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Retro Respawn – Superman: The Video Game (Arcade)

What with Captain Marvel tearing things up at the box office and Shazam! getting mostly positive reviews, I decided I’d delve into the world of superheroes for this week’s article. And if you’re going to look at a game featuring a superhero, you might as well look at one that includes possibly the most famous one of all, in the form of Superman. Those who have visited this site before will be aware that I reviewed a Superman game for the SEGA Game Gear a while back. I hated that one quite vociferously, so hopefully this one fares a bit better.

Released by Taito in 1988, Superman is a side-scrolling arcade beat-em-up that sees you take control of the titular hero to battle through five levels in order to thwart the world conquering schemes of the evil Emperor Zaas. To be honest, I only knew that the big bad was called Zaas after looking it up, and I actually mistook him for usual Superman baddie Braniac when I finally made it to his torturous boss battle at the game’s conclusion. As far as I can tell, Zaas was a villain created just for this game, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just go with a more familiar one, like Lex Luthor or General Zod.

Each level has three different sections, and you must fight your way through all of them to defeat the level’s boss and progress onward. The first section will usually be your standard side-scrolling level where you move from left to right battering anything that gets in your way. Superman has a button to punch and another to kick and, due to his superpower of flight, he can move in any direction on the screen by moving the joystick. The second section of a level will normally be a vertical scrolling level, whereupon you either ascend or descend in a straight line, taking on an assortment of baddies in the process. The final section of the level is usually a horizontal flying section where you move from left to right and have to avoid a smorgasbord of assorted enemies and obstacles (including the likes of missiles and a big, ruddy helicopter) before destroying a spaceship of some kind to finally clear the level.

During the flying stages, the kick button switches to Superman’s heat vision, which you can shoot continuously by holding down the button. There’s nothing especially nuanced about the gameplay in any of the different sections, but they do give the game some variety and break up the monotony that can sometimes come with this genre of game. If you have a friend with you, then you can make use of the two-player option which sees player two controlling a red version of Superman. Red Superman has the exact same moves and abilities as regular Superman, with him essentially being your standard palette swap, but it’s nice that Taito went to the trouble of giving the game a co-op mode so friends could tackle it together.

And you’ll likely need the help of a friend when playing this because Superman is pretty gosh darn nails, especially once you get into the latter stages. This owes mostly to Superman being so underpowered. Granted, making a game for a mostly invincible character like Superman must be tricky because in the movies/comics, he’d usually tear through Zaas’ assorted collection of goons with little bother, which wouldn’t make for an especially exciting game. However, Taito have gone in the complete opposite direction and seemingly made their version of Superman down a Kryptonite shake before leaving for work because he’s about as tough as Iron Mike Sharpe during an early ’90s WWF Superstars taping.

Most of the bigger enemies in the game can kill Superman with two to three hits, and these aren’t even level ending bosses either. I get that you wouldn’t want to make Superman overpowered, but to make him this fragile is pretty ridiculous and feels like a cheap method of farming coins from potential players. This means that the difficulty spikes to ludicrous levels when you make it to the latter stages of the game as enemies will swarm you and eat away at your health with nary an ounce of mercy. As a result, the game ceases to be fun after a certain point and starts to become a frustrating slog.

It’s a shame as the game looks great, with plenty of well detailed and nice looking levels (although the enemies look a tad generic) and an excellent soundtrack that actually includes the John Williams Superman theme. The game was clearly made by people who understood and appreciated the source material, so it’s a shame that it just doesn’t all come together in the end because the game has great potential. If they’d only made Superman a tad more robust and toned down the difficulty a bit, this could have been a really enjoyable beat-em-up. Sadly though, the issues it has relegates it to being no more than a frustrating coin chewer.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this article hasn’t put you off flying. Statistically speaking, of course, it is still the safest way to travel.

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