Despite being the world’s most iconic superhero, Superman is also infamous for his terrible games. While Batman has had much success with his Arkham and LEGO respective series’, the last Superman game we’ve had, Superman Returns, wasn’t very good. Batman’s abilities are suited to conventional gaming mechanics as opposed to Superman game-breaking ones but if done correctly a Superman game can be just as good as the Arkham titles.
Starting from the Bottom
First of all, in order to build a sense of progression. In the Arkham games, Batman only starts with the basics: batarangs, a modest set of moves and the ability to glide but as the game progressed he got more gadgets and more abilities which allowed him to take on greater challenges. As the game went on he became a better Batman. Superman doesn’t have gadgets but has superpowers and those powers should be stripped at the start of the game.
As he progresses through the game; his powers would slowly return to him allowing him to take on new challenges, stronger opponents and to reward the player for progressing. So at the start of the game, Supes can’t just zip to the other side of Metropolis. Some areas won’t be accessible at first and other areas could only be accessible by using certain abilities. For example, a hidden area may only become visible with Superman’s X-ray vision.
As the Arkham games are set in Gotham, this should be set in Metropolis and Metropolis needs to be huge. I’m talking GTA size. A fully-powered Supes will get around quicker than Bats so he would need a big playground to play in to put his speed and flight powers to good use. Whenever I would play Arkham City I felt like I was Batman. This game would need to make me feel like Superman. While Superman Returns had a large open it felt rather bland and empty. There’s no point of having a big playground but not much to play with. Metropolis should be full of life, missions, iconic places and DC references for fans to squeal at.
The distinctive thing about a Superman game will be the ability to fly which isn’t common in video games but this is Superman so it’s a must here. I’d give him two or three different flight speeds. One at “walking speed” for basic navigation, one at Mach speed so he jet off travel Sonic-Unleashed-style to the other side of Metropolis and perhaps one in-between. The same for walking too: a standard walking speed and a “dashing speed” and also a super jump where he can “leap over tall buildings in a single bound”.
Man of Copper?
Another thing to tackle is Superman’s invulnerability. On one side we want to feel the strength, the speed and the indestructibility that the Last Son of Krypton has to offer but on the other hand a game where the player cannot get hurt isn’t a game any more. In Superman Returns game Superman himself was invulnerable but Metropolis wasn’t. The player would have to protect the city stop enemies from taking too much damage.
I believe that in any game the player has to be vulnerable no matter what. Even Superman. I would give him a recovering health meter that works in conjunction with the sun and simply provide enemies that can hurt Superman. Certain attacks such as Silver Banshee’s screech should be able to hurt him right? Wouldn’t Superman’s ears would be “super sensitive” ?
Some enemies like ordinary thugs who wouldn’t normally be able to hurt Superman could use Kryptonite to help even the odds. Holding Kryptonite shards the same way a person would hold a knife. Superman wouldn’t be able to take these enemies head-on but first removes the Kryptonite with longer range attacks.
But Superman has all these other powers. The fun should be finding interesting ways of using these powers. Superman is more than just a costumed crime-fighter. You should also be rescuing people, preventing natural disasters, saving people from falling of skyscrapers, etc. Superman should have to be able to perform a full range of actions while in “flight mode” but maybe a lock-on system if he had to catch someone (or something) in range; whether it’s an aeroplane or Lois Lane. Perhaps a QTE where depending of the weight of the object you have to mash the “catch” button to secure the object in your grasp. The heavier the object the more you have to mash.
Superhearing would be a really unique feature. Imagine having to hover over the big city and being able pick out a single sound. You’ll activate Superhearing and activate a cursor, in the same vain as X-Ray Vision, that lets you listen in on the highlighted area and then move the cursor to listen in on other areas. You could then move the cursor to listen to other areas. You could work some missions around this. To follow the screams of a civilian perhaps or to listen out for clues.
X-Ray Vision would work similar to Batman’s detective mode but nerfed. Instead of having the entire screen X-rayed, you will have a cursor which the player can then move. X-Ray Vision could be used to find the weak point of a structure, weapon or enemy. Heat Vision would primarily be used a long-distance attack which would be needed for when Superman can’t afford to get close to something.
The Superman Rouges
It’s been said that Superman doesn’t have many good villains because few of them can match him in strength but with some imagination Superman’s enemies could make for some great boss battles. For example keeping with our stripped powers story, Superman is fighting against Metallo but having regained his Heat Vision yet leaving him with no long range attacks. Obviously, a head-on approach will not work against the Metallo’s Kryptonite powered chest. Another example could be every time you land a hit on Parasite your attack weakens while Parasite’s grows stronger making him harder to defeat.
You usually beat a boss battle by remembering his attack pattern but why not give a boss a seemingly random pattern with the only clue being that Toyman’s machine is voice-activated and that only someone with Superhearing would be able to hear it? Or what if Superman could pin-point that same machine weakness with Superhearing or even X-Ray vision? At some point Superman could have to chase Lex Luthor in his Power Suit around the city. You’ll have to chase Luthor around town while he’s trying to slow you down; resorting to attacking civilians and buildings which you’ll have to deal with while chasing him. If you don’t catch Luthor within a certain time limit you lose.
Mister Mxyzptlk is a must. Mxyzptlk is a man that can alter all of reality. Literally. Bending walls, making things disappear, alter gravity, you get the picture. I’m sure he can mess with Superman’s powers as well. Imagine what you could do. He could provide a series of platforming challenges to Superman. Obstacle courses that change on the fly, Imagine playing a Mario level and then the level literally starts to alter itself.
While, overall the game should be very open-world, some parts such as the latter parts should be more confined. I had the idea of Lex’s Lair. Towards the end of game, Superman has to reach Lex through this underground chamber. The chamber is full of obstacles that even Superman can’t just blaze through. Several bombs are set to detonate at various parts of the level and Supes has to disarm them. The ceiling is pretty low preventing Superman from flying forcing him to be on ground.
Lex has found a way to produce invisible Kryptonite gas and these pipes are pumping out gas in several parts of the layer. As a player you would have to use X-Ray Vision to see where these toxic clouds are, use Microvision to locate the sources on these”Krypto-Clouds” and finally Heat Vision to destroy the sources as these sources are within the Kryptonite cares that Superman cannot physically enter. And then there’s all the enemies you’ll encounter.
There are a lot of things that can be done to make really good Superman game. A game like this would demand a big-budget but a highly critically-rated Superman game would definitely sell. Hope you enjoyed it.