Review: Superman (N64)

In this review, we take on the likes of Lex Luthor in the N64 game Superman. We find out if this action game is worth a play.

This game was released in 1999. It is based off of the general franchise.

Lex Luthor has captured three of Suermans friends. Luthor then leads Superman to his portal which leads to a virtual world. Superman is tasked with saving his friends from Luthor.

The game starts off with a flying maze. You must navigate through the various rings. The green ring represents the next ring you must fly through. A yellow ring represents the next ring that you can pass through, but you’ll lose a chance (or more depending on which ring you fly through. Grey rings are inactive. Flying through them will cause Lex to win. The red ring is the final ring. If you pass through the other rings and then pass through this ring, then you’ll win.

As mentioned, you get a limited number of chances. If you skip a ring and pass through the ring after, you’ll lose a chance. If you only have green and grey rings, then you are on your last chance and you must follow the last of the rings in order so you don’t lose.

Making things more interesting is the fact that you have a time limit. The time limits are generally fairly liberal, but you don’t have an unlimited amount of time. As such, you need to be reasonably quick through the “mazes”. A lot of people found these mazes frustratingly difficult. One strategy is to simply slow down for the harder turns. A lot about this game revolves around momentum. You have a limited amount of turning capability, so only go as fast as possible when you hit large straight lines or gentle curves.

Another thing to note is the fact that some rings do move. They generally move in a very predictable way, but with your flying capabilities in this game being so limited, it can be tricky to fly through nevertheless. One strategy is to fly at a reduced speed. Often, you’ll be able to have the rings fall in line nicely without too much turning if you go through these areas at a moderate pace. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it does help in these tougher areas.

As you can tell, a large amount of this game revolves around these ring mazes. They allow you to move from level to level, so a large portion of your game involves flying through these rings. Between each maze is either an outdoor challenge or an actual level.

The more common outdoor challenges involve you completing a specific task. Some tasks simply involve you taking out enemies. Other tasks involve you protecting civilians. This can either be by taking out enemies in their paths or taking out obstacles in your path. One such obstacle is a hurricane which you must fly to and eliminate with your breath. The capabilities of Superman are found via the C buttons, however, you need to be still while executing them. Otherwise, you just keep moving forward.

Meanwhile, levels allow you to enter inside buildings. These levels have various simple puzzles and a number of enemies. You need to complete certain objectives in order to complete the level. Sometimes, it involved key cards. Other times, it involves interacting with consoles to unlock other areas.

You have a limited number of moves throughout the game. You can take off and land with the “Z” button (assuming there isn’t anything directly above you of course). “B” allows you to interact with objects. “A” allows you to do a basic attack.

You can lift up and drop objects with “B”. However, if you are moving forward while letting go, you’ll be able to throw these objects.

Along with this are the special moves. These moves include laser vision and special breath capabilities. While these moves can help you in your quest, they have a limited amount of energy. In fact, a large portion of the game involves you having no energy for these moves. So, unless you are in a specific level that involves you using that specific capability, don’t count on using those moves much.

In addition to this, there are special power ups. These powerups give Superman the other capabilities he is famous for. An example of this is fast running. They last for a limited amount of time, however, you are able to use them in the game as the need arises.

Finally, you have health. This is the only thing I’ve seen that recharges on its own. If you are outside and starting another outdoor flying maze, then your health will regenerate to the max. In the mission buildings, there is a way to regenerate health. You need to locate the special “S” icons. Collect one and you’ll restore some of your health. If you lose all of your health, then you need to start the level over again.

Along the way, there are a small number of enemies. The most common are dark suits. They are often armed with pistols to fire at you. While you may be thinking that Superman is normally invulnerable to such trivial weapons, in this game, you lose health. Some dark suits have rocket launchers which will cause even more damage.

Another enemy is the mine robot. While they can easily be dispatched by picking up and throwing them, their explosiveness can harm Superman.

Flying robots are also found in the game. You need to grab them out of the sky and throw them at a wall or ground to destroy them. These enemies drop bombs from the sky.

A final enemy is the Lexsuit. They fire rockets at you.

In addition to this, there are special enemies, though not many.

One additional hazard of note is Kryptonite. Some levels employ this. As Superman walks closer, he loses health at an increasingly fast pace. You’ll be able to note how close he is by the bar that appears along the bottom of the screen.

That’s pretty much the gist of the game.

I came into this game hearing that this is perhaps the single worst game ever made. Others argue that it is, at least, the worst game made on the N64. So, I went into this with very low expectations. It is worth noting that I’ve played some pretty bad games on this system. The two worst games so far are Mickey’s Speedway USA followed closely by Charlie Blast’s Territory. So, I was curious to see if this game tops those at least.

The first problem I have with this game is the difficulty it hits you with right away. I’ve played a number of games that hits players with a high degree of difficulty before, and this game suffers this problem as well. The ideal thing is to have at least a level or two where players can learn the basics of the game. It allows players to get up to speed on ways of beating levels and allowing players to be interested in taking on more difficult challenges ahead. This game simply doesn’t do this and, instead, winds up being difficult right from the very beginning.

A second problem is the bizarre obsession with the ring mazes. I can understand maybe having this as a side feature or maybe a bonus level to earn power for your various power ups. Unfortunately, this is a mandatory thing between levels. Even then, there are multiple legs between levels forcing you to go through these rings mazes. I though this is not only unnecessary, but a completely silly thing to emphasize. You play Superman to take on bad guys, rescue people in distress, and use special capabilities. You don’t pick up a game like Superman hoping to be able to fly through floating rings all day. Heck, PilotWings64 made flying through rings fun because the developers were able to keep that interesting. More than what I can say for this game.

As I progressed through the game, I just dreaded going through those ring mazes more and more. I normally get excited or happy beating a level. Unfortunately, I found myself thinking, “Great, another level beaten- oh, more of those awful ring mazes. Ugh.”

In addition to this, the limited number of enemies made this game extremely repetitive. There’s only so much time you can spend running up to the same enemy, punching them in the face, running up to another enemy, punching them in the face, repeating before the process becomes tedious. Squaring off with a very repetitive number of enemies gets very old after a while.

To make matters worse, the ever famous controls of the game. Yes, it’s as bad as a lot of people say it is. You have to overcompensate for some of the delay in the controls. Believe it, or not, I’ve seen less responsive controls, but this is definitely up there. Sometimes, you have to wait for Superman to glide to a stop because of your flying, but other times, the controls are legitimately slow. As such, you have to basically execute button presses sooner than what you think you should. It takes a lot of practice to get the delay right, but the only saving grace here is the fact that the delay is largely predictable. So, it is possible to adjust your play accordingly, but it shouldn’t be necessary.

The controls are pretty bad when it comes to actually moving around in buildings as well. Some hallways contain 90 degree turns. In addition, they can be narrow at times. Unfortunately, your limited ability to turn extends to walking as well. I often found myself grinding along walls to compensate for Supermans lack of turning ability while walking.

In trying to find anything positive about the gameplay, I can only think of a very general logic to the overall flow. The storyline does flow somewhat from level to level. Additionally, it is possible to learn the controls even though there is a learning curve involved thanks to how bad they can be.

Beyond some basic concepts having some decent logic, it’s really hard to think of any upside to this game. The controls are bad, the difficulty and learning curves are pretty severe, and the enemy variety leaves so much to be desired. Just based on gameplay alone, I can definitely say this is not recommended.

The graphics, are, well, pretty bad. If this game was released as one of a host of launch titles, I might be a bit more forgiving. Unfortunately, this was released towards the later part of the N64 life cycle. So, we are finding games like Donkey Kong 64, Hotwheels Turbo Racing, and Snowboard Kids 2. Compared to those games, this game is pretty hideous.

The models for characters are not only bad, but the textures on them look terrible. In addition to this, there is almost a complete lack of simple 2D sprites to at least add some life to the settings. The settings are extremely bare and the textures are quite awful. To make matters worse, in spite of the sparse nature of this game, simple effects like laser lines slow the games frame rate down to a crawl. It is not as though this system lacks any horsepower as other games are able to pull off much more than this. The only positive here is the fact that the rings have an interesting flashing light added to them and there are some basic objects for you to pick up. That’s it. It’s really bad in spite of the expansive area outside.

The audio really isn’t any better. One problem is the music. The music is extremely limited. As such, it gets very repetitive very quickly because the same less then half a dozen plays over and over and over again. In addition, the music isn’t even that memorable either. Meanwhile, the sound effects are quite basic. Outside of Luthor’s taunting laugh or Lois’ cry for help, there’s very little breaking things up and keeping things interesting. So, a flop here as well.

Overall, some people call this the worst game ever. I wouldn’t go that far as there is some basic logic behind this that makes it possible to play this game. That said, a lot of the flack this game gets is definitely deserved. The controls are awful, the gameplay is poor thanks to the constant use of ring mazes, the difficulty and learning curves are plain bad, and with so little to speak positively in this title, it’s definitely going in avoid list. With the terrible graphics and forgettable and repetitive soundtrack, this game features virtually no redeeming quality. While not the worst N64 game I’ve ever played, this one gets very close to the worst.

Furthest point in game: Defeated by the robots in the warehouse and lost the will to keep playing after that.

General gameplay: 7/25
Replay value: 2/10
Graphics: 4/10
Audio: 1/5

Overall rating: 28%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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