“Is [Spider-Man] a signal of things to come? Oh, yes. Absolutely. And we can’t wait to tell the world about it.” – Jay Ong, Marvel’s vice-president of games talking with Polygon
When I started a website dedicated to comic book inspired video games, I strongly felt that I was getting in on the ground floor of the comic book game revolution. After the critical and financial success of the first two entries in the Batman Arkham series and the mainstream acceptance of superheroes and shared universes thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, it seemed that video game developers and publishers would follow suite and stop treating comic book characters as a cheap, quick and dirty way to make money.
But then the revolution never happened. The Arkham series continued with three excellent titles, the folks at TT Games impressed with Lego Marvel Super Heroes and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham and Injustice: Gods Among us delivered on the promise of Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, but as the years went on the releases became leaner, down to about two to three major titles arriving on consoles, with most of Marvel’s output migrating from throwaway consoles games to extremely profitable free-to-play games on mobile. I never quite lost hope or the desire to archive and share my experiences with retro games on older consoles, but the lack of news coming about developers willing to commit to a comic book game with the scope of Rocksteady’s Batman games was somewhat depressing. Yes, people had been burned by a lot of mediocre comic book games, but at the same time they were shown exactly how things could be after 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The fear I once had about traditional superhero and comic book games dying out has now morphed into a completely new fear; where am I going to find the time to both play and cover all of these amazing games coming down the pipeline? 2016 has been a great year for comic book games already: Lego Marvel’s The Avengers delivered on the promise of the Avengers games we never got and crushed it with its Season Pass and downloadable character content that just recently brought Spider-Man into the mix; The Walking Dead: Michonne mini-series from Telltale has proved that the company is getting better and better with each release; the last Marvel play set for the now sadly defunct Disney Infinity, Marvel Battlegrounds, showed that there is indeed room for more Marvel fighting games and did things with the toys-to-life game that no one ever thought possible; A slew of DC characters: the Joker, Harley Quinn, Superman, Aquaman and Bane came to Lego Dimensions and while I wish it had been better, let’s not forget that we got a pretty good Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game developed by Platinum games (something I still can’t believe happened!) in Mutants In Manhattan.
And this is only the first half of the year. Next month the Batman: Return to Arkham collection is coming to the PS4 and Xbox, upgrading both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City to the current generation of consoles; Batman: A Telltale Games Series is set to debut this summer and Clementine returns this fall in the third season of the developer’s The Walking Dead series and lets not forget the Kickstarted Battle Chasers game, Nightwar, from ex-Darksiders developers Airship Syndicate. Oh yeah, and a little thing called E3 2016 happened last week.
Before E3 even happened Injustice 2 got announced for release in 2017 and characters from Teen Titans GO! were confirmed for the next wave of IP’s coming to Lego Dimensions for the remainder of 2016 and into 2017. As good as both of those pieces of news were though, nothing could prepare us for the Sony press conference last Monday evening when they not only announced that they had secured Rocksteady to make a VR Batman game, titled Batman Arkham VR, that has become one of the most talked about VR experiences coming out of the show:
But also that none other than Insomniac games, those responsible for the Ratchet and Clank and Resistance series for Sony, are making an exclusive Spider-Man game for the PlayStation 4:
The trailer shown during the Sony press conference for Spider-Man, was the moment where I leapt from my chair at home and said aloud several times “OH MY GOD!”, and this is at the end of a show that started off with a new, exciting direction for the God of War series and the unveiling of both the release and demo of Resident Evil VII. Not only is my all time favourite comic book character finally getting the game he deserves, not only is it coming from Insomniac games who happen to be behind some of my favourite games ever, but it shows that after all of these years, Marvel is back in the console game and is playing for keeps.
I started the article off from a quote from an interview from the Polygon website (link at the bottom to read the whole article) because it says that Spider-Man is just a sign of things to come. Outside of what we already know about Marvel’s console outings, like next year’s Telltale series, Jay Ong of Marvel Games stated there’s even more in the pipeline, teasing that we’ll see even more this year. Marvel has also learned from publisher’s like Activision and Sega to rush out games to meet a movie, choosing to release all future games only when they’re ready.
“We are absolutely obsessed about [quality],…”That is our North Star. We always say ‘Great is not good enough. We’re going for truly epic.'” Says Ong, continuing with “Things like [games] you cannot under-resource,” he said. “You can’t not give the development time … to do justice to the game. We think, ‘How do we make the game better? How do we help our partners make the game better?'”
The big takeaway from this E3 for me is that we have a Marvel ready to finally deliver on the video games that we deserve, a bold new way to play as a super hero in VR, and a great group of other releases from story driven Telltale games, to family friendly fun in Lego Dimensions, a continuation of one of the best DC games of all time in Injustice 2 and a studio crowdfunding a revival of a long dormant comic book property in the form of a classic 16-bit RPG. Let’s also not forget that we still don’t know the two DC games that WB Games Montreal are working on outside or rumours and speculation, so there’s things to get excited for on the DC front as well if you’re not the least bit excited about Marvel’s reentry into the video game space.
2016 and beyond proves that there’s never been a better time to love comic book video games, and I for one couldn’t be more thrilled.