reviews\ Jan 16, 2007 at 7:00 pm

Superman Returns: The Videogame - XB - Review

What could be more exciting than being Superman? Aside from the ability to leap tall buildings and withstand immeasurable pain, being the Man of Steel means you’ll be looked up to – and not just when you’re 100 feet in the air. It guarantees expectations of heroism and dedication, leaving little room for a love life, let alone time to go to the bathroom. (Lucky for him, he can do the latter while moving faster than a speeding bullet. But I don’t think that’ll help him with the ladies.)

What could be cooler than being in control of these superpowers? To be able to jump in the air and fly as naturally as any other human walks across the street. To stop a cluster of meteorites en route to Earth, catch vicious bad guys, and squash every villain’s attempt to rule the world. What could be more amazing than that? 


Sky High

Superman Returns, the video game adaptation of Bryan Singer’s first Superman flick, is accomplished in its flight mechanic efforts. The game’s focus is on the hero’s ability to fly, an action that might feel a little a weird at first. Superman Returns doesn’t control like any of the previous Superman games. Compared to other games where you control a human or human-like character who can fly, Returns is very different. Move into other genres, however, and you’ll start to see where the developers drew their inspiration.

Hold the Y button and Superman will lift himself into the air and soar over the city. The right analog stick guides his aerial movement; push up to descend, push down to do the opposite. Use the left stick to control his space while suspended. Superman will float around the screen without moving forward – not a necessary function, but it does make the game a little more intuitive.

Superman Returns is not without its control issues – fighting the camera (which goes crazy near tall buildings, and sometimes for no reason at all) is no small undertaking. But the soar feelings (not to be confused with sore feelings) are quite surreal. 


Truth, Justice, All That Stuff

Metropolis is a large world, with several different islands to pass through or visit. Each island represents its own area, but none are defined as much as those in other free-roaming games. You won’t land on a new area to learn of new and optional mission objectives. The game gives you what it wants, nothing more.

Exploration is minimal – players can scour the streets if they’d like, but there’s not much of a point. Doing so won’t trigger a random, surprising event that sends you on a special mission. In the comics, movies, and TV shows, Superman’s work is never done. In Superman Returns, you don’t hunt for criminals or seek out those in danger – you merely follow the mission plan.


Superman Returns doesn’t clutter the game with too many menus. 

Not Hollywood’s Land

The original Xbox hasn’t had many moments of graphical disbelief. It’s considered to be a dated platform with the 360 in full gear, but I look back on its previous years – from launch in 01 through Christmas 05 – with nothing but good memories. When ports alone (Onimusha, Silent Hill 2, etc.) can benefit from its superior graphics engine, Xbox led the way for unprecedented beauty in console games. Halo looks old compared to Gears of War, but few gamers will forget how amazing it was for its time, and how incredible its gameplay still is today.

Superman Returns defies logic with graphics that are nowhere near what the console is capable of producing. Whether stuffed with Man of Steel admirers, or vacant to make way for one more arrogant enemy, the game doesn’t feel populated – it feels dead.

Pedestrians walk aimlessly and repetitively. Signs of realism are absent from their bodies, while buildings could be described as large cardboard boxes that look heavily pixilated whenever you approach. Vehicles are square, slow-moving boxes that also look like they were made out of cardboard.

The sky is plain and ugly – shouldn’t this be an essential part of any Superman game? A place where players look up and stare in awe? You know, as we did with many Xbox games five years ago?

Superman himself looks awful. Aside from being a very poor representation of the film’s actor, it is also a bad example of how Superman should look in a video game. He’s big and bulky, but not properly defined. He doesn’t come across as being tough – he’s just a bouncer enforcing rules. Which is ironic when you think about it. Because even The Bouncer, a first-year PS2 title bashed by every critic on the planet, had quality graphic elements. Superman Returns doesn’t have any. 


Superman Returns is [was] a potentially great action game that doesn’t play like a completed product. There’s no excuse for bad missions – complete or not, the action isn’t too rewarding. Underneath the darkness is a comic book adventure that could’ve been really special. The portion that could’ve been great – the controls, world exploration, graphics, voice acting and story, etc. – don’t have the markings of a finished game.

Review Scoring Details for Superman Returns

Gameplay: 5
Superman Returns has a terrific setup, but the missions aren’t any more creative than Catwoman, and aren’t much more enjoyable than the forgettable Wolverine game.

Fans will recognize the significant difference between Superman Returns and other Superman titles: this game has the controls of a fighter jet from Ace Combat. It’s fun to just fly around in circles, but its value can only last for so long. Eventually you’ll want to do something, and that rarely turns out to be anything worthwhile. Flight aspect aside, this is just another bandwagon action game.

Graphics: 1
The Man of Steel? More like The Man of Close Your Eyes – Shelter Them From The Horror! While most games look their brightest and best during a console’s final days, Superman Returns looks like it was designed as a 2001 launch title. Animations are choppy, characters are underdeveloped, the frame rate isn’t entirely consistent, and the backgrounds lack any form of realism. It’s sad to think about it, but there are PSone games that look better.

Sound: 6
Repetitive (and not at all amusing) one-liners from the Man of Steel. They’re annoying at best. The sound effects are cheesy, and the music doesn’t stand out.

Difficulty: Easy
Straightforward guidelines with cheap repercussions.

Concept: 7.9
The great and somewhat unique flying controls are offset by a muddled combat system. His powers sound cool – project ice or fire, attack with extreme power, etc. If this were 1980, it’d be a new concept to the gaming world. Today, it’s hard to think of a game that doesn’t incorporate ice or fire in some way.

Overall: 5
Superman Returns shares Spider-Man’s flaw of repetitive combat, but it has several mistakes that stand alone: a jerky, unreliable camera; boring mission objectives; and graphics that sit well below the standards of the first Xbox.


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