The Justice League movie might not be great, but it potentially sets up DC’s characters for some better stand-alone movies. One of those is the Aquaman movie, due out next December, and given the renewed excitement surrounding the guardian of the Earth’s oceans, it’s probably time for a new Aquaman video game as well.
Thanks to Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa, the hero has been given a much needed shot in the arm. Despite Aquaman’s long history, the character has often had trouble differentiating himself. They way he’s been depicted in as a Justice League member in the past left him feeling simply like a weaker version of Superman who also talked to fish. While the finer points of the Aquaman mythos and the political complexity of ruling rather than just showing up whenever a cat gets stuck in a tree has been explored in the comics, his public image has always struggled.
With Justice League, however, Momoa has helped to change that. The sexy bad boy has an inkling of antihero about him that makes Batman and the man of steel seem like boy scouts trying to reenact a Hardy Boys mystery by comparison. And in 2017, Aquaman pounding a fifth of Jim Beam is all of us.
So maybe it’s time we got a new Aquaman video game as well. Superheros have had a rocky relationship with the medium dating back to Superman on the Atari in 1979. With the exception of certain cult-favorites like The Death and Return of Superman on the SNES and 2004's X-Men Legends, most games featuring someone in brightly colored tights were licensed movie adaptations or other ill-conceived projects. The original Aquaman video game was no exception.
For those who don’t remember, Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis was a Gamecube and Xbox game released in 2003. Why? Who knows. It’s not like the Aquaman comics were doing anything especially interesting at the time, and the character’s face-time in preceding shows like the animated Superman and Justice League series wasn’t anything inspiring. Despite all of this, publisher TDK Mediactive powered through negotiations with DC to land the license and then tapped Lucky Chicken Games, a studio best known for making toy car games, to deliver the project.
What arrived on store shelves remains legendary. People often talk about the uniquely horrendous Superman for Nintendo 64 that released four years earlier, but Battle for Atlantis was no better. “He’s got a blond mullet and a claw hand—what happened, a horrible accident at a Skynyrd concert?” said X-Play host Adam Sessler when the G4 show reviewed the game. “If you think the fishman looks bad, check out the game.” Trying to save the kingdom from destruction at the hands of Black Manta, Battle for Atlantis lets the player swim around a giant underwater level looking for crab-men to fight. The game notoriously had blurry comic panels instead of cutscenes when it came to the story and the combat itself was both slow and repetitive. Even the Village Voice weighed in writing, “Aquaman is all washed up!”
Over a decade has passed since that debacle though and superhero games are in a very different place. The Arkham series showed making a licensed character the protagonist in your game didn’t destine it for the bargain bin. People are so intent on seeing Rocksteady Studios reinvent superhero games they routinely manufacture rumors about the Arkham’s spiritual successor taking on Superman. One of 2018's most anticipated AAA games stars Spider-Man. And Aquaman himself has proven to be one of the most endearing parts of Injustice, a series that shows how much fun you can have with DC character when you just embrace their intrinsic absurdity.
One of the most appealing things about a potential Aquaman game is the unique setting it offers up. Ask someone to name their favorite underwater game and they’ll probably mention Ecco the Dolphin. Nothing against Ed Annunziata’s aquatic masterpiece, but 1992 was a long time ago. There have been more games that took place in hell between then and now than memorable ones exploring the majority of the Earth’s surface that rests below mountains of H20.
For all of its interesting story telling and thematic meta-ness, the part of Bioshock that’s held up most since it game out 11 years ago is arguably the setting. Rapture’s fishbowl views and the art deco-inspired architecture that framed them created a brooding atmosphere that resonated long after the game was complete. An Aquaman game that let you leave the city’s pressurized buildings at your leisure to explore the mysteries and horrors stalking the waters below would allow players to actually explore those “mountains in the distance” in-person. Especially at a time when anxiety about the sustainability of our environment and the rising of the oceans is at an all-time high, it feels like we’re long overdue for a game that tackles them in the moral terms they deserve. Who better to do that than Aquaman?