I wanted to review at least one of these lousy Superman games before ending Superman month. Not the N64 game (the one where you fly through rings). No, everybody knows how crappy that one is. Besides, while nowhere near as horrific, this game is still less appealing to me than a wait in a long line.
Basically, Superman is an attempt to bring the Man of Steel to the NES. A very half-assed attempt. The programmers seem to have only a vague idea of the character. Things get even worse when you judge this as a game. Simply put, it’s a waste of money (and by “money” I mean $49.99 back then).
Plot: 4 out of 10
It’s true to the comic book in a sense. You start every level as Clark Kent at the Daily Planet. You can talk to Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Perry White before you begin. They fill you in on what crisis you investigate as a reporter. And solve after changing into the Superman costume in a phone booth. Each level has a largely disconnected story that seem to have been thought up within ten seconds each. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is really bad.
At least this game has a more Superman feel than most games about him. All of his powers are usable (see further down). Also, Kryptonite appears as items. The green kind drains life, red drains whichever power you’re using, and blue (I’m pretty sure it was made up for this game) heals you. And as noted, Superman’s friends and the Clark persona appear as well.
Graphics: 3 out of 10
The first problem with the graphics is that they’re repetitive. A few outdoor and indoor designs are used throughout the game. Characters are pretty badly designed as well. They look like they were created for South Park, not Superman.
Sound: 1 out of 10
Very plain and forgettable music. A goofy tune is used for Clark, a dramatic one, for Superman. They are used both indoors and outdoors. There’s not much other music. So it hurts a lot that they’re very weak and even annoying. Plus, they’re very similar to one another. And the fact that you’ll be hearing them a lot through the whole game means that you’ll be far better off Youtubing one of the various Superman themes on your phone throughout the whole game.
Gameplay: 3 out of 10
Again, you start out as Clark but can turn into Superman with a trip into a phone booth. Superman jumps really high but is hard to maneuver in the air. You’ll often end up taking a hit because you didn’t get the landing quite right. Your main attack is punching. Due to the slowness of this attack, it’s difficult to time it when speed is critical.
Superman has, of course, a lot of powers. All of them are in this game. They can be used to attack with enhanced power or shoot from a distance, with the exception of Super Flight. Super Flight allows you to fly to another part of Metropolis. Each use of a power depletes its energy. You can refill a power’s energy by collecting an item with its symbol that randomly appear when you kill someone. Trouble is, each of these is only for a specific power. Since there are so many, the chances of refilling the bar for the power you just used (unless you use many of them) is pretty low.
When your life gets too low, you revert to Clark (does this mean the bad guys go to prison with the knowledge that Clark and Supes are the same person). Since when did this happen in the comic books? I guess they just wanted to keep it like many other platformers of the 1980s in which you lost your power-up if you took a certain amount of damage.
Challenge: 7 out of 10
This is actually done well. Avoiding damage is reasonably challenging, for enemies’ attacks are clever. In a nice RPG twist, they make you follow clues to find the boss of the level. So long as you know to find and fight some easier enemies for blue Kryptonite, it rarely gets overly hard, and to the extent it does, the bad gameplay is to blame.
Overall: 3 out of 10
It may well be that Superman is not suited for video games. This is about a nearly invincible character who easily defeats most criminals except for a select few who also have powers, are geniuses, or were just lucky enough to find some Kryptonite. You definitely couldn’t make a game in which only the bosses can hurt you. While Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Dragon Ball have entertained gamers for decades, I can’t seem to recall even one good Superman game. The best one I ever played was Death and Return of Superman, and that was about average.