Superman (Arcade) review
"Taito used to rule the corner stores with an iron fist. And as such, all we kids who cut class to go to the corner stores to play video games thought Taito was the shit. Superman was a big name cog in the mighty Taito wheel that included other beat-em-up notables like Thunder Fox and Crime City. I think the latter two were my absolute favourites, and what’s nice is that in revisiting them, I found that I still enjoyed myself quite a bit beyond the tingly feeling in your stomach that nostalgia brings. Unfortunately, Superman doesn’t do any tingly things anymore. It just makes me yawn. "
Taito used to rule the corner stores with an iron fist. And as such, all we kids who cut class to go to the corner stores to play video games thought Taito was the shit. Superman was a big name cog in the mighty Taito wheel that included other beat-em-up notables like Thunder Fox and Crime City. I think the latter two were my absolute favourites, and what’s nice is that in revisiting them, I found that I still enjoyed myself quite a bit beyond the tingly feeling in your stomach that nostalgia brings. Unfortunately, Superman doesn’t do any tingly things anymore. It just makes me yawn.
The Taito Template dictates five levels of side-scrolling action with some variations thrown in for good measure. To this end, the Man of Steel doesn’t disappoint. Each of the five areas is broken down into three stages. The first stage always has you walking (or hovering, it’s your choice) from left to right punching and soccer-kicking enemies. You’ll kick fire hydrants and phone booths to reveal diamonds: blue ones for vitality, and gold ones for one-time fireball punches. You can do the fireball punches without the diamond power up as well, but you need to hold down the punch button to charge first, and you can’t move while charging or shooting so it’s not as useful as it sounds.
In stage two, you’re still punching and kicking, but you’re not dragging the screen over anymore – the background simply scrolls vertically to make it look like you’re sort of floating straight up or down. The enemy roster is the same as it is in stage one: the same comical yellow and orange clad enemies float in, seemingly begging for a beating, and the same grey goons will materialize to block a few of your punches before eating them proper and fading away. The only difference is that they’re all kind enough to come to you in this case, and so you can basically stay in one spot, bop them and send them on their way.
Finally, the third stage – my favourite – features straight up horizontal shooter action. Superman breaks out his x-ray vision powers and flies from left to right, slicing through rocks and boulders, steel girders and combat helicopters, orphaned missiles and boss spacecraft a la Gradius. It’s not the tightest bit of shoot-em-up action you’ll ever have since Superman is so big on the screen, but it’s a good bit of fun nonetheless.
But there’s trouble in Metropolis! And these issues go far beyond Superman’s performance issues with Lois Lane. Firstly, stage types one and two have enemies crowd you and flank you. Fine, that’s their job. But when you get hit once, your recovery time is unbelievably short, setting up 'juggling' deaths on far too many occasions. Sometimes a stage one boss - usually a gargantuan, no-name, oddly coloured freak – will pound you (so hard that the screen itself shakes!), and as you fall, he’ll be upon you instantly to follow up, like some kind of Capcom custom combo. The cheapness takes away substantially from the game’s appeal.
The overall repetitive nature of the adventure doesn’t help things either. By the time you reach area three, you will realize with horror (well, more likely a sudden sleepiness) that every area will play exactly the same way. You’ll think to yourself, ''okay, I’m on the flying bit again, but now we’re in San Francisco – or is this Washington D.C.?'' We all know games use simple formulas (especially old school games), but there’s a problem when the formula is this… flimsy. Hell, even the music is an elementary school formula: Superman movie theme part one, Superman theme part one revisited, Superman theme part two, weird boss theme, endloop. It’s funny, at first I thought to myself, ''Hey COOL! Superman movie music!'' and then by area four I was mumbling something like, ''Dammit isn’t this the same !@#$! music? Holy--''
Just in case you’re a die-hard Superman fan and you’re still not completely sold on the idea that this game isn’t exactly a gem of a comic-to-game translation, allow me to point out the complete lack of Superman comic book… stuff. It’s not that the novelty of a Lex Luthor boss or a Lois Lane cameo would save this game, because it couldn’t. But it sure couldn’t hurt either. Aside from the insanely repetitive tunes and opening sequence showcasing Clark Kent’s phone booth transition to Metropolis’s favourite son, there isn’t much of an authenticity factor at work.
In all honesty, beyond the inarguable but somewhat limited appeal of the shoot-em-up sections, I found that the most enjoyment to be had with Superman lay in laughing it up at the fake Man of Steel in the game. Intrigued? I knew you would be. Since this is a two-player simultaneous contest utilizing the Taito template, there had to be a second player Superman. And so there is! And he wears a rust-orange bodysuit instead of the blue one we’re used to. Grey cape and boots replace the usual red set. When I was a kid I thought this 'alternate' was cool, like some sort of renegade Superman, but now I know better. He’s just a lame substitute for the real thing. Like this game.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 15, 2003)
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