One of the best video games of 2009 was Eidos Interactive’s Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game’s success can be attributed to its skillful blending of stealth and fighting play style, coupled with tight level and character designs. Helping out the title’s awesome factor was the fact that it did star Batman.
Gotham’s resident bad-ass is always good for a video game: He’s dark, has fun weapons to throw as well as colorful villains to fight across the sprawling maze of a dirty city. If video games never existed they’d have to be invented just so Batman could run amok in them. A case could be made for games trumping movies as a medium conducive to conveying Batman’s gestalt… though comics would still beat them both and steal their lunch-money hands down!
The same could be said for Spider-Man, who has had great success in video games starting with his classic 1982 Atari 2600 cartridge and continuing on to Activision’s current crop of PlayStation titles. Neversoft’s 2000 Spider-Man game was a notable stand-out as it was one of the earliest Spidey titles offering a sandbox city to swing around in, as well as alternative costumes galore!
Certain comic book characters were just tailor-made for video game adaptations. The first company to make a gritty WWII Captain America game has a lucrative tiger by the tail, for example. Other characters are not so lucky. To whit: The Incredible Hulk.
NOT THAT EASY BEING GREEN
Ya’ see, once upon a time there was a scientist who hated communists so much he had to invent a new type of bomb to blow them up. A Gamma Bomb. Unfortunately a last minute accident made the Gamma Bomb explode all up in the scientist’s face creating a bizarre green monster who hops around New Mexico looking for solitude and a way out of his affliction.
NO, the Hulk doesn’t have Batman’s cool rogues gallery, nor does he have Spidey’s well-realized world of action and supporting characters. We all want to be Spider-Man because he’s a nice guy who has fantastic abilities that lead to fun and excitement. We all want to be Batman because we all want to be tough, and smart, and occasionally scary. We all want to play video games based on these characters because it’s the closest we’re going to get to BEING these cool crime-fighters.
The Hulk, however, is a more complex creature. The Hulk is more honest. We can’t always be cool like Bats and Spidey, but inside of all of us is a scared monster who just wants to smash the puny humans that torment us. The Hulk has real emotional pain associated with his rage. He shows that sometimes bad things happen to us for no good reason, but if we’re tough enough we can rise above our pain to crush those who oppose us. He’s the modern day Frankenstein. He’s a titanic temper-tantrum that fights for good. He’s the punch in the face of every bully that ever kicked sand in our collective faces.
It’s great pathos and works super as a comic book, but subtextual emotional nakedness and purple pants are just not that easily translated into video games.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
The Hulk’s character design is never a problem. He is big, green and scary, and looks great on a TV or monitor. The problem is his power level. Batman and Spidey are human sized and only marginally stronger than regular people. The Hulk is supposed to be fairly indestructible and stronger than one could possibly imagine.
It’s fun stomping around with the Hulk in a game but the credibility starts to wane the first time he punches a low level villain and doesn’t instantly take the poor schmoe’s head clean off his shoulders. Look at Capcom’s legendary Marvel vs. Capcom 2, were the Hulk could be punched out by a 16 year old girl, the Moé sailor-suit-wearing martial arts student known as Sakura. Riiiiiight.
The Hulk was notably absent (save for a late addition as downloadable content) from the original Marvel Alliance game, presumably for this same issue of balance.
Furthermore, The Hulk doesn’t really have anybody cool to fight, nor anywhere cool to fight them in, either. He wanders the Earth, especially deserts, trying to be left alone. His villains often tend to be either massive, sluggish powerhouses like the Abomination or spindly thinkers like the Mastermind. I.e., his opponents either vie for screen space or seem comically puny next to old jade-jaws.
Frankly, the Hulk makes a better video game villain that he does a hero. He certainly does better making cameos in other character’s games than he does carrying his own titles.
CAN IT BE DONE
What’s stopping a company from making a really cool Hulk game? Radical Entertainment’s 2005 title Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction came pretty darn close, easily taking the title of “Best Hulk game to date.” By putting the Hulk in a smashable sand-box, and by giving the Hulk a bevy of ground shaking moves to pull off, they captured all that is best about being a self loathing, giangantic misanthrope. The problem?
There are two. The first is repetition. You destroy a few buildings, you smash a few tanks and all you are left with is standard boss battles and cut scenes. You only had a city and a desert to jump around in, and for a monster that could presumably jump anywhere his prison can get to be a bit tight. The Hulk needs to run free, not be shackled to the same opponents in the same environments over and over.
The second problem is the story … not just with THIS game, but ANY Hulk game. In Hulk Ultimate Destruction you’re trying to help Gamma Radiated psychologist Doc Sampson build a machine to stop the Hulk once and for all. Besides the massive suspension of disbelief required to think the Hulk could ever REALLY be stopped there’s the intrinsic problem of working at cross-purposes. We don’t WANT him to be stopped!
I know Bruce Banner is tortured, but tough noogie! His pathos is our cathartic release! We WANT the Hulk to be out there crushing cars and taking names. By making the game about curbing aggression you take the punch out of what makes the Hulk so enjoyable. He is unchecked aggression, and through his violence he saves the day time after time.
No. the Hulk doesn’t work well as a game. Maybe technology will catch up to us and they can make the perfect Hulk game. It would encompass the entire planet, and you’d be able to travel anywhere to fight every conceivable villain from animal to monster. The game would pit his brute strength and unstoppable size against a never-ending parade of threats, but the Hulk would triumph over all, saving the day with a smattering of melodrama thrown in for spice.
But then again, they already have that game. Except it’s called “Comic Books.”