Why There Aren't More Big-Budget Games Starring Superheroes like Wonder Woman

Why There Aren't More Big-Budget Games Starring Superheroes like Wonder Woman

STARTING SCREEN | Superheroes dominate the movie screen, but they almost never star in big-budget games. Why?

Wonder Woman hit theaters over the weekend, garnering strong reviews in the course of raking in more than $100 million domestically. In the gaming space, some sites wondered whether there would ever be a game starring Wonder Woman.

Game Revolution pondered what a Wonder Woman game might look like, citing Bayonetta and Batman, among others. Gizmodo's Evan Narcisse argued that it was way past time for a Wonder Woman game. "Wonder Woman is an important enough character to merit the same treatment," Narcisse wrote. "She’s one of the most meaningful superheroes ever, a global icon on par with Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man. And, like those characters, her publishing history and character mythos feature enough scope and depth to power any number of possibilities in the video game space."

Gizmodo and Game Revolution are right: It would be pretty rad to have a Wonder Woman game. But putting aside successes like Injustice 2 and the Arkham series, comic book games have been getting the comparatively short shift in the triple-A space over the past decade. Long gone are the days of video game adaptations for films like Captain America: The First Avenger. Much more common are games like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 and Gazillion's free-to-play Marvel Heroes: games that cash in on the license while aiming for the broadest audience possible.

Currently the main exception to that rule is Insomniac's Spider-Man, which is being positioned as a tentpole release in the vein of Arkham Asylum. When I asked Insomniac founder Ted Price why there aren't more games like it, he suggested that it's because developers are creators who enjoy working on their own ideas.

"[T]he opportunity to put our own spin on Spider-Man is an equivalent. Even though Spider-Man himself is a known quantity, having the opportunity to build an original Spider-Man universe and story is very similar to building an IP from scratch," he told me.

In the triple-A space, franchises are accorded every bit as much significance as they are with movies. But where movies are now dominated by Marvel, Star Wars, and remakes, games are owned by video game characters like Mario, Zelda, Halo, and WarCraft. For publishers, developing a wholly-owned IP is the ticket to building a sustainable business model.

Indeed, Platinum's Atsushi Inaba told me as much when we spoke last year. "[Platinum] doesn't really have a future unless we develop our own original IPs," he said in the course of our interview.

You don't see games like this much anymore.

In that light, working with an established license has come to be seen as mercenary work. When Platinum announced a game based on Legend of Korra, some industry observers wondered if they were in trouble. Silicon Knights took on X-Men Destiny in part to pay the bills (of course, they had other problems).

The instances of licensed properties being developed into major triple-A games tend to be the exceptions that prove the rule these days. Arkham Asylum was initially published by Eidos Interactive, but later taken back in-house by Warner Bros. when it proved to be a success (Warner Bros. owns DC Comics). Star Wars has a rich video game lineage dating back to the Atari 2600, which EA is attempting to continue. To the extent that they can be considered "triple-A," Bandai Namco owns all of their licenses and are still something of a weird outlier for continuing to put out console games based on Naruto and Gundam.

The change in the gaming ecosystem has ultimately made it more profitable to put licensed games on iOS and Android and gear them toward kids. Still, the fact that the mania for "cinematic universes" hasn't crossed over into gaming feels like a missed opportunity for Marvel and WB. Even Insomniac's Spider-Man and WB's Arkham and Injustice series are unrelated to their respective film incarnations. You'd think original MCU or DCU stories would be a natural fit for the gaming space given that a disproportionate number of comic book fans are also avid gamers; but Disney and WB seem to disagree, possibly because they don't want to risk their universes being damaged by bad games. Even Telltale's Guardians of the Galaxy is kind of its own thing despite being broadly based on the film.

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That doesn't look to be changing anytime soon, either. If Spider-Man proves to be one of this season's biggest hits, we could hypothetically see more games based on superheroes, but Wonder Woman is unlikely to be one of them. Only Batman and Spider-Man really get to star in their own big-budget action games anymore. Even Superman and X-Men, once popular subjects in their own right, have largely been sidelined in the video game space.

To tell you the truth, I'm not going to weep too hard over the absence of proper MCU and DCU games in light of how much they've dominated the movie screen over the past 15 years. It's actually kind of nice to be able to get away from them. But their relative absence in the game space has given me pause, and I wonder if Disney and WB aren't missing an obvious opportunity here. But for now, I think Spider-Man and Batman are the best we're going to get.

Sorry, Wonder Woman fans. But at least the movie kicks ass, right?

Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week

This week's obscure RPG is Legend of Dragoon, a game that still has some fans in a few quarters. I don't really understand it myself. It was a reasonably serviceable RPG for its day; but even in the throes of my extreme RPG fandom, I could tell how derivative it was.

Developed by Sony in answer to the JRPG mania that had seized console gamers, Legend of Dragoon was basically a much uglier Final Fantasy with the serial number filed off. Its main virtue was that the main characters could enter a superpowered Dragoon mode, which brought with it a pretty neat transformation animation and an expanded set of powers. It also had a timing based combo system, which was either a good or bad addition depending on your opinion of such things.

It's mostly forgotten these days, even failing to appear in PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale (Dart was planned but subsequently scrapped). I wish I could say that a quality RPG fell between the cracks, but... eh. I mainly find it interesting because it speaks to a time when JRPGs were so popular that Sony felt the need to introduce a franchise of their own. But I would still happily accept a sequel, if only because we need more big-budget console JRPGs in this world. Sadly, the success of Persona 5 notwithstanding, I think that ship has largely sailed.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Horror Fortress (Mega Man 7)

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is coming in August. Bad news: No Switch or Nintendo 3DS release planned at this time. SIGH. Good news: I get to prove to people that Mega Man 7 isn't as bad as its reputation suggests.

Mega Man 7 isn't the best Mega Man game by a long shot, and it's certainly clunkier than Mega Man X or X2. Still, I appreciate how Capcom divided the series' mechanics. Game critics were baffled over why X's wall-jump and dash were absent in Mega Man 7, but I understood perfectly.

I also loved—and still love—Mega Man 7's soundtrack. "Horror Fortress," the track for Shade Man's stage still rocks my socks. It's just so energetic and catchy, and not really what you'd expect from a theme dedicated to a robot vampire. And, hey, if it doesn't tickle your fancy, you can always opt for the Ghouls 'n Ghosts alternative.

Mike's Media Minute

Whew. For a while there, it felt like the DC Extended Universe film were flailing around in the dark, gasping for air. Man of Steel was uneven, but I had hope they could improve in the future. Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were pretty bad. Not on a concept and casting level, but on an execution level. So everyone was looking towards Wonder Woman to pick the universe back up and stand as the first female-led superhero film in the modern era.

Wonder Woman looks to be up the task. Not only is the film, directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, seeing an excellent series of reviews, it's also making that money. The opening weekend estimates vary a bit, but all of them are over $100 million. That's an excellent start and given the Saturday to Sunday drop, it looks like Wonder Woman will have some legs.

And that's good, because Wonder Woman presents a more heroic side of the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were mired in less than heroic portrayals of the characters involved. While Wonder Woman goes to some dark places—there's a whole semi-realistic World War I film smack dab in the middle of the film—the character herself remains firmly heroic. Everything Superman should've been was there onscreen. (Okay, she killed a lot of folks, which is definitely a Wonder Woman thing, but for the most part… heroic.)

I want the DC films to be great because I love the DC characters. I don't even need them all to be heroic, bright, and charming. But whatever WB does with the films, it needs to make good, competent movies. Wonder Woman looks like the first of those, so there's hope that perhaps Justice League will continue turning the boat around.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

Years ago, Zzzz-Zzzz-Zzzz was once just a freeware game. But with its new release on Steam, Zzzz-Zzzz-Zzzz is more fully formed than ever before. The game is a standard light puzzle-platformer, where you, a snow-white pixel-human shape, frolic through your own dreams. Some dreams are pleasant, others disorienting, some even horrific. The new release features polish where the freeware game had blemishes, and adds new levels and features for players to explore. You can play Zzzz-Zzzz-Zzzz for $1.99 on Steam for PC.

Matt’s Monday Mornings

It was a Wonder Woman weekend for me. I started reading Jill Lepore’s fantastic The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a book that’s been on my reading list since it was published two years ago, but I never got around to. I got through just enough of the book before watching Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman film on Sunday which was absolutely fantastic. I’d been pretty burned out on DC films after Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, so to be honest, I wasn’t going into Wonder Woman with the highest expectations. I’m very happy to have been proven wrong and I’m excited to watch Wonder Woman again in theaters if I’m able.

The fight scenes in Wonder Woman were some of the best in any superhero movie I’ve seen (spoiler: I’ve seen a lot), and Gal Gadot and Chris Pine were awesome together. Wonder Woman might even be my favorite superhero film this year alongside Logan. Although, I have a feeling Thor: Ragnarok might be a sleeper hit for me given how big a fan I am of Taika Waititi. Either way, definitely go check it out if you’re a superhero fan.

This Week's News and Notes

  • I went to Portland over the weekend, which meant a stop at Ground Kontrol: probably my favorite arcade in North America. Ground Kontrol stands because it has a Killer Queen machine (a rare sight), a solid craft beer selection, and lots of authentic '90s arcades. Among others, it boasts both Turtles arcade games, X-Men, Raiden 2, The Simpsons, Third Strike, and even Captain America and the Avengers, the last of which is a surprisingly rare sight these days. If you're in Portland sometime, make sure to check it out. It's nice being in a barcade where the games actually work.
  • A rare sight these days.
  • As I expected, Pokemon Stars will most likely be confirmed for the Switch (and possibly the 3DS) in tomorrow's Nintendo Direct. That will give the Switch both of its killer apps, with Monster Hunter XX having been confirmed last week. At the very least it sure seems like the Switch is on track to dominate Japan for the forseeable future.
  • In case you missed it, Matt wrote this excellent story of developer Kotori Yoshimura's attempt to revitalize Star Cruiser.
  • "What I am interested in is human character," Nier: Automata's Yoko Taro told us in an interview that went up today. "The mysterious acts of humans, where we perceive murder and oppression as 'bad' and talk about peace and love, but in actuality we love games that have killing and find pleasure in predominance over others, such as with sports. Additionally, even if we cannot escape the warped sense that humans have, I constantly think that at the very least I want to be aware of it."
  • It's strange that Capcom opted to Mega Man & Bass is missing from Mega Man Legacy Collection 2. It's weirder still that it's not on the Switch. But I'm okay with having easy access to Mega Man 9 and 10 again outside of last-generation consoles. Mega Man 9 in particular might just be the best game in the series.
  • I was recently on Retronauts to talk about The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Link's Awakening is probably my favorite entry this side of A Link Between Worlds, making my discovery of the artwork below doubly delightful.
  • Sony sees PS4 and Nintendo Switch "side-by-side." Their comments of the old "Wii360" days, when gamers were picking up a 360 for triple-A and a Wii for Nintendo exclusives. To be honest, it's not a terrible position for the Switch to be in, especially with Nintendo continuing to try and tap a mainstream vein outside of the traditional gaming market.
  • Axe of the Blood God: In this week's episode, we discuss where I Am Setsuna went wrong and where Elder Scrolls Online has gone right. I also talk about the days when I loved fighting games, which feels long, long ago. As a postscript to that conversation, though, I played Third Strike at Ground Kontrol and actually had a lot of fun despite knowing that I was playing terribly. It was nice.
  • We're less than a week away from E3 2017, which is actually kind of terrifying when you think about it. That begs the question: What are you looking forward to most out of E3 2017? Are you looking forward to it at all? Let us know in the comments!
  • As always, if you have tips for us, or if you just want to drop us a line, you can reach us at usgamer@usgamer.net.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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