Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
I’ve been playing Marvel’s Midnight Suns lately, and enjoying the hell out of my time with it—the adventure game/walk around and try to date Spider-Man portions are well-written and clever (even if they won’t let you date Spider-Man). And the core combat gameplay is tactically satisfying, leveraging the structure of a Slay The Spire-style card-based deckbuilding game to create a pleasantly deep superhero fighting experience. (Not a huge shock, given Firaxis’ semi-recent, highly successful revival of the XCOM franchise—Midnight Suns doesn’t truck with that sort of intense consequence-based combat, but it gets close enough to scratch the itch.)
What’s most interesting about the game, though, to my mind, is something that it shares with a whole bunch of Marvel’s recent games, from the recent Marvel’s Avengers, to Midnight Suns, and even extending to something like phone-based card game Marvel Snap. And that’s the fact that gaming has somehow become the only place—outside the comics themselves—where you can catch the full breadth of the Marvel universe all in one place. No IP restrictions, no worrying about who owns who: Just X-Men and Avengers and Runaways and Spider-Man all sharing screen time and, inevitably, quips. (Midnight Suns has a lot of quips; you just have to sort of get used to it.)
The various Marvel brands have been silo’d away from each other over in film and television for so long at this point that it’s started to feel like the norm; even as Disney has hoovered up enough of its wayward children to start introducing Professor X or Mister Fantastic back into the MCU, it’s only been in the form of tentative hints and one-offs. Meanwhile, I just had a battle where Doctor Strange blasted a Hydra goon halfway across the map so Wolverine and Blade could tear the poor fascist dimwit to shreds. Later, a birthday party for X-Men member Magik saw Ghost Rider and Captain America comment on the cake, while Tony Stark and Captain Marvel traded quips. (Lotta quips! Quips ahoy!)
The point is, there’s something incredibly refreshing about having all these characters exist alongside each other, with the game’s writers intent on finding all sorts of different dynamics between them. (Much of this is focused on the conflict between young rebels The Midnight Suns and the established Avengers, but the game finds lots of other avenues to explore—like a tech nerd club formed by Peter “Spider-Man” Parker and Robbie “Ghost Rider” Reyes, which then has to contend with their hero worship/worry of being co-opted when Very Famous Tech Man Tony Stark expresses an interest in their work.) Meanwhile, over in Snap, there’s something giddy about throwing out a setup that sees Squirrel Girl and Odin team up to take over a location, or crushing an opponent with Ben Grimm and Devil Dinosaur. (I like to imagine Ben riding on DD’s back, but you don’t have to, if you don’t want to, because you’re some kind of joy-hating weirdo.)
The Marvel Universe is big, it’s weird, and it’s wild—no matter how much its corporate overlords have tried to tame it over the years. I’m not claiming Midnight Suns or Snap represent some kind of anti-authoritarian pushback, mind you; these are still Corporate Content Delivery systems right down to their very bones. But by dint of their looser licensing issues, they nevertheless represent the kind of freedom that MCU fans have gotten only in tiny doses, the kind of shared universe where Spidey can knock a demon-processed Venom straight into Carol Danvers’ waiting fists while Nico Minoru uses the Staff Of One to buff them both. And if that’s not peak Marvel gaming, I don’t know what is. (At least, until my “Ben Grimm kicks Doctor Doom’s ass from the back of a big red dinosaur” game finally comes through.)