Last month, EA and Marvel announced plans to give Black Panther his own video game for the first time. Given the character’s longevity in the comics, it’s somewhat surprising that Black Panther didn’t make his video game debut until Marvel’s Ultimate Alliance in 2006. Since then, T’Challa has largely been relegated to a supporting role in games. But there are reasons to be optimistic about this upcoming solo game. Cliffhanger Games, the newly formed EA studio in charge of developing Black Panther, is being headed up by Kevin Stephens, a former studio head for Monolith Productions. Monolith’s Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War were two of the best Lord of the Rings games ever made. If Black Panther can be anywhere near as good as those games, then it will be in great shape.
That said, there are a few things that Black Panther needs to avoid the missteps of T’Challa’s last appearance in a AAA game, Marvel’s Avengers. Black Panther deserves to be a title that plays to gamers and comic book fans alike. The decision to make it a single-player game is a step in the right direction, but for this game to reach its true potential, these are seven things that we want to see in EA’s Black Panther.
There may be some temptation to make T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, the Black Panther in this game in order to line up with the character’s status quo in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And let’s be clear, Shuri does belong in the game, possibly even as a playable character at times. But T’Challa is Black Panther, and it would be a mistake to give one of Marvel’s iconic heroes their own big game without featuring the character who earned that status.
Chadwick Boseman’s sudden death in 2020 made Marvel Studios wary of recasting the role in live-action, and instead, T’Challa was respectfully retired from the MCU. By that time, Christopher Judge had already recorded his role for Marvel’s Avengers, so no attempt was made to change it. Hopefully that will avoid any internal debate over whether T’Challa should still be used going forward because the hero deserves his video game spotlight.
If everything you know about Black Panther comes from the movies, then you may think that Erik Killmonger and Ulysses Klaw are the only two major villains in T’Challa’s rogue’s gallery. On a side note for those who have only seen Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, T’Challa and Namor don’t get along in the comics, but Namor is not a Black Panther villain. T’Challa has plenty of other adversaries and it’s time that fans had a proper introduction to them.
While Killmonger and Klaw are almost assuredly going to appear in the game, we’d like to see T’Challa and Shuri’s adoptive brother, Hunter, who is better known as the White Wolf. In the comics, Hunter survived a plane crash over Wakanda, and T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka, generously welcomed him into his family as an adoptive son. Hunter knew he could never be king, so to prove himself, he became fanatical in his devotion to Wakanda and the leader of its secret police, the Hatut Zeraze. When T’Challa had Hunter exiled over his brutality, it created a life-long rivalry.
There’s also the Joker-like preacher known as Achebe, T’Challa’s evil (and monstrous) half-brother, Jakarra, and the revolutionary Zenzi. It should also be noted that the MCU treats two of T’Challa’s villains as heroes: M’Baku’ (the leader of the Jabari tribe) and Nakia, the former member of the Dora Milaje who became Malice. That’s just a taste of some of the villains who could appear. It would also be refreshing to see the game feature more comic-book-accurate takes on these characters.
Considering that there have been two Black Panther movies, there’s been very little of Wakanda that has been featured on screen beyond the capital city, Birnin Zana. Marvel’s Avengers‘ expansion, War for Wakanda, was set primarily in the country, but it was only a brief glimpse at Black Panther’s homeland. EA and Cliffhanger Games didn’t mention anything about making their Black Panther game an open-world experience, but this seems like a unique opportunity to explore Wakanda in a way that even the comics haven’t been able to do.
Keep in mind that Wakanda was changed eons ago when a Vibranium meteorite crashed into it. That metal eventually allowed Wakanda to become the most technologically advanced country on Earth, as well as a place where the traditions of the past co-exist with the world of tomorrow. It would be fascinating to see more cities in Wakanda, as well as iconic locations like the Vibranium Mound. More importantly, an open-world Wakanda could show us places that haven’t even been conceived of yet.
One of the best-reviewed aspects of Marvel’s Avengers‘ War for Wakanda DLC was the way that T’Challa played with his combo-heavy attacks. That was fun, and we’d like to see that continue. But since T’Challa hails from such a technologically advanced country, we’d like to see his gadgets played up as well. T’Challa’s Vibranium Energy Daggers would be a good start, but they are far from the only advantage that Black Panther has. His Vibranium boots allow him to climb almost any surface, and his Kimoyo Card can hack into anything within just a few seconds.
There are a lot of toys to play with, so to speak, and this would actually be the best use for Shuri. As the Q to T’Challa’s Bond, Shuri could supply Black Panther with upgraded gadgets and weapons throughout the game just as she did in the first Black Panther movie. Shuri is the genius in the family, so let her create.
There’s a lot of action going on in any superhero video game, and not always as much time for love as there is in comics. Yet at the same time, Marvel’s Spider-Man got a lot of mileage out of Peter Parker’s on-and-off again relationship with Mary Jane Watson. Black Panther’s game would benefit from a love story of its own, as it could offer a further glimpse of who T’Challa is beyond the ruler and protector of Wakanda. In the comics, T’Challa’s most notable lovers have put him in a position where he had to choose between his country and the longings of his heart. That would be especially enticing for gamers if they were the ones who got to make that decision.
The two Black Panther movies would have us believe that the love of T’Challa’s life is Nakia, but their history is far more complicated. Nakia was an underage member of the Dora Milaje who was deeply in love with T’Challa. She felt betrayed that he loved others instead of her. That’s why Nakia was reborn as the villain Malice before she tragically died at an early age.
If Nakia is out of the picture in the game, then there are only two real candidates for a love story with T’Challa: His eventual wife, Storm of the X-Men, and an American jazz singer named Monica Lynne. Since Storm’s character rights may be tied up with the X-Men, that would leave Monica available for this game if the developers want to explore their relationship. And I think the game would be better served if it does give T’Challa a love story with someone who doesn’t care about the trappings of power in Wakanda. Monica only ever wanted to be with T’Challa because of who he was.
Because of the superlative Black Panther runs by writers Christopher Priest, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and John Ridley, there’s an understandable expectation that T’Challa’s best stories are political thrillers that put the future of Wakanda itself at stake. This often includes overthrowing T’Challa from power and chronicling his rise back to prominence. Those stories definitely helped shape the character, but this video game is an opportunity to draw upon all of the previous Black Panther comics. This is a chance to embrace the serialized style of writer Don McGregor, or even the insane high-adventures of Black Panther which were written and drawn by his co-creator, Jack Kirby. Kirby came up with a quest for T’Challa to find King Solomon’s Frogs, a pair of time machines of unknown origin.
That’s crazy, but it’s just the kind of crazy that I love. Bring on the frogs.
Any Black Panther game should keep the focus largely on the main character and his homeland. That’s a given. However, if there’s a way to tie the events of the game into the larger Marvel Universe, then that would only be a good thing. It’s a tradition for Marvel games to feature cameo appearances, sometimes from heroes outside of the lead character’s orbit. Locations are fair game too. Remember that Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum appeared in Marvel’s Spider-Man even though Strange did not.
It’s not clear which Marvel characters would be available to cameo in Black Panther, or if the game will take place in other famous Marvel locations. But we’re eager to see what the developers come up with, and hopefully, we’ll get a glimpse of the larger Marvel Universe beyond Wakanda as well.