Genre: Action Developer: Sunsoft Publisher: Sunsoft Players: 1-2 Released: 1992
Recently, Superman has developed something of a spotty reputation when it comes to video games. It’s almost as if the industry is his own form of digital red kryptonite, and every new release is a roll of the dice for wary buyers. After the complete debacle that was Superman 64, it’s amazing anyone will even touch the property any more, and it’s quite hard to imagine a time when the franchise wasn’t so questionable. However, given that Supes has only had a fraction of the amount of titles other heroes like Batman and Spider-Man have had, his track record is honestly nothing to brag about.
Many people almost immediately tend to think of Death and Return of Superman whenever talk of a Genesis game comes up. I don’t know if that’s deliberate, as if they’re trying to put thoughts of Sunsoft’s action title far from their minds, or they’re honestly unaware that this other game even exists. Truth be told, I’m not so sure they’d be thrilled to play this one, but then again, they may be surprised once they’ve given it a chance.
It’s not that Superman is a great game, mind you; it isn’t. It’s just that it’s not bad per se. In fact, I’d have to go as far as saying that it’s actually quite playable and sports some decent presentation. Unfortunately, the difficulty level alone is enough to sap anyone’s powers and make them run for the hills.
In essence, Superman suffers from that all-too-common ailment of action games of its era: repetition. I almost find myself looking for the coin slot when I play it, since it seems like it was made to sap my quarters, and the brutal challenge goes hand-in-hand with some lackluster level design. Almost all the stages drag on much longer than they should, which often finds players asking themselves when they’re going to end. That’s not a good sign, and having to replay each one from the beginning after being killed will no doubt ruin the experience for those lacking tremendous patience. Every stage can be beaten, mind you, and anyone who has taken the time and effort necessary to master games like Shadow of the Beast and The Adventures of Batman & Robin should be grinning like a fool right now at my total lack of skills (like I’ve ever claimed to be anything other than a scrub!).
Almost as if trying to compensate for the high difficulty – or simply trying to entice unsuspecting buyers – Sunsoft dressed its wares in some decent and colorful graphics. “Check out my cool visuals!” said the spider to the fly, and parallax, nice color, and decent animation abound. Honestly, aside from Superman’s diminutive sprite, I can’t find anything particularly irking about the visuals. That Sunsoft complimented all this visual decency with some great music is almost enough to make me forgive the shallow design. It all reminds me of the company’s NES games. Batman is definitely better in this regard among those releases, and both it and Superman share the same combination of great presentation and high challenge.
And just like Batman, this game doesn’t spend too much time on plot. Brainiac is on the loose and must be stopped, so the Caped Wonder is off to save the day. I don’t remember any comics with Brainiac having the powers he exhibits here, but then again, I’m sure Batman fans don’t remember the Joker being able to hurl lightning either. Comic books are usually plot-driven, and this practice of omitting any sort of tangible story is something of which the industry has been guilty for years. Today’s technology is finally giving developers the chance to do this area of the medium justice, but there’s no sign of things to come in this title. Do expect to save Lois Lane, though. No Superman adventure would be complete without such a task, and it’s at least done in a way here that doesn’t make the world’s most famous hostage the center of everything. I think the only other damsel to be in distress as often is Olive Oyl, and believe me, not having to spend the whole game tracking Lois down is a a good thing indeed.
Another regard in which Superman mimics Sunsoft’s 8-bit super hero classic is in that it almost has no need for the main character at all. I don’t hold it against this particular title, of course, since it’s just another example of how licenses were simply dropped in at the end of development back in the day, with no regard given to how the character was actually used. Here, it is most notable in how Superman’s powers are implemented. Instead of partaking in his complete array of offensive moves – like heat vision, super breath, and super spin – the player is only allowed one particular move at a time. Picking up an specific icon allows you to use either Superman’s heat vision, spin, or super punch – none of which make any sense. Shouldn’t “SUPER” man have his super strength all the time? Moreover, why can he only fly in select stages? Had the developers taken more time to think the game through, I’m sure they could have come up with some interesting ways to make use of his powers. Such is the life of a licensed title, I guess…
Quiet simplicity is probably the main reason why Superman has been so overlooked by Genesis gamers in general. Nothing about the game screams “play me!” at all, and even the cover is unassuming. I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly unless you find a copy cheap somewhere. That being said, there is an afternoon of fun and frustration to be had here for anyone willing to take the dive. Be warned: those short on patience will find their willingness to play this one disappear faster than a speeding bullet.