Video game adaptations of popular franchises tend to be disappointing. The cost of the license can cut into the development budget. Or in the case of movie games, the title might be rushed to launch at the same time as the movie. The Superman license has had slipshod releases over and over since the first game back on the Atari 2600.
Superman / Atari 2600 / Developed by: Atari
See that pink and blue figure above the telephone booth? That is supposed to be Superman flying across blocky buildings that look like they were designed by Picasso. The game is just a race against time to see how fast capture criminals, rebuild a bridge and fly back to the phone booth to return to the Daily Planet. Also watch out for the kryptonite if you touch it you have to find Lois Lane to heal you. Superman on the 2600 fails because the entire experience is the same few minutes of gameplay repeated over and over.
Superman / Nintendo / Developed by: Kotobuki Systems
Since the NES couldn’t handle large sprites, Superman was reduced to the “super deformed” style. Instead of just focusing on punching gangsters into tomorrow Superman for the NES introduces some his powers other than flying. You can use X-ray vision to spot hidden items, super breath and heat ray vision. The downside to this game is that it is only five levels long and leaping over enemies is much more efficient than punching them. Also to note is that playing as Clark Kent in this game is just as effective as playing as Superman.
Superman / Sega Genesis / Developed by: Sunsoft
The first 16-bit Superman console game looks sharp compared to the NES game. Superman finally looked like something from the comics instead of a blocky mess. While the game shines visually (sort of) Superman for the Genesis is insanely difficult. For a hero that is nearly invincible with the solitary weakness of kryptonite Sunsoft’s vision of Superman has him weak against everything. If a punch to the gut can kill Superman can you imagine what a mutant spider bite or kryptonite does? Sunsoft also severely weakened Superman by limiting his special skills. The only time players can use heat vision or a super punch is after filling up a meter. The result is that most of the game is spent dying and using a basic punch attack.
Superman 64 / Nintendo 64 / Titus Software
It’s one thing to make a bad game and it is another thing to make Superman 64, which is often mentioned as one of the worst games of all time. When the entire city of Metropolis is covered with a green kryptonite fog, Superman stops to fly through glowing hoops. Superman 64 is kind of like Nights into Dreams except with worse controls. The graphics are also pretty bad. Superman is made with only a few polygons and the game’s world is pretty empty. The lesson Titus learned after the game is when people think of Superman they don’t think of flying through hoops.
One of the common problems with Superman games is trying to design a game with all of Superman’s powers. None of these titles were able to capture Superman’s many skills and near invincibility. Electronic Arts wants to buck the trend with Superman Returns, but after Catwoman and a mediocre Batman Begins games they fighting an uphill battle.