Just Fly Around and Shoot Stuff

Superman: The Man of Steel (1989)

It's hard to know what to expect from a SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. video game. As we've touched upon before, he's a hero with a very distinctive, and broad, set of powers and trying to bring him into any video game is a tricky propositing. DO you give him his full compliment and try to balance the game around an overpowered hero, or do you limit him a lot and make him feel less than super. Or you could follow the path Tynesoft took and make a game where the hero is underpowered and not very fun to play. I don't recommend going this route.

Superman: The Man of Steel

It's hard to know just what Tynesoft was thinking beyond, "well, we have a license so we may as well do something with it." There are any number of game types they could have played with but, when looking at the greatest symbol of truth and justice in pop culture, the company decided to make a shooting gallery game. That's it. In all modes of the game you fly around as Superman and shoot things. As I said, I never know what to expect with a Superman game, but this dire experience was certainly not it.

When the Earth is plagued by all manner of natural disasters, Superman heads out to figure out just what is going on. He's beset by Parademons while flying, but he's able to fight these off. Then he has o go and save Lois as she's been captured by terrorists. Only then can Superman make is way to a satellite orbiting Earth to see the true cause. After fighting off asteroids (yes, really), the Man of Steel discovers another, massive satellite. This one is run up Lexcorp, and Superman has to make his way over, fight his way inside, and destroy the satellite. This saves Earth, and saves the day, all thanks to Superman.

The game essentially has three modes of play. The first is a pseudo-3D style shooting game. Here Superman flies around (with his symbol indicated his aiming reticule), blasting away at enemies as they fly towards him. I do like that the reticule and Superman himself are independent, but the 3D graphics are subpar and the action is quite limited in scope. Like, I feel like they at least tried here, but the game play didn't match the developers' ambitions. Bear in mind, this is also the best game mode of the set.

The second mode comes in the forms of a top-down, vertical scroller. This is primarily used in the two (yes, two) asteroid defense sections of the game. Here, Superman can fly around the screen, shooting and punchng as asteroids. The asteroids are random, and then oddly move around a bit with Superman. The goal is not to defend Superman (as he's invincible) but to protect a ship as it travels through the field. The weird movement, and the odd patterns of the asteroids, make this less then fun to play. Oh, and you're on a timer here so it's not as important to destroy all the asteroids as just waiting out the level until it mercifully ends.

The worst part is the third type of shooting in the game. This takes the form of 2D side-scrolling action. here, Superman has to fly through waves of enemies to a designated end of the stage, but every time he takes a hit (from the enemies or from their projectiles) he gets pushed back a certain distance. There are no invincibility frames, so he can absolutely get combo hit from one enemy into another, going from very near to the end of the stage all the way back to the beginning. It's oobnoxious, and annoying, and it feels more like padding than a real challenge. I hate this mode so much.

The flaws of this game are, of course, two fold. The fact that none of the game modes are very fun to play hurt the title a lot. You expect Superman to go around, flying and punching and taking on bad guys, yes, but he does it to protect the world. The game tries to pitch this as Superman protecting Earth, but the missions he's on -- blasting asteroids and destroying Lexcorp sattelites -- doesn't really feel like the kinds of things Superman would do. Hell, making a sattellite to destroy the Earth doesn't exactly feel like a Lex Luthor thing either, so the game kind of fails to nail both characters in the process.

And while we're at it, why the heck are parademons in this game. They're associated with Darkseid, usually part of his plans to take over the world, but after the first stage the parademons disappear and Darkseid never shows up. So why were they included. There are any number of other creatures that could have been in here instead -- have it be Toyman bots and then it's Toyman's goons, and the mast er villain himself, that have Lois -- and it would have made more sense than hinting at Darkseid and then never delivering. That's dumb.

Meanwhile, why a shooting game. When I think of Superman I don't think of his as a shooter. Yes, he has laser eyes, but it always feels like he uses them as a last resort, and even then with precisions. Having him flying around, blasting willy-nilly does feel like the antithesis of his character. Again, it feels like the company had a license and they then just had to figure out something to do with him. Why make a good Superman game when you can just make a game and then slap the Man of Steel into it afterwards.

About the only things the game does get right are its cinematics between the stages. These are presented in a comic book format, with bits of story told across many panels. While this runs out, a digital version of the famous John Williams plays in the background. This feels like Superman. This is the kind of storytelling and presentation we expect for the Man of Steel. Of course, any hopes you have seeing this solid part of the game is then dashed the second you actually have to play it, so there's a lot of bad that goes with this good.

In general, Superman: The Man of Steel from 1989 is an abysmal experience. It's dull, it'd tedious, and it's just not very much fun to play at all. There are worse Superman games out there, yes, but that's a low bar to clear (and this game barely does it at that). Still, there are far better games that actually manages to nail the feel of Superman. I don't know why you'd ever bother playing this title instead.