Superman has had a rough history in regards to his transitions into the medium of video games, but none quite so infamous as his Nintendo 64 venture. This 1999 title – more famously known as “Superman 64” due to the console’s habit of dropping a “64” in the titles of its games – is widely considered to be one of the worst video games of all time. That reputation isn’t undeserved, as Superman 64 was broken in its day, and age has only magnified its notorious attributes.
I’ve already used the word “broken” to describe the game, and I’m not sure I could think of a more appropriate word to describe it, with the possible exception of “unfinished.” Superman 64 is supposedly a 3D action game, but it is void of so many basic video game elements it barely passes as a game at all.
In regards to gameplay, you more or less just fly around going through rings or lifting cars, or walking on the ground fighting bad guys. There’s really no way to go more in-depth about the gameplay, because that’s literally all there is to it. The aforementioned “flying through rings” segments are easily the most excessive, and show up with such frequency that you may think the game is playing a sick joke on you. It couldn’t be more monotonous.
If the repetition of its bare-bones gameplay weren’t bad enough, the game is also plagued by some of the worst controls in video game history. The flying segments feel so awkward you’ll probably miss a good number of those ever-present rings even when steering dead-on in their direction. Somehow, the controls when walking are even worse. Combat, in particular, is so clunky that all you really do is mash the buttons, with your strikes hitting or missing your enemies seemingly at random.
To top all that off, Superman 64 suffers from a dreadful presentation. The plot supposedly revolves around Lex Luthor kidnapping Superman’s friends and trapping them in a “virtual world,” and Superman giving chase. This “plot” is explained via a single text box within a cinematic that probably lasts all of ten seconds, at which point players are immediately thrust into the game’s first ring segment without so much as a tutorial or any explanation. Couple that with the fact that the game’s visuals look worse than most of the N64’s earlier titles, and the music consists of the same stock, faux-heroic, seconds-long loop repeated over and over, and the whole experience just becomes an assault on the senses.
Further frustration occurs with the game’s often cryptic nature. There was one segment in the game’s first stage where the objective was to freeze three tornados with Superman’s ice breath, without explaining how you even use the ice breath to begin with. It felt like I struck gold when I realized the pause menu includes a list of the game’s controls, and that the ice breath is used by pressing the C-up button on the N64 controller. But when I attempted to freeze the tornados, nothing happened for the first several tries (with each failure sending me back to the ring segments). I only discovered by pure accident that you have to at first find a power-up before Superman can use his ice breath. Not that it ended up making much difference, since I still managed to fail the mission a few times even with this knowledge (not only does Superman have to be holding still directly in front of the tornados in order for the ice breath to work, but a number of times I still saw the “Lex Wins” screen even as I got rid of the third tornado).
That may be a bit of ranting on my part for what is ultimately one small segment of the game, but that segment somehow represents the bigger picture of Superman 64. There’s not a single aspect of the game that feels even close to finished. In fact, I might argue that every element of the game feels like it barely even began. The mechanics are horrible when they even work at all. You’ll often fall through the levels or run into countless other glitches. Barely anything is explained to the player (and when it is, the text boxes appear so briefly you might miss them if you blink. It’s as if the text boxes just want to hurry up and get out of the game). And you’re so persistently haunted by those dreadful rings you may have nightmares about them.
Is Superman 64 one of the worst video games of all time? Oh, most definitely.