Though video games based on licensed properties are always a bit of a gamble in terms of quality, comic book superheroes have faired a little better than most. There have been a number of good video games based on superheroes, and even sone great ones (mostly thanks to Batman). But this does not apply to Superman, who is seemingly cursed when it comes to making the transition into gaming.
Superman’s most notorious video game is his Nintendo 64 offering, which often ranks as one of the worst video games of all time. But good ol’ Superman was producing video game duds even before then, including a lackluster venture on the NES.
Superman on NES has to be one of the most boring games on the console. You play as Clark Kent, and can become Superman by entering phone booths. If you take too much damage, you revert back to Clark Kent.
Now, Clark can fight just as well as Superman (at least, as well as you can fight in this game), but only as Superman can you use your super powers, which include ice breath, flight and X-ray vision, among others.
The game is basically a sidescroller, with Clark/Supes able to jump and attack with the A and B buttons, respectively, and the select button using your assigned super power (which you can change via the pause menu). It sounds simple enough, but everything about the controls just feels way off.
The jumping is slow and floaty, and makes you feel like you’re jumping without gravity working against you. And the attack, well, I think it’s supposed to be a punch, but the animation doesn’t look any different from Clark Kent/Superman’s walk cycle, so it’s more of a nondescript lunge. What’s really weird is that if you keep punching while in the air, you’ll just stay in place. What really ruins the attack though is how awkward it is used against enemies. You can hit enemies without being particularly close to them, which makes the whole attack feel like a half-assed implementation.
Worse still are the super powers. The super powers can only be used in specific instances, with the flight ability being particularly head-scratching. Flight only works in particular areas, but there’s no visual indication as to where you can use it. If it works, you may fly to a different part of the map, or to the top of a building to fight more enemies. If it doesn’t work, you still have to watch Superman fly upward and then come back down, even though nothing comes of it. So you’re usually just wasting the flight power watching the same piece of animation over and over, and you’ll probably only effectively use it out of pure luck.
I can understand that the abilities are meant to be situational (though it would be nice to use at least some of them outside of their specific situations), but the game fails to give you any idea when you should use the super powers. It’s annoyingly cryptic.
Not that it would matter too much anyway, as the gameplay that is present just feels so flat and boring. You just walk around Metropolis and punch(?) bad guys, and not much else. There’s no fluidity to the controls, and the gameplay is never engaging.
To add insult to injury, there’s not a single NPC in the game that says anything even remotely helpful. The people of Metropolis are apparently the simplest people on Earth, as they’re only capable of saying short sentences that have no meaning. What’s worse is that the text appears so slowly, that even their shortest lines take an unnecessary amount of time.
On top of all of this, the game is just downright ugly, probably one of the worst-looking games on the NES. The characters have a cartoonishly stumpy look to them, which was probably the result of rushing the game, as opposed to any attempt at a novel art direction for the property. The colors are garish, and the backgrounds bland. It’s just a very ugly game. Complimenting the ugly visuals is a ghastly, irritating soundtrack (the game never even bothers making a synthesized attempt at John Williams’ Superman theme).
Superman on NES is one of the worst games on the system, though it currently ranks as the second-worst game to star the Man of Steel. It’s so boring and so bland. There’s nothing ‘super’ about it.