What Move Does Marvel Need To Make With Gaming?
With the near-complete domination of superhero movies over today’s box office, there’s little surprise that the decades-long Marvel vs DC rivalry is more prevalent in pop culture than ever before. However, while Marvel’s film universe as it stands is well ahead ahead of DC’s cinematic efforts- when it comes to video games, there’s a different story to tell.
Marvel’s reputation here leaves a bit to be desired – and you could definitely say they’ve been on the back foot for some time. Excluding the appearances of Marvel characters in games like Disney: Infinity, it feels like their last real gaming success story was the inexplicably good X-Men – Origins: Wolverine tie-in game. Marvel’s missteps in the video gaming space have ranged from forgettable mobile cash-ins to the disastrous X-Men: Destiny.
This is a stark contrast to DC’s gaming efforts. Though not without their own misfires, they’ve managed to find an audience in both the action and fighting game genres with Netherrealm’s Injustice: Gods Among Us and Rocksteady’s Arkham games.
The big thing to note here is that while Marvel’s gaming efforts are received in the popular consciousness as being “pretty good for a franchise tie-in”, DC’s games have blown away that expectation entirely and are known primarily for being genuinely fantastic games. Perhaps the problem is one that lies in Marvel’s refusal to play outside their comfort zone. Though DC have missed the mark with games like multiplayer brawler Gotham City Imposters and their Infinite Crisis MOBA – they’ve at least ventured outside the ever-vague action/beat-em-up genre that Marvel has yet to depart from.
What’s disappointing about this is that there’s clearly a lot of potential here. Imagine an XCOM inspired tactics game where you play as Agents of SHIELD working to contain or defeat out of control superheroes or the Left 4 Dead style Avengers co-op romp that was in the development at THQ Brisbane before the studio shuttered.
However, this pattern may be about to broken courtesy of Marvel’s new partnership with purveyors of fine modern episodic adventure games, Telltale. Marvel are putting their chips on Telltale to start building back the brand’s reputation for gaming with an emphasis on storytelling over action – and while this isn’t an entirely bad move, it’s does feel like it’s coming a little late for both parties. Don’t get me wrong, Telltale make good games – but recent days have seen the limitations of their game engine grow more and more apparent whilst at the same time new developers enter the genre to give them a run for their money.
That said, there’s still a lot of potential here. Part of the appeal of Marvel’s cinematic universe – for me, at least – lies in its ability to encompass different genres and styles of storytelling within its various facets. I’m hoping that with their upcoming Telltale series, Marvel will look to bring some of the more fascinating characters on the fringes of their fiction to the fore. I’d want to see them tackle characters and stories that are challenging to adapt and explore in the context of a TV show or film but very workable within the context of a video game.
There’s even something to be said for the idea of making the series an anthology. It’d be something very different to Telltale’s recent efforts and likely a good fit for the source material. Each episode could offer a self-contained character arc that leaves its mark on the setting, with the series building to a finale that sees each of its protagonists interests collide.
Marvel has a vast library of cool characters and concepts that’d make great fodder for gaming experiences, they just need to draw on the same ambition and passion that drives their cinematic projects.