Posted by: pop-break | June 21, 2013

Remembering the Classics: Superman 64

luke kalamar looks at one of the worst superhero video games ever made …

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This past weekend, the most famous superhero of all-time got the reboot treatment he has long been waiting for. Man of Steel broke many records over its opening weekend and many people view this as the movie that a legendary hero like Superman finally deserves after the original series. In fact, legendary is an understatement when Superman is considered. Superman is the original superhero, predating the likes of Batman and Captain America, and is probably the most iconic fictional character of all-time. The first issue that Superman ever appeared in, Action Comics No. 1 in 1938, was sold in pristine condition for a record $2.16 million at an auction in 2011. This is obviously a massive jump from the 10 cents the comic originally cost. Superman’s importance to fiction, comic books, and the entire superhero genre can never be overstated.

This is why it’s always a bit humorous to remember the game Superman 64, one of the most famous games of all-time for all the wrong reasons. You see, Superman 64 isn’t looked back upon for innovation, impressive graphics, and sheer entertainment value. It’s widely regarded as one of the worst games to ever exist, and a prime example of how NOT to handle a world renowned property like Superman. So instead of talking about what made a game so good and influential, I’ve decided to look back upon this horrid superhero title and remember why it’s a classic in the worst way possible.

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Superman 64 first came out on May 29th, 1999 for the Nintendo 64. The player takes control of the titular man of steel as he has to overcome various tasks and puzzles set by his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. Luthor has actually captured Superman’s closest friends and it is up to the hero to rescue them at any cost. To do this, Superman travels to a virtual Metropolis and undergoes challenges in fourteen distinct levels to reach his ultimate goal. This includes traveling through a maze of rings across virtual Metropolis and fighting classic villains like Brainiac, Darkseid, and Metallo. There is also a multiplayer feature which utilizes Nintendo 64’s four-player capabilities in either a racing mode or a battle mode. Superman’s classic powers are all available as well, including Heat Vision and Freeze Breath.

There are a lot of reasons why Superman 64 is such a horrible game. For starters, it looks absolutely terrible. Despite Superman 64 coming out almost a full three years after the Nintendo 64 took the market by storm, the graphics are complete crap. The characters were blocky, the environment was flat, and everything was just bland. It’s obvious that this game was rushed, but it’s too the point where it’s unforgivable. It’s as if some people involved in the game really just did not care if they delivered a quality title. Then you get to the controls and the actual play style. The game, as a whole, is almost completely unplayable. Superman’s flying mechanics are some of the worst ever seen in the history of video games, which is obviously horrible for a game where flying is such a major factor. It made the simple process of flying through rings enormously difficult, as if looking at the game wasn’t painful enough. Video games like Pilotwings in 1990 had ring-flying done to a science back on the Super Nintendo, so why the Superman 64 developers couldn’t do it properly on the much stronger Nintendo 64 is baffling. As if that wasn’t enough, actually fighting people was extremely difficult. So basically you’re either pissed off at Superman for not flying right, or pissed off at Superman for not fighting his enemies properly. There was no solace.

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I’ve played my fair share of terrible games, but Superman 64 easily takes the title as the worst game I have ever had the displeasure of playing. Thankfully I wasn’t foolish enough to buy it, I only rented it from my local game store. I had no idea how poorly received the game was though so my immediate reaction to grabbing it was, “Oh cool a game about Superman! I love Superman!” Clearly millions of others had the same thought as Superman 64 was actually a commercial success, becoming one of the top-selling Nintendo 64 games. This is what happens when you create a game based one of the most famous characters of all time.

When I brought the game home with me, I was beyond excited to pop it into my Nintendo 64 and play the epic adventures of Superman. The graphics immediately hit me like a brick wall because of how awful they were, but I was willing to look past them if the game played well. After somehow surviving the first ring course, I entered a level where Superman actually fought bad guys. That’s when the shit really hit the proverbial fan. Fighting was incredibly difficult, and when I couldn’t even use my freeze breath properly, I knew I had a terrible game on my hands. After a few unsuccessful attempts to actually survive the game, I decided to return it to the video store the same day I rented it. Looking back that was a complete waste of a few bucks, but I was glad I wasn’t one of the unlucky many that actually bought it at full price.

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Many people would rather bury Superman 64 forever or let it die by hellfire, but the game is so famously bad that it keeps coming back like a horrible disease. There’s nothing redeemable about the game which is in complete contrast to how admirable a character like Superman is. Not even Superman’s super-strength and impervious skin can protect him from this eternal dark spot in his long history. Thankfully Superman is kept alive with phenomenal titles in almost every medium, so you have plenty of options if you want to experience the ultimate hero in all of his glory. They help to bury the memory of this travesty, but it still doesn’t stop people from looking back and wondering how a company could’ve failed so enormously to make a game based on an iconic hero. It truly is gaming kryptonite.

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