When reviewing a game, I like to play it a good few times and have a long think about whether it works as a concept, whether it's got that "draw" to it and whether I think other people should play it. I've played perhaps tens of thousands of games by now. A great game gives me a great feeling, because it's like reading a great book or watching a great movie. But less people play games based on recommendation than read books or movies on one. I don't know why. People just 'prefer' different types of game. However, and I don't say this lightly, I suspect no-one on planet Earth would enjoy the Electron version of Superman: Man Of Steel.
I managed to find a few positives in Tynesoft's Buffalo Bill and I suffered for my art throughout Circus Games, but I have to say that Superman is a case of a company that's on the wrong track finally hitting rock bottom. The only thing that's super about this is how super bad it is.
Firstly, let's simply start with the plethora of pointless logos and demos that you have to sit through before it starts. No less than three loading screens plus a high score table have to be loaded first (taking 10-15 minutes from cassette) before an absolutely terrible version of the "Superman theme" is loaded. Only then does the load of the actual game start, and it's really the absolute mother of all multi-loaders. There are six scenes, all loaded individually, and if you die, there's no replay facility, and you have to rewind the tape all the way to the very beginning.
Secondly, let's talk about the very first stage. And, in fact, we'll only be talking about the very first stage because Superman is so positively appalling that I have made an exception to my rules. Rules that have stood my reviews in good stead for thirty odd years. Rules that I only make an exception to when something is so disgustingly terrible that there can be no hope of redemption. Oh yeah, this is going to hurt...
Superman is in flight. In the cyan sky. His arch-enemy, Darkseid, has sent some "Para-Demons" with "concussion cannons" to shoot him out of the sky. A square area of the screen is therefore given over to four demons and our caped hero. Although it's not immediately obvious, Superman is in the foreground meaning he can fly "through" the demons themselves. However, when the demons release bullets, these somehow immediately become fatal to the touch. The only way to deal with a demon is to shoot it. This can be done by aligning a 'S'uperman logo, which looks like a crosshair and stays a few pixels above Superman's head, with the demon's head (only) and pressing Fire. A weird message at the bottom of the screen points this out to you too - "Five Hits Kills Demon".
Not only is this a laboured process but, to do it, Superman must necessarily fly in front of the demon in question. This obviously obscures whether the demon is shooting back which means the screen soon starts flashing white and Superman's strength starts tanking. As if this wasn't discouraging enough, if you manage to wipe the demon out he disappears and, a few seconds later, is replaced by his identical twin... in exactly the same position!
An airship beams in after about five minutes and has to be dealt with in the exact same manner. With four demons and the airship all packed into a small square playing area, and the 'concussion' (paralysis) that strikes the man of, ahem, 'steel' if he is struck by a single bullet, it's not uncommon to find him taking hit after hit from the bad guys. There's simply no response from him as you frantically try to steer him out of their way!
I have no idea what effect Tynesoft were trying to achieve... but the action is all so cramped and so ridiculously devoid of sense and skill that it elicits overwhemling despair and anger. I personally was overwhelmed the day I first bought it and I was overwhelmed again trying to replay it for this book simply to give it a fair hearing. That's because you simply cannot comprehend how a software company that gave us very playable games like Bug Eyes II, Future Shock, Mouse Trap and Phantom wouldn't be able to recognise such a reputation-killing product before it released it.
I mean, the entire concept of shooting a demon five times might work if (a) there were only, say, eight demons to shoot, then (b) the airship to defeat and then (c) the next scene loaded in. It would still be crap, yes, but at least you would persevere... But when you ask a hapless player to wipe out some 200 or so demons in absolutely identical fashion, with no increase in difficulty whatsoever, and when losing a life requires a 40 minute wait to try again, I'm sorry to say that you have not actually built a game. You've build yourself a reason someone will actually take the thing back to the store and demand his money back (£9.95, fact fans!).
Elsewhere in this book I reviewed Tarzan and I gave it zero out of ten. Superman: Man Of Steel is worse, therefore it's in negative figures. People should have to pay you to play this, it's that bad.
Now before you say that, oh come on, you told us it has six stages, this is just the first of them, the other five might be ok, well, I do have an answer for you. Firstly, I've played the BBC version and, on that, I've played all six stages. They're all different, but they're all worse than mediocre. So, considering the first stage of the Electron version plays more slowly than the first stage of the BBC one, I've got no reason to think that the tortoise-like response won't be replicated throughout the rest of the game. So much for that.
However, more importantly, unlike Tynesoft's actual compendiums, Superman is a linear game. You don't get to play mission two until you complete mission one. And you won't complete mission one because I didn't and, like I said earlier, I genuinely wanted to give it the fairest hearing I could. If a game manages to this extent to alienate someone who loves Electron games, there's no coming back from that. Period.
Now let's have a look into a parallel universe to what the reviewers of the day had to say when Superman was released. Electron User: "Excellent... Superman is super... The graphics are superb and the gameplay is exciting and addictive." A&B: "Not easy to play, but great fun." Acorn User: "I liked the different viewpoint for most missions, and I found the tasks themselves varied enough to keep me interested." Unfortunately, none of the reviews reports what hallucinogens these guys were on.
There are a wealth of Superman fans out there who collect everything Superman-related, which means that this pile of dog mess actually fetches a reasonable price on the second-hand market, fortunately enough probably commanded by people who will never actually play it. Expect therefore to pay £20+ if you're looking for a physical copy.