Never has a game been more appropriately named than Superman Returns. Since the N64, the Superman name has been cursed with bad games. Some say the entire franchise, including movies and TV, is cursed as well, but for the purposes of this conversation, the games are all we’re concerned about. But concerned is something we should not be. We all saw this coming. We knew it was going to happen. We said to ourselves “there’s no way this game is going to avoid the curse.” So why be concerned that those thoughts have come true? Because sure enough, Superman has returned — in all of his boring, trite and ugly glory.
It sincerely pains be to give a game a bad review, because somewhere in a server-filled office sits a team of talented professionals who know far more about programming than I could ever hope to know. Yet when a game-development genie throws Kryptonite into the gameplay formula and lets an experience this horrid leave the home office, pain is something I just need to endure. And anyone who plays Superman Returns will endure an inordinate amount of pain as well.
For all intents and purposes, EA tried to mimic the gameplay formula from the second movie-based Spider-Man game: Metropolis is huge, it’s alive with pedestrians and cars, and it lets players fly dozens of miles into the sky before dashing down to street level at incredible speeds. These parts of the game go pretty well. But somewhere in there EA had to inject some gameplay, and that’s where Superman Returns goes every which way but right.
In Spider-Man, players could consult their city map to see where various mini-game challenges were located. In Superman Returns, the map is essentially pointless, because the few mini games that are included need to be unlocked, and they can only be unlocked after playing for at least six hours. Well, playing Spider-Man for six hours wasn’t a problem because the mini-games were fun and accessible, and because the combat was fluid and engaging. But with the lack of many mini games in Superman Returns, and the fact that the combat is inaccurate and repetitive, playing six hours of Superman Returns a feat not even Bizarro would wish upon friends.
Not surprisingly, EA tried to borrow yet another page from Spider-Man for the combat, with dozens of combos available via multiple button presses. However, one of those buttons, “Y,” is also used to get Superman airborne or make him land, so in the middle of a combo-heavy battle, players can find themselves inadvertently taking to the skies or headed for terra firma. In addition, Superman himself is frequently surrounded by eight or more enemies, but locking-on to a target is inconsistent. For starters, players can not determine for themselves which target Superman will focus on, but if the game chooses the wrong target, there’s no way for players to cycle through the other enemies. In addition, even when players hold down the target-lock button, the game will occasionally just “drop” the lock, leaving Superman’s powerful attacks hitting a Metropolis building or a picked-up object flying toward the sun.
Surprisingly, doing damage on Metropolis is actually something to avoid, because the city has a “life bar” that depletes each time a part of the environment takes damage. This is a relatively creative replacement for Superman’s life bar, because the Man of Steel can never actually die. Instead, he has more of an energy bar that simply depletes when he takes hits and uses special powers (heat vision, ice vision, super breath, etc.). In theory, the need to balance Superman’s energy versus his use of special powers would mean players need to pay attention to their gameplay strategy. However, when the bar is depleted, Superman simply falls to the ground and can be easily revived by hammering on the “Y” button. There goes that strategy.
But the biggest fault with Superman Returns is its tedious repetition. Forget that this game is supposedly tied into the movie; after all, there’s so little movie-related content in here that it seems like the developers did. Instead, think of Superman Returns as an insanely boring exercise in flying from one end of Metropolis to the other — non-stop and for 10 hours — while waiting for the next “battle 10 robots” or “battle eight dragons” or “battle six radioactive gargoyles” button-mashing sequence to ensue. Truly, the gameplay in Superman Returns is the same three basic fights played over and over and over and over and over and … see where this is headed? Not only that, but once each repetitive battle is over, players need to fly to the opposite end of the city to find the next one, then back across the city for the next, and so on until the game ends. At least in Spider-Man players could have fun swinging from building to building. In Superman Returns, it’s simply a matter of laying on the turbo-fly button.
There is one redeeming quality with Superman Returns, but only for Xbox 360 owners: the game doles out a quick 200 Achievement Points. Outside of that small ray of hope, though, Superman Returns is yet another sign of the curse on the Superman brand. Superman games have stunk in the past, and Superman Returns shows that the tradition of mediocrity has, in fact, returned. Even if you’re a fan of the Man of Steel, do yourself a favor and stay far away from this game. We’d hate for your love of all things Kal-El to be tarnished by this bad, bad game.
- Overall: 4
- Outside of the Xbox 360’s Achievement Points, there’s almost nothing to find value in with this game.
— Jonas Allen