I’ve been on a movie kick lately. I can attribute a lot of that to traveling, where I get to revel in the chance to just do whatever to entertain myself while I’m stuck in a flying tube for a few hours. Watching movies on a flight isn’t ideal, but still, it gives me the chance to watch movies like Alita: Battle Angel. It isn’t the biggest hit in recent Hollywood history, but this manga-based blockbuster has a lot of qualities that I think, in a different world, would make for an incredible AAA video game experience.
Alita: Battle Angel is based on Battle Angel Alita, or GUNNM if you already know what all this stuff is and you’re a purist. The basic story is that a doctor-slash-bounty-hunter finds the remains of a cyborg girl in a massive waste dump and takes her back to his lab to bring her back to life. He attempts to raise her as a daughter, but quickly learns she has instincts for combat he can’t rein in. Alita’s journey of self-discovery and cool manga action fuels several volumes of cyberpunk storytelling that lends itself pretty well to movies. James Cameron, of Terminator and Avatar fame, had been trying to get a movie made for years, and he brought Sin City director Robert Rodriguez into the mix to direct while he served as a writer and producer.
The movie follows a lot of the story beats from the original manga, although naturally some things happen in a different order or for different reasons. It’s also a lot more wholesome and less violent, although it can still be pretty brutal at times. The focus is definitely more on the self-discovery aspect of Alita’s character, as she struggles with not knowing who she is or why she’s able to fight so well. Ultimately the story ends in tragedy, but opens a path for Alita to make a difference in the world.
There are a few reasons why Alita would make a dope video game. For one, even within the source material, there’s a lot of room to play around with genre. Alita isn’t just a character drama with fight scenes. This is a cyberpunk world full of people enhanced with machine parts, and a lot of the violence in this world reflects that. Key characters have unique abilities and parts, weapons that defy logic, and dramatic personalities stemming from the manga style. That’s practically a Devil May Cry-style character action game writing itself. But then, there’s Motorball.
In the Alita world, there’s a massive, floating city chained to a drained planet surface. Everyone who lives on the actual ground is impoverished and struggling, while all of their labor goes to the benefit of the floating city. Nobody can ever move up, although plenty of predatory actors take advantage of that not being common knowledge. A driving force of the economy is Motorball, a sport that combines roller derby, NASCAR, and BattleBots. Cybernetically-enhanced athletes take to a winding, elaborate track and compete to bring a weighted ball to the end. Just about anything goes, which means most competitors leave the race in pieces.
Of course, they’re all so kitted out it’s hard to actually die when you’re mostly machine parts, but that’s totally within the rules. Alita spends a good chunk of the manga and film climbing the Motorball ranks, and a video game version of that speaks for itself. With Ubisoft already bringing sci-fi derby to gaming with Roller Champions, it’s easy to picture something like this working out pretty well.
I’m probably just gushing here, but Alita: Battle Angel really left an impression on me. It’s like a more popcorn-friendly version of Ghost in the Shell, or rather a work that exists in the same space. I immediately dove into the manga after watching the film, and found even more to love about this world and universe. It would be too cool to explore it all in video game form, whether directly tied to the movie version, or based on the IP overall. Just like, an Alita game would be sick, ok?