games, are best left unplayed if you know what’s best for you. In a post-Avengers world though, things are a little bit different, and that can be attributed to a few factors.

The first is the savvy consumer, who I strongly feel after many years finally realized that enough was enough when it came to movie titles and voted with their wallets at the cash register. Nowadays you hardly see any movie titles on store shelves, with the exception of a Spider-Man game, which I’m assuming will change in 2017, or Activision trying to cash in on a property like Men in Black or, sigh, Battleship. The second factor that contributed to the changing movie game landscape is the rise of the mobile revolution.

They say a sucker is born every minute and there will always be someone, and I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this by any stretch of the imagination, who will get so caught up in the hype and excitement of a movie and simply must consume every piece of content attached to it. Thanks to the acceptance of smart phone and tablet devices, publishers and developers can get in on that action without having to produce a game that can sit on a shelf. They can turn around a quick free-to-play mobile game that serves the exact same purpose with exponentially less effort. As evidence of this, let’s look at the second phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

iron man 3 the game

Whether you realized it or not, each of the Phase Two slate of films thus far have had their own video game tie-in (we’ll see if Ant-Man gets his turn in July), three of which were produced by Gameloft: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the other, Guardians of the Galaxy: The Universal Weapon came from Disney Interactive and was the only one you actually had to pay for. The Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t have its own game, however it did invade nearly every Marvel free-to-play PC and mobile game today, with the only portion of that promotion that you theoretically have to pay for is the Age of Ultron table in Zen Studios Zen Pinball and Pinball FX2. For those doing the math, should you want to play every single Marvel Phase Two game you can do so for less than $10, a far cry from the hundreds of dollars it would’ve taken to play each and every separate version of Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk and Thor: God of Thunder.

While many would say “Good Riddance” to traditional movie games as companies focus on games the public can ignore entirely, is there still a place for a good movie game produce in the traditional way? I think so, but if handled in the right way, like this fall’s Lego Marvel’s The Avengers, the first video game of any kind where you can play the events of 2012’s The Avengers and its sequel. As opposed to rushing the game out in time for May, something they more than likely could have accomplished, the development team at TT Games chose to release the game in the fall of the same year to focus on making it a better game because the Marvel brand is strong enough that people excited for any type of Age of Ultron game will be willing to wait for it. The Lego group of games have been very good with selecting licenses with legs that people are willing to wait for, with the only game ever released at the same time as a major film being 2011’s Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. 

If Marvel’s interactive division learned anything from how Sega handled their properties until 2011, it’s that rushing a game to meet an impossible deadline is hardly ever a good idea. I don’t think a game starring Captain America or Iron Man would’ve been that good of a decision leading up to The Avengers, but after the fact? They’re characters that are a license to print money. If Batman: Arkham Knight is any indication, if fans love a character they will patiently wait for a game starring that character to be ready and right now there’s arguably no characters more beloved in the entertainment industry than Marvel’s super hero theme. They could’ve made a Winter Soldier game, or a Guardians of the Galaxy game, they just needed to put them out when they were ready and fans would be okay with that.

batman nes cover art

There have been some great movie games like Sunsoft and Konami’s Batman games and the early Activision Spider-Man games, but those are the rare exceptions when it comes to movie titles. That doesn’t mean though that movie titles are a bad idea as there’s special about picking up a controller and playing scenes from your favourite film, but like a game based on a wholly original creation, they need to be ready to go before they’re released. Mobile games have made it so companies can shovel out cheap games to make a few bucks and cash in on a license and this spares us from paying for some pretty bad games, but we also are missing out on the next Butcher Bay or Batman Returns. 

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