NOTE: ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON COMICBOOKMOVIE.COM 06/19/2013
I won’t argue that Superman on the NES is an excellent game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s ripe with spelling errors, odd dialogue, and weird design choices like Superman having to ride a subway wherein he’s the smallest one on the train. I do however think that this game is fairly ambitious for the time it was released in.
Superman on the NES is what Castlevania II: Simon’s quest wanted to be: a 2-D open world action game. The problem being with Simon’s quest is that it lacked two important things to make that work, the first being a map and the second being direction. It was easy to get lost in Simon’s Quest and have no idea where you were supposed to be going, but in Superman you can bring up your map anytime with a simple push of the select button. For the majority of the game you’re also given a clear direction as to how to accomplish your objectives. Every level starts you in the offices of the Daily Planet(s) where you can consult Jimmy, Perry and Lois as to where to go. Each of the levels have multiple objectives on top of the initial investigation, and normally you’ll encounter mid-stage quest givers who point you in the right direction. I say “normally” as later on the in the game you’re given some objectives with a clear direction as to how to complete them. While I do give the game props for aiding the player, you might want to consult a FAQ if you want to see the game to completion.
What’s neat with the game is not only are you given all of Superman’s abilities from the start, but it also gives you clever reasons and circumstances to use them. Certain enemies for example are best taken out with a blast of freeze breath first before punching them, or are invisible until you use your X-Ray vision (something that’s very important for Level 5). Apart from combat, you also use your abilities to solve puzzles like putting out fires or reaching underground areas by using your super spin. None of this sounds terribly ground breaking by today’s standards, but you have to remember that this game released on North American store shelves in 1988.
While I do speak kindly on Superman, I’m not blind to some of its faults. The backgrounds are repeated and the music is terrible as well as forgettable. Interior levels also have the same problem as the exteriors where they are laid out exactly the same: a flat room with some enemies or some stairs you have to descend, possibly with a short elevator ride first. It’s annoying as well how after you take so much damage you revert back to Clark Kent and can only turn back into Superman when you get your health back up and find a phone booth. Some of the basic thugs can be taken out with punches, but later on you encounter enemies that require your super powers to beat and it’s better to just kill yourself and start over with your health and powers refilled. There’s also times when you have to fight to the bottom of an interior stage with no way to change back to Superman. I will say however that I do like how Clark has more “weight” in his movement than Superman, it’s a nice little touch.
NES’s Superman won’t go down as a classic for the platform, but I strongly feel that the game deserves more respect than what it’s given and deserves a second look. I’d recommended anyone who still plays their NES to track this down and give it a play through any day.