reviews\ Jan 16, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Superman Returns: The Videogame - NDS - Review

Since videogames have existed, people have been making games based on Superman.  One of the most popular superheroes of all time ought to be perfect subject matter for an awesome game, logic dictates.  Unfortunately, Superman games started out bad on the Atari 2600 and have stayed that way since--including the legendarily bad Superman 64, widely accepted as one of the worst games ever made.  Of course, with the recent film rebirth of the Superman franchise, Superman Returns, the videogame adaptations can’t be far behind.  Superman Returns for Nintendo DS is no Superman 64, but unfortunately, it’s still really bad.

The game follows the same general storyline of the film, picking up two years after Superman 2, with Superman returning to Earth after a long absence and Lex Luthor gaining access to Kryptonite.  In addition, the game makers have expanded the storyline, adding subplots revolving around Superman’s comic nemeses Parasite, Metallo, Mongrel, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Bizarro and their various plots that Superman must foil. 

When the game begins, the player is presented with a grid-style map of Metropolis.  As Superman, the player must take turns moving around Metropolis claiming spots on the grid as his territory.  Simultaneously, villains move around the city as well, creating crises at various locations; these events are the missions you must complete to keep Metropolis safe.  You can also confront the villains themselves.  Every turn, Metropolis loses health for every crisis still active and every villain that’s not been taken out of commission.  If Metropolis loses all its health, it’s game over.

The missions themselves come in a few different varieties.  The most common has Superman flying around the city, using one or more powers on whatever problem the mission may offer (heat-visioning minions, carrying innocent citizens to safety, etc.)  Feats of strength (picking up heavy things) prompts a Simon-style minigame, with three correct direction presses required under a time limit in order to succeed.  Fights against the villains are handled by way of a DDR-style minigame; your success or failure is indicated in a video sequence showing Superman beating his enemy to a pulp, or being beaten to a pulp, as the case may be.

All of this is well and good, but unfortunately, the problems in this game rear their heads early and don’t disappear for the remainder of the game.  First and foremost, Metropolis, shown in the comics and movies as the busiest, most bustling city on Earth, is dead.  Aside from ugly buildings and the occasional car, the city has no features; there aren’t even any civilians unless the mission requires it.  In addition to the city, the game has other graphical problems: while Superman and the main villains look all right (not great-just all right), any random enemies, minions, or level-specific details look terrible.  Many times, it’s impossible to tell exactly what the nature of a given enemy is.  Whether you’re fighting robots or reptiles, it won’t make any difference; they’ll just look like bad polygon models.

Of course, the worst graphics of all time wouldn’t matter much if the gameplay was fun, but it is my duty to tell you that it is not.  Controlling Superman while he flies is decent enough, but the gameplay and objectives are so repetitive and boring that it doesn’t really matter.  Almost every mission is a slight variation on a very simple formula: fly through a maze of buildings (or cliffs--some missions take place in the wilderness or underwater, but the formula doesn’t change a bit), find between eight and twelve of whatever is causing trouble, and press a designated button (which gets displayed onscreen) to use the appropriate power and defeat the problem.  This formula gets old by the second mission, but the missions follow it to the end of the game--by which time you will be thoroughly sick of it.  I suppose it could be counted as a blessing, then, that the game is one of the shortest I’ve ever played--clocking in at a whopping hour and twenty minutes from new game to the end.  The final level--there isn’t really a final “boss”--consists entirely of ten or twelve of the “Simon” style minigames in a row; beat them all and you win.  Awesome, huh?  Don’t even get me started on the Bizarro levels; whoever’s idea it was to have them viewed upside down (with matching reversed controls) deserves to have to play these levels, over and over, until they go crazy, which wouldn’t take long.

Maybe someday, someone will create a videogame worthy of the Man of Steel.  Until that day comes, however, steer clear of this one.  While it may not match the infamous awfulness of Superman 64, it gives it a run for its money, and that’s saying something.

Review Scoring Details for Superman Returns

Gameplay:  4.2
The boss fights are, at best, decent; the rest of the gameplay is not.  Poor concepts plus lackluster execution equals unhappy gamers.

Graphics:  4.5
The game looks like a poor first generation N64 game.  The DS can do a whole lot better.

Sound:  4.3
I turned the volume off after the first stage, and I suggest you do the same.

Difficulty: Easy
Except for the Bizarro levels (which are frustrating-hard, not challenging-hard), a toddler could finish this game.

Concept:  4.8
Trying to shoehorn the open-world current gen title onto the DS in the form of a grid-based board game gets points for effort, but not many.

Multiplayer: 4.4
Multiple Supermans (Supermen?) race to complete level goals before each other.  It’s that same gameplay you know and love from the single player, only now you’re subjecting your friends to it, too!

Overall:   4.3
While it’s not the worst Superman game ever made, it’s still not anything any sane person would want to play.  If you need a Superman fix, go rent the DVD instead.

Below Average

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