The Retro Critic

Superman: The Man Of Steel

Yes, Superman again.

So I’m excited about the release of Man Of Steel, so what?

Can you blame me?!

Besides, there are many, MANY Superman games out there, some of them good (see last week’s The Death And Return Of Superman), some of them… Superman 64.

This week, let’s take a look at Superman: The Man Of Steel on the Sega Master System, a game which, on paper, sounds great: it’s a side scroller, Brainiac’s in it, there’s spaceships…

But no.

It’s not good.

Despite how awesome the cover makes it seem:

Superman Cover

First of all, I’ll get the nitpicking out the way: the music in this game is weird. It’s not terrible, it’s just not suited for this particular game. You don’t get the iconic Superman: The Movie theme, instead you get some generic 8-bit tune which occasionally sounds suspiciously like the famous star theme from Super Mario Bros.. This honestly feels more like a Nintendo game than a Sega game. It’s hard to explain but its sounds, its look are just very reminiscent of the NES and even the original Game Boy.

More disturbing than that, The Daily Planet in this game is NOT a decent newspaper.

It makes The Daily Bugle seem legitimate, to give you an idea.

I mean, look at this headline:

Metropolis Superman


You didn’t find a happier picture of Superman to plaster all over a terrifying headline like that?

Believe it or not, this actually gets much, much worse as the game goes on.

Children Superman

Now that’s just lazy.

They need more pictures of Superman. Either get Lois Lane to do her job, for once, or hire Peter Parker. I know he lives in another universe altogether but screw it. At this point, Marvel and DC need to come together and share professional photographers.

Even Eddie Brock/Venom will do, for crying out loud…

If New York and Asgard can coexist, surely New York and Metropolis can too.

Just sayin’.

You play as Superman and you walk/fly around the city punching robots and flying dudes in the face. This should be a lot of fun but somehow, the game has managed to make this about as enjoyable as watching Superman II on mute while sitting on your own head.

It’s cool you can fly but you’re never allowed to appreciate it. You fly for two seconds, pick up whatever Superman symbols conveniently happen to be floating above you…

Superman Symbol

Before you get knocked out by something and are forced to carefully sneak around and punch barrels.

I kid you not.

Now I wasn’t exactly expecting a sandbox game where you’re flying around the city shooting laser beams out of your eyeballs at incoming robotic foes but I sure as hell wasn’t expecting THIS:

Barrel Superman

(Question: where’s Superman’s head in this screenshot?!)

Over and over, the game comes to a grinding halt and makes you punch these barrels.

I hate them.

The only reason these barrels exist is to slow you down. And that sucks. The flying’s awkward enough as it is, why keep killing my momentum and making me fly underground or inside spaceships?

I don’t want to call the controls clunky because you’ve got like two buttons to work with but they are definitely stiff. Flying in this game makes every level easier (except for the barrel-heavy city level) but it’s so volatile (pun intended, I suppose) that you’ll just be wishing there was a better way of doing that. If you’re Superman, flying shouldn’t be a chore, it should feel as natural as walking or punching barrels.

There are actually flying levels in this game but they are completely irrelevant.

Case in point:

Superman Building

You’re climbing this building, for some reason, where all this random stuff is happening around you but if you just keep flying left all the way to the top you can bypass all of it and battle the boss straight away.

Why would Superman even bother with flying to the top of a building from the bottom up? It’s a 2D game, I get it, but unless the game is stuck in an arcade Wreck-it-Ralph-style, Superman can just fly to the top of the building in a heartbeat.

Faster than a speeding bullet and all that?

In this game, he can’t even walk around a barrel and the people of Metropolis care so much about him that they took all of ONE picture of him since he started protecting the city.

Subway Hijack Superman

Oh yeah, the subway hijack.

That’s the other flying level where you’re flying after a subway in motion, avoiding projectiles on the way. This time, if you stick to the bottom of the screen, you should be fine.

Subway Superman

Again: real exciting, guys.

The enemies you face in this game are so lame. There’s flying douchebags you can’t catch, annoying tiny ED-209’s who push you back Castlevania-style when they hit you…

Robot Superman

R2-D2 vacuum cleaners…

Vacuum Superman

Some dorky blue guy who looks like he belongs at the end of Conan The Destroyer

Blue Guy Superman

Oh, by the way, check out the effect they came up with when you punch this guy (and most of the other characters in the game):

Glitch Superman


You also get to fight a Dr Robotnik-style dude who is a pain to destroy in that he takes a lot of hits, not because he’s especially smart or crafty in any way.

Robotnik Superman

As with most of the bosses in the game, it’s just a matter of jumping from one side of them to the other, getting as close to them as possible and super-punching them repeatedly in the groin. Using laser beams whenever possible, of course.

The punching is very annoying throughout the entire thing: you need to get crazy-close to whatever you’re hitting, whether it’s people, robots or barrels. But you can’t be too close. So you’re basically required to find the right pixel to stand on in order to get rid of minor annoyances. Most of the time, you’ll be trying to escape by flying through the levels until the game literally stops you in your tracks.

It’s like super-careful-button-tapping: The Game.

Oh, I almost forgot, here’s my favourite villain in the game:

Rock Biter Superman

It’s a mini-Rockbiter!

Isn’t he adorable?

He is.

He totally is.

Eventually, the game’s “plot” becomes about saving good old Lois Lane because… hell, anything Superman-related always ends up going down that road. It comes out of nowhere in this game, though, since we’ve never established what she was doing while Metropolis was being attacked.

One thing is sure, though…

Lois Headline Superman

Jimmy Olsen is really not doing a good job filling in for her at The Daily Planet. Look at that headline: is there just ONE Lois in the entire city? And, come to think of it, isn’t Olsen a photographer? What’s with him still using that same happy Superman picture?

So many questions…

All of them pointless but fun to ask :P

In the end, you beat Dr Robotnik, make out with Lois:

Congratulations Superman

And all is well.

The game isn’t long and, if you know exactly what you’re doing, you could potentially finish it in like 20 minutes but in order to be this good you’d need to have played hours and hours of it. Otherwise, like me, you’ll be dying and dying and dying.

This image:

Game Over

WILL become your whole life if you decide to invest time and effort in this game.

And if you think that using the “easy” setting will help you, think again. The stiffness of the controls coupled with the barrage of weirdly patterned enemies and the odd annoying how-many-more-punches-can-this-guy-possibly-take bosses make Superman: The Man Of Steel a drag to complete. It’s also rather lazy with its graphics, as you can probably tell by now, sticking with simplistic level headlines rather than trying to tell some kind of legitimate story. Really, it doesn’t feel like any real effort went into trying to make this game interesting.

It works, just about, and there are worse Superman games out there but I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend this one, unless you’ve played every Superman game ever made and you’re curious to try this one out in order to complete your retro gaming quest. It’s not so bad that it’s unplayable or anything, it’s just disappointingly unimaginative. A bit like one of those dull LJN licensed games.

It’s very tempting to use that level skip cheat and I dare you to try to complete the game and not succumb to Googling that and using it out of sheer desperation.

Personally, in order to stay interested in the game, I had to pretend like I was playing as Bizarro Superman with a bad Zod complex…

Superman Kneel