What do you need to make a game not suck? More specifically, what do you need to do to make a Superman game not suck? State-of-the-art graphics? No, that didn’t work. A brilliant story as a strong foundation? We’ve only begun to explore that option in superhero games. A big budget feature film to base the game off of? Certainly not! How about taking the game down a notch, and going back to the beat-em-up roots of the classic games of the past? Could that be what finally makes a Superman video game worthy of the character’s iconic legacy?
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment/Sunsoft
Released: 1994 (SNES), 1995 (Genesis)
Platforms: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
What I appreciate most about this game is that it’s based on an actual comic book storyline, rather than just some stereotypical Superman situation. So you’re not just spending 10 levels trying to save Lois Lane, you’re reliving comic book history.
I dare say you’re a fool if you aren’t familiar with the story, even if it wasn’t the most compelling few years of the Superman titles. Doomsday and Superman have it out in a massive battle royal, resulting in the destruction of the goliath, Doomsday, and the sacrifice of our hero, Superman. Later, Superman is brought back to life in the form of four different Supermen, all of whom you play as, as well as the original.
The game is your basic beat-em-up, but almost a little too basic. Nothing about it stands out in the way that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Final Fight, or Streets of Rage does, which is this game’s biggest flaw. You side scroll, and beat up bad gays, then side scroll some more, and beat up more bad guys. Occasionally, things switch up as a side-scrolling shooter, but it’s so insultingly easy that it’s not even fun. A good classic side-scroller would have special power-up items, and different objectives and strategies in each level, topped off with a unique boss battle…none of that is in this game.
It would be interesting if each new version of Superman offered something new gameplay wise, but all of them play exactly the same. As any of the five Supermen, you’re able to fly, punch, and use your heat vision. Don’t get excited about the heat vision, though. All it does is temporally stun your enemy. It might have been cool if it melted your foe’s face, or set them ablaze, but no. It’s probably the most awesome superpower Superman has, and all it does is slightly inconvenience your adversaries. You also have a special move that kills all the enemies on screen, where Superman flies out of frame, and crashes his fist into the ground. This is the most satisfying element of the entire game, but its usage is very limited.
Even the enemies you’re clobbering through the whole game are completely identical, as are the settings. Later in the game, you actually replay the exact same stages from earlier in the game, but as a different Superman clone.
The shooter segments aside, the game is actually frustratingly difficult, and not in an entertaining way. After you’ve lost all your lives and had to start from stage one all over again, you’ll quickly realize this game just isn’t worth your time, especially when all you’re doing is playing the same three levels over and over again in different costumes.
I used to really want to believe that this was the one shining diamond in the clogged toilet of Superman games, but I can’t lie to myself anymore. Even in 2011 the game industry still isn’t sure how to make Superman an interesting video game character, though I still have hope. If Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment can pull out an amazing Batman game when we all once said it wasn’t possible, then I’m confident that they can do the same with Superman…one day. Until then, I’ll be dreading the inevitable Superman movie tie-in game for Zack Snyder’s Superman film.
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