Monday, May 04, 2009

AdVantage Point: X-Men Mutant Academy 2 (2001)

Give an idiot a scanner and a comic book, and let him to pick out all the advertisements for video games.
This is AdVantage Point -- a chance to document the winding timeline of comics/gaming history as it was canonized by the adverts. Musings, rantings, observations, stream of consciousness.

Marvel's most marketed merry mutant, Wolverine, returns to big screens and gaming consoles, not just in a movie game tie-in, but also the reissued downloadable release of the 2D fighting classic, Marvel versus Capcom 2!

The popular fighter marked the culmination of a long association between Marvel and Capcom which saw multiple iterations of the formula, building on the original 1994 release, X-Men: Children of the Atom -- the game that presumably validated a string of subsequent "2.5D" fighting games released by Activision.

Writing Secret Wars on Infinite Earths, I know as well as anyone just how much of a superhero's time is spent fighting. I mean, sure, that's just part of the indulgent orgy of the Roman concept of beautiful iconoclastic people smashing into each other in a literal expression of metaphorical ideals. It makes sense!
What hasn't made sense, to me, however, is the sheer volume of fighting games we've now seen with superheroes in them.

Yes, fighting is a large aspect of the superhero super-genre, but I'm not sure what lining the characters up on a two-dimensional plane does to lure so many fans. I suppose the license offered by their well known superpowers grants a sense of acceptance that the martial arts-based genre might otherwise struggle to exceed, but I'm sure that's not the only reason. I guess it's more to do with a mindless acceptance -- which isn't inherently a bad thing!

It does, however, bring me back to the grinding dissatisfaction that can be felt when looking at the demands of contemporary gamers. Granted, the games that have framed this reference today come from this decade, but their self-imposed limitations are owing in part to technological limitations that made a history of simplistic gaming palatable to otherwise discerning consumers.

As much as Wolverine's recent outings have defied the fact -- the beauty of superheroes is that they partake in ideas and concepts much larger than themselves. Corporate superheroes are more than just their local associations. They are pieces of an entire universe filled with seventy years of rich history and information and ideas and story. Story being the driving motivation behind even the some of stupidest superhero comics.

I believe strongly that franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, and to a lesser extent, Mortal Kombat, have all failed to fully realise their story-driven conceptual potential.
That said, even I can admit that the two-plane fighting genre doesn't really lend itself to the mass exploration that more interactive genres offer. It is a simple exercise in besting an opponent, and while some assemblance of story can be well insert into that model (ie; X-Men: Next Dimension), it doesn't communicate as naturally as the platform or action-adventure genres that superheroes also populate.

Superheroes are inherently suited to video games.
Maybe their popularity in fighting games is simply a facet of that inevitable association.

That inevitable association offers a nice closing point to this streaming rant.
Like most other instalments of the AdVantage Point, we observe a commercial that is obviously advertising an established brand to an audience probably already familiar with the topic. I can't help but think of a discussion I had with someone working in the industry - at Acclaim, if memory serves - about the difficulties of ever actually introducing something new to an industry making most of it's money off of established brands.

The Mutant Academy advert (and game) not only borrow the well established iconography of the comics and cartoons (which were still fresh enough in memory in 2001), while also borrowing from the recently successful 2000 first feature film. The advert recalls the popular fight between Wolverine and Mystique in the first film, which established an association that had otherwise been incidental, until that point. Mystique's film persona also worked it's way into the game itself, making a traditionally uninvolved character a more present offensive force.

Mutant Academy really wasn't anything special as a game, but probably served it's purpose.
Recalling recent apathy from gamers who have apparently come to associate superhero games with a similar negativity to their film tie-in cousins, I have to say I kind of understand. This goes against character for me, as I would otherwise thing of the many positive examples of superheroes in video games. A natural transition that's been in play since the beginning of gaming time.

Original Post:

No comments: