Pint-Sized Man of Steel

Superman (1997 Game Boy Game)

So I was terribly mistaken. I said in my review of Superman 64 that while Titus (the developer behind these games) was unable to release the Nintendo 64 version of the game they wanted, the Game Boy title they put out two years earlier was much better. I hadn’t played the version at the time and I was going simply off of what was reported by others on websites. And it is true that when you compare the two the Game Boy game comes out ahead, but that’s only because the Nintendo 64 version is one of the worst games ever created. When you compare anything to that mess, yes, they will look better. However, that doesn’t mean the Game Boy game is a good game, or really all that much better. It’s simply better by degrees. It is still, in most regards, and awful game.


That’s actually sadly funny, really, when you consider that this was the game they released to build anticipation for the Nintendo 64 title. They were constrained by the hardware of the Nintendo 64, finding that the ambitious game they wanted to make had to be scaled back to something they could easily put together on Nintendo’s hardware. The Game Boy game, though, didn’t struggle from over-ambition. Titus went into this hardware knowing its limitations and what they could have made. They weren’t overly ambitious at all. Hell, having played this game, ambitious at all. This is cash grab shovelware and, having played this title I now understand how Titus could have made the worst game ever: making bad games was kind of their whole deal.

In the game, 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. has to defend Metropolis (and the waters around it, I guess) from Lex Luthor and his maniacal ambitions. He’s put the city under a kryptonite fog and tasked his goons to fight against Superman while Lex plots his take over of the world. Superman has to battle through dozens (and we mean literal dozens) of goons, as well as very angry sharks and some malformed aliens, on his path to Luthor. In the end, after two different battles against the Lexoskel-5000, Superman will emerge victorious in this pint-sized battle of wits and wills.

Superman for the Game Boy is a weird little game. First of all, it really is quite little: the whole game can be beaten in about 20 minutes even if you’re taking your time. It only has 10 stages, and all of those are really quite brief. And then, after all of that, it just ends. I suppose it could be worse as there are no rings to fly through and no excessively long, drawn out stages that you have to fly across. Some might even say the game is mercifully short, which isn’t really a good thing when you consider that, back in the day, you had to plunk down a fair bit of allowance to buy this title. Still, a bad, short game is better than a bad, lingering game I suppose.

With that said, the stages are still full of make-work. Each stage is essentially all about collecting. Instead of flying through rings or defeating drones, Superman here has to collect keys. Each stage has keys hidden around them, sometimes floating in the air, other times hidden on enemies. Superman has to collect them all so that he can complete each stage; there will be a platform at the end of the stage and Superman has to have the keys to activate the platform so he can fly off. No keys, no flying away.

This is, frankly, a stupid mechanic. Superman is basically a meta-god; there is little you can do to keep him contained, and if he wants to fly through the ceiling of a stage, shoving his fist through everything to escape, no amount of keys are going to stop him. The game forces you to collect these keys because that’s the only real mechanic in the game, but this isn’t something that really makes sense for Superman. One stage where the Man of Steel had to collect a key so he could access the Fortress of Solitude? Sure, I could see that. Keys in every stage simply to add in a collecting mechanic and stretch out a game that would be only ten minutes long otherwise, though? Yeah, that’s bad game design.

This is, even with bosses in the game (well, okay, one boss, recycled to make two encounters), the bosses aren’t the real goal of the game. If they weren’t sitting on keys to collect you could ignore them entirely. None of the enemies, except the ones holding keys, are important and you could ignore them all. Even when the game says you have to battle them (in text between stages setting up the “action”), you don’t. Ignore everything as none of the foes actually matter. Hell, if you don’t bother fighting anything beyond the enemies that have the keys you can avoid most of the damage, and all the hassle, of the game.

Playing the Game Boy Superman actually is a real hassle. Kal-El plays like a slippery, slidy, ton of bricks. He can get good speed under him, but he doesn’t really stop well or move the way you expect. It’s worse when he gets in the air, being unable to fly in straight lines. He can fly at angles, but the stages aren’t generally designed on angles, so flying around (especially inside corridors) means flying up-down-up-down at annoying angles, back and forth. And while you might think, “well hell, let’s just have Supes jump to avoid obstacles,” you can’t because there’s no jumping in this game, only flying. It’s very stupid.

In fairness to the title, the developers clearly knew that their flying mechanics were janky, so they had the grace to let Superman auto-punch when he was in the air. All you have to do is touch an enemy with your outstretched fist and they’ll take damage. You do have to be careful not to touch them with anything other than your fist, since you’ll take damage from contact, but as long as you can aim well (which is hard to do with this game’s slippery controls) you can do a fairly effective job of taking out the foes in the game.

And I will note that the game isn’t packed full of foes. Yes, there is a scattering in each stage, but they’re spaced out well enough that you can usually fly (or, in some stages, swim) around them, effectively avoiding most enemies. The stages also are very giving with healing gems (not kryptonite, I assume) as well as 1-Up lives. The difficulty of this game really is quite manageable, verging (possibly) on too easy, but that is still far better than obnoxiously hard. I’ll take this if those are the only two options.

Still, there’s no denying that this is a criminally short, poorly programmed game. It’s not very pretty, it sounds bad, and in all respects it feels like it was released to fill a hole in Titus’s release schedule, a title to net the company an infusion of cash and fulfill a basic requirement of their contract. It doesn’t feel like Titus cared about this game, shitting out something simple while they kept working on the Nintendo 64 game (which they actually cared about, for all the good that did). This is a crappy, shovelware title, through and through. Yes, it’s still better than Superman 64 but does that really mean much?