We all did it when we were younger. Tied a towel round our neck, hoisted our underpants over our trousers, jumped out the open window, only to confirm what we knew all along; man cannot fly!
We all did it when we were younger. Tied a towel round our neck, hoisted our underpants over our trousers, jumped out the open window, only to confirm what we knew all along; man cannot fly.
Five weeks and two broken ankles later, we limp out of hospital, promising our parents never to be so stupid again, and embark on a lifelong quest to find another way to be Superman.
Unfortunately the easiest route has been the least profitable. The Man of Steel has been almost criminally underrepresented where video games are concerned; there haven’t been enough, and what there’s been hasn’t been good. So here come Chillingo to throw their hat into the ring and hope Lex Luthor doesn’t trample all over it with a shoe made of kryptonite. I could go a lot further with that Superman metaphor, but I’ll spare you.
The game is made up of 18 missions which take the form of obstacle waves such as sentry robots, falling debris from space, bank robbers and runaway assassin grandmothers. Superman must thwart these to gain points and specific point thresholds gain you bronze, silver and gold medals. Also, I totally made up that grandmother bit.
Sound isn’t usually the first thing you pay attention to when loading up a game, but in this case, you’ll notice the fantastically iconic theme tune from the Superman films straight away. You’ll notice because it ISN’T THERE.
And however good or bad the rest of the game is, this is it’s biggest transgression. Instead of the classic John Williams work, you’re presented with a theme tune that sounds like it belongs to a bad US drama from the 80′s.
To cut Chillingo a break, they probably would’ve had to price the game at £79.99 to recoup the expense of using the original theme tune, so I can cut them some slack. It’s just that you can’t separate Superman from his theme tune. You just can’t. The bargain bucket replacement cheapens the whole experience, and that’s before you’ve even started playing it.
The premise is that Lex Luthor has launched a satellite into space to protect Metropolis from extreme weather conditions. Or so he says. Superman decides to check it out and… you know exactly where this is going. Is Luthor up to no good? Heres another question: Is Luthor a megalomaniac who’s tried to destroy Metropolis countless times before? Right. There’s your answer then.
The perfunctory looking sketches that set up the main story fail to excite. Considering the rich comic book heritage Superman enjoys, you’d expect something slightly more upmarket than panels that look as if they were coloured in by a four year old. Whichever 80′s US Drama the theme tune came from also provided the hilariously on the nose dialogue which has Superman seeming more like Clark Kent than a guy who can put a hole through the side of a building with his pinky finger.
At least the in-game graphics are pretty underwhelming. Wait a minute, that’s not a good thing is it? They’re bright and colourful though, which is fine if you’re a three year old. The rest of us will be disappointed at visuals that would look place on any iDevice…from 2007. Cut-price music, banal graphics, simple dialogue. There’s a theme developing here. It’s almost as if Chillingo got the rights to feature the world’s most famous superhero, then thought ‘Wait a minute, you mean we have to make a game out of this too?!’
Controls are as easy to pick up as a bus. If you’re from Krypton that is. It’s a standard set up with a D-Pad for movement and two buttons for laser vision/ ice breath and a speed boost for when Supes is in flight. They’re responsive, but can get a little fiddly when trying to steer Superman to a specific part of the map. His turning circle is a touch large, so you might try and fly directly into that gun-toting robot, but completely missing even though he’s only two inches away from you.
Early missions are ridiculously easy. As we know, Superman can’t be hurt by anything other than Kryptonite, which means unless you want the green stuff shoehorned into every video game scenario, you’re going to have to find some other way of putting him in danger. The game’s answer to this is to make the city Superman’s energy bar. Stuff doesn’t happen to Superman, stuff happens to Metropolis, and Superman has to race around putting a stop to all that stuff. That’s a lot of stuff.
This doesn’t really happen till you’re a few levels deep though. As I flew about blasting robots, smashing getaway cars and putting out the disturbingly high number of building fires in the first couple of stages, I noticed that no matter what happens, Superman remains impervious. The problem was that there was no real element of failure. Let a getaway car er, get away, and nothing much happens, didn’t destroy that sentinel robot? Well it just keeps firing at no one in particular, ad infinitum. Thankfully later levels wise up and introduce multiple threats as well as time limits to keep you on (or off, to be more precise) your toes.
Each level also sees a final ‘Alert’, which is assumedly supposed to act as a boss fight. However, most of these alerts seem to be a whole lot easier to overcome than the preceding waves. Which of course, is slightly backward. ‘You’ve managed to withstand my kryptonite postman, the kryptonite hidden in your cereal and my kryptonite ham sandwich, now Superman, prepare to face the wrath of…a wasp!
After you’ve put out your one-hundredth building fire (seriously, people in metropolis need to install fire alarms and turn the dial on their toasters down), smashed yet another stray missile and beaten down the increasingly bizarre robots Lex throws your way to keep you interested, you’ll be rolling your eyes enough for them to completely fall out of your head. It’s not that saving Metropolis isn’t fun, but zooming around the same backdrop level after level, continually smashing into the invisible borders of the city because the game is less ambitious than a Superman title should be soon becomes tedious. It’s also hilarious that while banks are being robbed, meteors are falling to earth and giant mechs are invading, the city’s inhabitants bop past on the sidewalk as if nothing is happening. Why did I have to get dressed up in this absurd underpants-ruining outfit if the people of Metropolis can’t even be bothered to be terrified?
18 levels – which do get pleasingly challenging in the later stages – but not much motivation for you to keep coming back. Yes, you get different medal ranks with higher point totals, but what are those points for?
Anyway, This isn’t 1987 Jack, points in themselves don’t fill me with satisfaction anymore. I’m a greedy post-millennium gamer. I want REWARDS. I got an achievement with my very first act of flying into space. I then proceeded to get zero achievements the rest of the way. I’m still stubbornly waiting to find out what that achievement granted me.
You get the feeling that the game wants to break down it’s own self imposed walls and let Superman truly take off. It would definitely have benefitted from having a larger area for you to fly round instead of having Superman frustrate himself by continually slamming into the sides of your iPad. One impression I can’t shake is that the developers were simply content with slapping the Superman license on this game and banking on it begin enough to draw the masses. And to be honest, it probably is. But this is Superman we’re talking about. Doesn’t Krypton’s favourite son deserve better after all this time?
Meh. I got to fly into space. Can’t complain too much.
So it’s back to wrapping that towel round my neck and giving myself a wedgy as I wait for the definitive Superman experience to show up. I’m a lot smarter now though; I’ll be jumping off the couch this time.