In 2009, developer Rocksteady Studios applied the Metroid template to Batman, giving rise to the brilliant Batman: Arkham Asylum and starting one of the single best comic book video game series of all time. At the beginning of Arkham Asylum, the player only has a limited number of the Dark Knight’s gadgets. As they progress deeper in the titular asylum, their arsenal grows, granting access to new parts of Arkham Island and previously inaccessible secrets.
Meanwhile, as Batman’s star power in the interactive space grew and grew, Superman has remained somewhat grounded. Despite entering the Guinness book of World Records for becoming the longest running video game protagonist, the Man of Steel hasn’t starred in his own dedicated console title since 2006’s Superman Returns. Right now the only upcoming appearance on the schedule for the Last Son of Krypton is as a brainwashed antagonist in Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, the next title from Rocksteady due in 2022.
Like the Dark Knight before him, a possible key to resurrecting Superman’s video game career also lies within the formula established by Nintendo’s Metroid all the way back in the 80’s. Here’s what this theoretical title would look like.
The beginning of this next-generation Superman game would establish that the character’s only known weakness at this time is kryptonite, further elaborating that most of the substance has been destroyed save a tiny sliver that’s in the hands of a “trusted ally,” opening up a larger world beyond Superman’s. Clark Kent and Lois Lane are on their way to cover the unveiling of a new power plant developed by Lexcorp. A series of generators peppered throughout the city of Metropolis power this facility that alters the sun’s radiation, changing it from yellow light to red. When active, it will eclipse Metropolis in a perpetual “red sun.”
Lexcorp in turn would then use this new red UV light to give Metropolis cheap, clean power while sparring its population from the harmful effects of the sun. Clark Kent, having dealt with Lex Luthor in the past as his alter ego, is skeptical of Luthor’s altruistic plans. However, his upbringing and morals clash with these thoughts, remaining forever hopeful that even one such as Lex Luthor can change for the better.
During the demonstration, Clark overhears disappointing news from a hired mercenary via his super hearing that Luthor’s philanthropic plans are but a mask to cripple Superman. Through his research, Lex Luthor has found out something that even Superman himself doesn’t know: If the sun goes red, he will begin to lose his powers. Clark finds a way to break away from Lois, changing to Superman to stop the generators from coming online.
This is where the player would first take control of a fully powered, near invulnerable Superman and given the opportunity to briefly experience all of his powers. In order to work properly, the generators that power the plant can’t come on at once, but instead must come on sequentially. As each one becomes active, Superman will lose powers one by one while health meter similarly depletes. Sensing what’s happening, Superman manages to disable one generator, but with the others active, he’s unable to regain his full strength.
Set in an open world Metropolis, the goal of the game then is to disable the remaining generators, each guarded by a Lexcorp security detail and some of Superman’s deadliest foes. The player will always have access to flight and super hearing, the later being the equivalent to the focused hearing of The Last of Us or Batman’s detective vision. As each generator falls, Superman’s powers begin to return to him, allowing the player to be eased into each one while also opening up unobtainable areas. An example of this being certain metal doors that become brittle when subjected to cold. or secrets that require x-ray vision.
As Superman himself gains access to his full suite of powers, the city of Metropolis will slowly morph from the darker, oppressive red color back to its normal glow, bringing life back to the city and its residents. The idea is that by the end of the game, both the city and Superman will be back to normal, opening up a climax where the player is freely and confidently able to cycle between their abilities with ease. A tease for a sequel would come during a trademark post-credits scene where it’s revealed that it wasn’t Luthor who dreamt up the red sun plant, but rather it was supplied to him by Darkseid.
Though much grander in scope than Batman: Arkham Asylum, a Superman game that borrows its core design could very well kickstart a new Superman video game franchise if given the proper development time. Should a new Superman game be in active development, it would be one of the best kept secrets in the industry, but it’s probably still many years away before Superman, for lack of a better term, returns to his own title. Whatever shape it takes, it will be covered right here on Comic Book Video Games.
Like what you’ve read? Why not check out this piece about what new Superman games can learn from the ones that have came before it.