There’s an old saying that states that one should “keep it simple, stupid,” and that seems to be the oath of whoever’s been involved with the games associated with the Marvel universe. To be sure, it hasn’t always been this way. Over the past decade or so, we’ve all seen the miserable Spider-Man, Hulk, and Iron Man titles, among others, that failed to live up to expectations. What’s especially annoying about all of this is that it occurred alongside some pretty damn good movie releases—well, sort of, but that an entirely different topic. Anyway, Marvel seems to have finally gotten it “right” by more or less ditching the more complicated console games to stick with ones that are straightforward, easy to play, and (most importantly) entertaining.
To throw the elephant in the room out the window—so to speak—Marvel has a lot to live up to in terms of its main competitor, DC Comics. For those who have been living under a rock, I’ll point you to the amazing Arkham franchise that centers on the Big Bad Bat. It’s about to hit its potential peak this summer with Batman: Arkham Knight, but we’ll all have to play it first before bestowing it with such a hefty title. We also have to look past it because Marvel hasn’t released something close to the Arkham series in terms of quality since the Marvel Vs. Capcom series. And, uh, it’s been nearly four years since the last project in that franchise, so let’s stick to the present.
And in looking at what’s happening now, Marvel is finding success in the stripped-down games that don’t even try to reach the grandiosity of the Arkham series. For one, the company is making a serious comeback (in gaming) by killing it in the mobile market, where they have quite a bit of entries to choose from. For the sake of not going crazy (by playing them all), I’m sticking with two that have definitely made some waves.
First, there’s Spider-Man Unlimited that, yes, is an endless runner like so many other perceived Temple Run ripoffs. But a Temple Run ripoff this is not, because it’s filled with more personality and features than you can handle. Despite the fact that you may need to throw some cash at Unlimited to play it for, well, an unlimited amount of time, you can still play it for free while enjoying the hell out of it. It’s addictive, engrossing, and simply a lot of fun—qualities that any mobile game should hope to have.
And then there is Marvel Contest of Champions, which plays a bit like the mobile version of the DC-themed Injustice. In other words, it’s a strategic, card-based experience with more characters than you could every need, though collecting them all is part of the fun. The same goes for upgrading each character that joins your squad, particularly if you want to make any headway in the mission-based portion of the game. Full disclosure: you may get a bit overwhelmed playing Contest of Champions, but just take your time, learn the ups and downs of each hero or villain you want on your team, and you’ll be loving it in no time.
Marvel is holding it down, in a simplistic sense, in another gaming niche, too. This is apparent in looking at the arcade games hosted by Bet Fair, a U.K.-based hub that’s been around since 1999. In addition to a slew of your typical cartoon-y, animated titles, there are slots with a significant pop culture bent to them (like Rocky and King Kong). And right at the middle of them all are some of the biggest names from Marvel and their films from the past decade or so. They include Iron Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four (which is receiving a reboot this year), and even the somewhat-overlooked Blade. These games prove that Marvel is aware of its equally growing and broad fanbase along with the fact they have found ways to further monetize their brand.
Even with all of this success in these two markets, it should go without saying that Marvel shouldn’t abandon putting out another great (or, really, just good) console game. I’m not saying they need to go for something as notable as the Arkham series, but there has to be a developer out there who can make sense of one of the company’s characters. Here’s hoping it happens before they kick off the (rumored) third rebooted Spider-Man series.