So, after recent events, I felt I needed to spend time with some games I enjoy. And I thought it'd be fun to approach one of my favorite gaming subjects in a different (by my standards) manner.
I love puzzle games a ton. I can play the hell out of any decent puzzle game and only have a passive grasp on approximate time. Many people attribute Tetris to this kind of “losing track of time”, but any great puzzle game can pull this off. Whether it's a simple “match-[X]” setup like a Puyo Puyo game, a “line up a pattern” like Tetris, or a match-3 like Columns, puzzle games are among the most simple and yet most dynamic titles in the videogaming world
By the time this is posted, “Puyo Puyo Tetris” will have been released and likely be inside of my Playstation 4. I'm totally psyched for a Tetris/Puyo Puyo (more commonly known as “Kirby's Avalanche” on SNES or “Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine” on Genesis) mashup, and intend on playing the hell out of this game (and uploading highlights to my personal YouTube channel).
So in honor of it, I'm gonna countdown my Top 8 Favorite Retro Puzzle Games.
Keep in mind, the chronological cutoff for these will be the 6th console generation (Dreamcast/Gamecube/PS2/XBox), though only one game on this list will be from that time. Also, I'm looking at games that are primarily puzzle games, so games that try to mix it with another genre (“A Boy and His Blob” or “Bomberman 64” for example) won't be on this list. Also, there's a decent handful of puzzle games I've not played or have only played a small sample/demo of (such as “Intelligent Qube”or “Wetrix”), so don't assume a game missing entry on this list means I think unfavorably of them. Lastly, while I'll try to commit to just one entry per franchise, there are a couple games that share a name that I believe are different enough to constitute two separate entries.
So here we go:
#8 - Tetrisphere
We're gonna kick this one off with a game for the more “modern” retro gamer, something a system like the NES or Sega Genesis could never pull off.
Now before anyone frets, we'll get to a more traditional “Tetris” entry on down the line.
Tetrisphere came out on the Nintendo 64 in the middle of its lifespan. It's loaded with several modes, but I would strongly recommend playing through the tutorial and even through some of the “Puzzle” mode where you'll be putting some of these techniques into action. If you try to jump right into the game's “Vs. CPU” or “Rescue” mode which requires the player to uncover a certain amount of the sphere's “core” to move on, and you'll find yourself staring down a “Game Over” screen in short order.
The game takes place on a spherical playfield, where players must drop pieces onto matching spots on the playfield to cause a reaction. You can also move pieces, and form new pieces on the playfield, but taking up too much time can cause a penalty. This time limit is rather lenient in early levels and refills if you continue to match and form combos at a decent pace. In later levels, this time limit becomes insanely strict. Once you get to the final levels, you'll have to move at a damn-near “tool-assisted speedrun” pace to keep the timer from expiring. It truly takes a puzzle game god in order to conquer the game at that point.
As you can guess, this game is a pretty huge departure from traditional Tetris games. Your Tetris skills will not translate one lick into this game. In fact, the game's strict learning curve is a major reason I can't rank this game higher. A puzzle game this complex at its surface is usually a bad omen. But the game is fun enough to learn and master if you give yourself time to climb the game's strict learning curve. There is also a two-player versus mode, but good luck finding someone else who has a good grip on how to play the game. This won't be a game you can simply scoop out with friends over and not have to teach them how to play. But there's a fun game to be had here, and the gameplay combined with quite possibly the best soundtrack on the Nintendo 64 (Neil Voss freaking NAILS it with each track), is definitely worth hunting down. Luckily, it's a pretty common N64 game, and even at its retail price, it's worth the investment.
#7 - Bust-A-Move 4
Known as the “Puzzle Bobble” series in Japan, Taito went on a roll with various Bust-A-Move games during the 5th console generation with entries on the Nintendo 64, Playstation, and even on the Sega Saturn. My personal favorite edition was the 4th version, which was released in 1998 on the Sony Playstation. In a strange move, the 3rd game was released on the Playstation in the U.S. AFTER this game, in 1999.
The cutesy, heavily-Japanese influenced aesthetics might come off as a turn-off to some. There is a definite overdose on “cute”, giving off the idea that the game might be overly simplistic. But the game itself requires both a strong combination of skills and logic. Knowing where to shoot the bubbles into the playing field above is one thing, but knowing where they go and actually threading the shots to land the bubbles into the right spot are two skills you'll need to succeed in this game. The gameplay at its very core is easy to learn, and takes a TON of skill to get even good at, let alone master. The single-player mode throws many various puzzles at you, each one building the difficulty quite nicely, while the vs. mode becomes a frantic game of blasting as many bubbles off the field as possible.
Any one version of this game is typically pretty good. The original SNES release in the United States is pretty solid, and any one of them from the PS1 or N64 is a pretty safe bet. I just recall playing this version the most, so it's where I'm staking my claim. It again is a pretty common game, with it being possible to snag a copy around $10. There's Bust-A-Move games across almost every major videogame console from the 5th generation onwards, and I'm of the camp that every classic gamer should have one entry in the series in their repertoire.
#6 - Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
This was the American debut of the Puyo Puyo series, which would also receive a re-skinned Super Nintendo entry in the form of “Kirby's Avalanche”. I had a Genesis growing up, so I cut my teeth on this iteration.
In this puzzle game, “beans” drop from the top of the playing field in pairs of two. Matching 4 beans of the same color will cause them to disappear from the playing field. Figuring out how to make one move cause a chain reaction is key to scoring well in this game and winning the game's versus mode. This is the first puzzler on the list where a versus mode can really be seen as the primary “mode”. Scoring combos will drop colorless bubbles that require matches made within their proximity to disappear. Large combos will drop gigantic amounts of these colorless bubbles, which can cause major problems for the opponent, usually causing them to build their combo again. Knowing when to keep building a combo and when to just trigger whatever combo you have before your opponent is vital.
This game's “versus” mode is a total blast. Opponents don't just get exponentially harder, but have different strategies as well; some will tile pieces on the first couple rows just to have something to potentially combo later, others will build walls on the side with the same idea, some will spam quick and small combos, while others will take a long time to drop long combos, all leading up to a showdown with Dr. Robotnik himself, who is just a flat-out skilled opponent with little to no flaw.
Using assets from the “Adventures of Sonic The Hedgehog” cartoon, “Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine” is definitely worth checking out. It's a pretty common Genesis game, and is also available on a few Sega game compilations. And if you need the bonus collector points, the Sega Master System version of “Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine” is a rather uncommon game valued at just short of $100. And for the SNES crowd, “Kirby's Avalanche” plays the exact same way, replacing the Sonic elements with Kirby ones, and is also pretty common.
#5 - Dr. Mario
One of my earliest videogaming memories is of my father owning this game on our Game Boy. My dad didn't play very many videogames as I was growing up, but he had this one licked. I would always look over his shoulder as he sat at the recliner, trying to angle myself at the right spot so I could see the screen, watching him clear Level 20 on Dr. Mario almost at will. Whenever he'd defeat it and the “ending” screen would play, it blew my mind. I was never able to beat any of the few NES games I owned, so to see an “ending”, to see victory achieved, was amazing. For little kid me, it made my dad a freaking hero.
Dr. Mario involves a playfield filled with viruses. To defeat these viruses, Dr. Mario will throw pills of two different colors onto the field, which can be turned sideways or vertically. Matching any combination of pills or viruses in a row of 4 will clear the sequence. Rinse and repeat until all the viruses are gone, and move on to the next level. The early levels contain a very small number of viruses that are perfect to learn the game on. Later levels stuff the field with viruses, leaving damn near no room for error. The versus mode is a race to clear the field, which on low levels can be a fun race between newbies and on higher levels can be a full out war between skilled opponents, dropping extra pieces onto each other's fields as combinations are executed.
A perfect entry-level puzzler with a good amount of skill needed to win at the higher levels, and a fairly memorable soundtrack, Dr. Mario is a pretty common game on both the Game Boy and the NES. There's also a “Tetris & Dr. Mario” game on the SNES that used to go for a somewhat steep price, but has come down recently to around the $20 range. There's also an Nintendo 64 entry that includes a 4-player mode that was also once fairly tough to find at a decent price, but can now be obtained at a common-N64-game price of around $15.
#4 - Lumines Plus
This is not only a Playstation 2 title, but this might be the most recently released game I've ever discussed on this blog. A touched-up port of the original Lumines on the PSP, Lumines Plus actually came out after the PS3 launched, but was ported to the Playstation 2. In Lumines, cubed shaped pieces consisting of 4 smaller squares (each smaller square being one of two random colors) drop onto a wide but somewhat short play field. It's the player's goal to form boxes of the same color; as long as it's bigger than a 2x2 cube, it will be cleared from the field when a “radar line” passes over. Producing large boxes or a series of squares in one pass of the radar line is the key to high scores in this game.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the soundtrack to this game, an electronic masterpiece of music that actually affects the gameplay itself. The speed of the radar line depends on the speed of the song. Some stages will have the line moving fast, which will clear squares quickly and clear up more room faster, but since drop speed is unaffected it makes producing large combos more difficult. Likewise, a slower song can make large combos a breeze, but if you're in danger of the playfield filling up and a slow song cues up, it can spell disaster. In another cool touch, the music is also affected by the player flipping their current piece and even moving it around the playfield. It truly needs to be played to be experienced properly, and if you have a nice sound system, goodnight.
This game is truly addictive and a fun all-around experience. Lumines Plus would be a strong contender for the top spot if not for one glaring flaw; they can't quite get the multiplayer right. 2 players split a playfield in half but cannot move pieces past a middle border. If one player gets a larger combo than the opponent on a pass of the radar line, the border is pushed towards the shrinking player. Once the border hits a certain point, the game is over. The reason this is an issue is that it becomes VERY difficult for a player to come from behind when they have less room to play with. More room for the player that's already winning means they have more space to make bigger combos. Much too often, vs. matches will be virtually decided within about half a minute. And while it's not impossible to put a comeback together if you fall behind, don't count on it.
But the single-player experience alone is enough of a home run to put it here, along with a very challenging puzzle mode that forces players to create shapes of the same color square. Future versions of the game are a tad better, including excellent entries on the PS3 (that includes a “shuffle skin” mode if you're tired of the same route in single player) and the PS Vita. But again, like Bust-A-Move, it's worth it to find any entry you can. And fortunately, all the Lumines entries are about as affordable as it gets. The PS2 game is easily found for under $10, and both PSP entires and even the Vita version can be snagged for just a few dollars more.
Now, you had to know a Tetris game was going to be on this list. There's no way I could do this list and not have a Tetris entry. The question becomes “which one?”. Do I stick with the OG Tetris on NES? Maybe I pick the GB entry, a legendary videogame by almost all definitions. Or there's the aforementioned SNES collab with Dr. Mario (which I hope to snag someday)?
Nah, I decided to cash-in with a somewhat controversial pick:
#3 - The New Tetris
I always thought this one hit Tetris out of the park, or at least was the first one I played that took Tetris to a level beyond what the original game once did. The big changes being that you're able to see the next 3 pieces coming up instead of simply the next one. This allowed players to plan further ahead and drop pieces with the knowledge that a certain piece is coming up soon. On top of that, this was the first U.S. Tetris game to include a “hold” square, where a player could store a piece to be used later. Both of these features have become a staple of future Tetris games, from the more casual cell phone and 3DS games all the way up to the unforgiving trials of the speedrunning staple “Tetris TGM” series. Seeing a long line piece coming up can help form 3-line clears or “tetrises” (4-line clears), or you can store the long line and wait until you put a series of “tetrises” together.
To go along with this is an excellent 4-player mode that can get heated quick with 4 skilled players. There's even a variety of ways to play multiplayer. "Sprint" mode sets a short timer on the match with the winner being determined by who has cleared more lines. "Hot Potato" will designate one player for a certain amount of time to be "it", and any combos will do damage to the player that is "it". And that's just the beginning.
As well, there are player profiles which allow for new unlockable themes and graphics in the game. In a neat move, all player profiles created work together to unlock these new themes based on how many lines they've cleared altogether. This means even versus and 4 player matchups fill this quota faster. And the unlocks scale pretty evenly, meaning someone picking this game up as a Tetris beginner will still have plenty to unlock within their reach at the start, instead of grinding for long periods of time (though the themes near the end require a TON of play).
The one knock to this game is the “square” feature, which allows for players to form a 4x4 square using certain combinations of blocks. Silver squares are formed when a player can simply make a 4x4 square (with no parts of the pieces formed sticking out of the 4x4 grid), whereas golden squares can be formed by using the same type of piece to form the square. Clearing these squares off the field will result in more points and dropping more “garbage” on opponents within versus matches. Unlike being able to see more upcoming tetriminos and holding pieces, this was seen as an unnecessary step to re-invent Tetris. I was never a fan of this since it distracted from clearing lines way too much. To form these squares, it required a player to completely take their eyes off of forming lines, and it often became a detriment to any player that attempted it, especially at higher levels where other players are clearing lines at a fast pace. It was a fun little distraction in single-player, but it was suicidal in multiplayer. Another knock from Tetris professionals included more leniency on piece rotations, sometimes allowing pieces to be twisted into gaps they normally couldn't be rotated into in previous (and even future) Tetris games.
But aside from that, a fun game of Tetris with (mostly) awesome additions, amazing multiplayer, an awesome soundtrack (Neil Voss strikes again!!!) and being able to unlock new features together with your friends and/or family make this the ultimate retro Tetris experience to me. Hunting this game down isn't too hard. For some time after the next-gen Gamecube launched, The New Tetris was somewhat difficult to find at a decent price. But as time went on and more Tetris games were released that capitalized and built on what The New Tetris introduced, its price has dipped down to around the $10-20 range. If you just want any Tetris experience, it's hard to go wrong with whatever's available on your console of choice (unless it's “Tetris Ultimate” on PS4...you'd think a Tetris game wouldn't have frame drops...oops).
#2 - Columns III; Revenge of Columns
Look at the box!
Why isn't this #1 again?!?
The basis of Columns might be the simpliest of all the games on this list. A set of 3 vertically-stacked jewels falls from the top of the screen. They must stay stacked vertically, but you can change the order of the jewels before they fall to the bottom. Matching 3 jewels of the same color, whether it be vertically, horizontally or even diagonally, will cause them to disappear.
Sega originally purchased the rights to “Columns”, an originally very obscure Atari ST title. Sega saw Columns as their answer to “Tetris”, a game Nintendo was starting to make bank on at the time. While in terms of “financial success” it's impossible to claim that Sega succeeded, when you whittle it down to simply the game itself, it holds all the qualities Tetris did at that time.
The reason I went with this third rendition is simple; they actually got the vs. mode right.
In the original Columns (worth a pickup if you don't have access to Columns III, and is available on several of Sega's “best of” compilations), the versus mode consisted of a side-by-side “Endless” mode where nothing either player did would affect their opponent. Sure, it was a fun little “get down to brass tacks” way of playing, but the competitive spirit was missing. You weren't playing the game any different than in the single-player, and no variety was to be had. The game also included a “Flash Columns” mode, where the first person to clear a certain flashing jewel wins the match. While some people (my younger brother) would argue this was just fine as a “vs” mode, matches were very quick regardless of the difficulty set and would often punish any attempt at forming combos or getting more points.
Columns III (“Columns II” was never released in America, and still isn't available in any officially released form outside of Japan) finally formed a real “vs.” mode. In this mode, two players go head-to-head creating combos and chains as they go. Instead of “dropping garbage”, the playfield is raised up in layers when the opponent hits their combos. While this game almost falls for the “Lumines” trap of giving the weaker player a shrinking playfield, there is also a bar that fills for each player, though it moves faster if you can snag bigger combos. When this bar is full, a “magic column” spawns, with each jewel triggering a different effect. Through this, you can either raise the playfield on your opponent, clear all jewels of one color, or even go on the defensive and drop your own playfield. This vs. mode is pretty damn fun and already adds on an excellent single-player game.
Either of the two Genesis Columns games are pretty easy to find, with Columns III being worth around $10 CiB. And if you just need to get your Columns fix, the original Columns can be found on almost any “Best of Sega” compilation available.
#1 - Tetris Attack
I've hit on several reasons these puzzle games work. Their addictive nature, gameplay that is easy to learn but rewards complexity, combos that can both be set up in advance or improvised as the game goes on, addictive single-player, and awesome multiplayer.
Tetris Attack nails all of those.
Known as “Panel de Pon” in Japan, and later deemed the “Puzzle League” series in the U.S. (enjoying a Pokemon themed entry on the Nintendo 64 and portable entries on the GBA and DS), Tetris Attack consists of a rising playfield of tiles. Instead of dropping pieces, you control a cursor that is two tiles wide. You're able to swap the places of the two tiles within the cursor, and can move the cursor anywhere on your own playfield. Matching 3 horizontally or vertically will cause the tiles to disappear. Within lies the more complex strategies. Being able to cause chain reactions becomes the name of the game, especially in the excellent vs. mode. Here, creating combos drops large bricks on the opponent. However, the opponent can change these back into normal tiles by matching the pieces sitting next to the bricks. This, in turn, can make combos and chains much easier. On top of that, the only way to lose is a few second after the field tops out. Those few seconds can be spent still triggering chains and combos, in which the field will stop moving. As long as you're making progress, the game can continue.
This back-and-forth momentum pull can make some vs. matches last under a minute, while others can become 5+ minute epics. Players skilled in the game will actually allow the pieces to almost top out to make way for more combo possibilities (which can be easily done by holding the R button). The pace is constantly frantic and requires players to walk a fine line between meticulous strategy and twitch-reflex improvisation. You'll need to display both qualities in order to do well, in both the single and multi-player modes.
The visual aesthetic of the game can be somewhat off-putting, with Nintendo using the Yoshi character and a more “cutesy” graphic presentation. But the music is absolutely awesome (if sometimes a little repetitive in more intense matches since one of the two players will likely be in the danger zone for almost the entire match), the graphics are simple enough to make pattern matching and recognition easy, and sound cues will inform players of what's going on with their opponent without needing to take their eyes off of their own playfield.
For me, Tetris Attack is a puzzle game masterpiece, and as good as puzzle games get. This SNES gem can be found for just short of $15. If you prefer Pokemon or don't have access to an SNES, Pokemon Puzzle League is a decent rendition of the game (though the idea of an N64 game that, except for video cutscenes, could have been pulled off just as easily on the SNES bothers me greatly). This is the version Nintendo chose to re-release digitally on the Wii's Virtual Console. There's also versions of Puzzle League available on the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, but the music being reduced to 8-bit renditions and the reduced functions of those systems (thereby slowing the game down noticeably) keep those versions from holding a candle to its console brethren. Then again, no other puzzle game can.
I've always been a guy that reads reviews of videogames before I buy them. Even back when I was a kid and the Nintendo 64 was the fresh console, I was on IGN daily (back in the days of dialup modems and quality gaming journalism). If they said a game was crap, I either avoided it or at most looked at other places to see if the opinion was the same. Sometimes I still ignored it; how could a “South Park” videogame possibly be bad?!? (we'll get to that one someday, even though I feel confident I could pump out 2000+ words about that game off my own memory). If they said a game was fantastic, then I'd either rent it to see for myself or buy it outright. And quite often, it steered me right. I'd have never even thought of buying the first “Advance Wars” game if it wasn't IGN's highest rated Game Boy Advance game at a 9.9/10 (a mark no other GBA game would touch) and now I'm pretty much a “buy it on Day 1” fan of the entire franchise, holding somewhat of a grudge that no entry in the franchise made it to the 3DS. Nowadays, I am more concerned with the “body” of the review and the features and flaws a game carries, but I've always been a guy that does his homework on games before just rushing in blindly.
My point being, I have always made an effort to make sure my money wasn't wasted. That's not to say my track record is perfect and I've enjoyed every game I spent money on, but as a kid who had to save up or wait on birthdays and Christmas for any shot at buying/receiving a new videogame, I wasn't about to drop coin on a bad game.
The reason I mention this is because the game I'm reviewing today is “Superman” on the Nintendo 64, often referred to as “Superman 64” for the sake of clarity. Any gamer with a passive knowledge of the N64's library (or watches “Angry” reviewers on YouTube) knows the kind of territory I'm about to step into.
Upon release, “Superman 64” was hammered with scathing reviews left and right. And we're not talking “just OK” or “doesn't live up to expectations”:
“Unfortunately for Nintendo 64 owners though, [Superman 64] is executed so poorly that it actually serves to butcher the reputation of the prominent action hero...
With horrible control, unforgivable framerates and more bugs than can be counted, Titus should be absolutely ashamed of this awful game, and the company should be doubly ashamed for pissing all over such a beloved license.
Do not buy this piece of garbage.” - Matt Casamassina, IGN.com June 2nd 1999
“[Superman 64] is easily the worst game I've ever played...it serves no purpose other than to firmly establish the bottom of the barrel.” - Joe Fielder, Gamespot.com, June 8th 1999
“It would have been more fun if they made a game about Superman window shopping with Aquaman.” - Seanbaby, “EGM's Crapstravaganza, The 20 Worst Games of All Time”, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Issue #150, January 2002
“Superman 64 is the worst game of all time...Donate it to all hell!” - Jirard Khalil, The Completionist, February 26th 2016
Ranked #1 in GameTrailers' 2006 list of the 10 worst games of all-time.
Ranked #1 in Nintendo Power's list of the 10 worst games to appear on a Nintendo console in Issue 196.
“They got Superman 64 for $6 at Savers.” - My friend Sam, February 18th 2017
That last quote was the first step of what brought us to this review today. I don't know what it was in my brain that decided “Yep, that's not an awful idea at all”, but the idea of buying it didn't brush off me like usual. Yeah, I have this blog now. And I'd be a liar to think I'd never been curious about how bad the game truly is.
And apparently, many others did too. While I usually wait until the end of a review to discuss a game's rarity, I feel it worth mentioning now that while “Superman 64” was sent through the ringer in a critical sense, there is a misconception that the game sold poorly. In its release month of June 1999, it was the 3rd best-selling Nintendo 64 game of that month, only trailing “Star Wars Episode 1: Racer” and “Super Smash Bros.”. In fact, no single Playstation game outsold Superman 64 for the month of June 1999, the closest challenger being the now quite-sought after “Lunar; Silver Star Story”.
Why have a solid Japanese RPG when you can have a game with such cutting-edge features as a "20% screen size" option?
In fact, during the N64's lifespan I was a frequent visitor of the “World of Nintendo” fansite (I left the link out as my “Avast! Antivirus” went nuts upon visiting it again for the first time in over a decade). The webmaster would actually give out free games to signed-up members of the site that hit certain viewing landmarks, such as if they were the 100,000th log-in on the site. Often times, the users of that site wouldn't ask for a classic like “Super Mario 64” or a game that might go down as a rarity like “Worms; Armageddon”. The most requested game for these contest winners was, in fact, “Superman 64”.
But I personally always made it a point to duck bad games. I know some can enjoy bad games ironically, but I like to think I'm not one of those people. I feel like there's enough games out there that are overhyped and fall well short of the buildup. Why in the world would I spend my hard-earned money on a game I know going in will be a bad game? But I figured, at $6, it's worth figuring out how bad the game truly is. Though I instantly facepalmed once I left Savers with Superman 64 in my hands.
For the first time I ever, I'd made it a point to buy a bad game.
So, with the stage being set, I took a look at Superman 64 to see how bad the “firmly established bottom of the barrel” truly is.
The first thing I feel I need to get out of the way is the infamous “ride” stages of the game filled with ring-flying segments. Right out of the gate, Superman must fly through a series of rings, unable to skip very many of them without the game forcing a restart. This is one of the biggest targets when people discuss Superman 64. By far and away, the most watched review of this game on YouTube belongs to the well-known “Angry Video Game Nerd”, James Rolfe. Most of his review consists of him complaining about the ring-flying segments and eventually giving up on the game.
Now, before I continue, it's worth mentioning that if the game is played on the “Easy” difficulty, the ring segments are simplified into a simple “Fly to the destination” mission with no rings whatsoever and a comically large Superman logo that triggers the next mission when flown into. I actually had no clue this was a thing before playing the game myself, and I find it funny that for such a flagship flaw in this game, a simple option change takes the element out. And to be honest, playing on “Easy” doesn't affect the game too much. Why? More, on that later. But it does make it seem like the developers at Titus had little conviction with the “ring” concept.
And honestly, flying through the rings isn't as bad as many reviewers say. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not very much fun and the controls can occasionally spaz out. But with little jerks of the control stick and letting off the B button while turning or ascending or descending makes these sections a lot easier. Think of it more like controlling a twitchy 2D shooter and less like the Wing Cap from Super Mario 64, and you have the right idea. The art of flying becomes a MUCH bigger issue when you're in more enclosed spaces, but in these wide open sections, it's at least playable. In fact, it's one of the most playable parts of the game.
The aforementioned AVGN review stats that you'll be lucky to have much time left. And yet on only my second attempt ever at the “First Ride”, I completed it with almost 20 seconds left on the clock. On the second and third flying segments of “First Ride”, I cleared them on the very first try. And since the rings are shut off on “Easy”, this was me playing the game on the default difficulty mode. While trying to capture footage for screenshots, I tried playing on the hardest “Superman” difficulty to see if the ring courses got any tougher or the time crunch got any stricter, and they did not, as I was able to complete the first ring course with 30 seconds to spare this time. Later “rides” do make it much tougher, with longer courses and even moving rings. But I would imagine if you had wrestled with this games piss-poor controls to make it to those stages in the first place, you should have those licked.
You can't be blamed for having some trouble with the flying controls. Even the demo struggles with it.
My point is, “flying through rings” should not get the bad rep that it does when it comes to this game. That's only because there are MUCH worse culprits at large here.
Between the ring flying segments of the “Rides” are short mini-missions, and this is where the game truly goes from “just kinda bad” to earning its “worst game ever” titles. The first of these orders you to stop a pair of cars from hitting pedestrians. It's at this point the graphical flaws become glaringly obvious beyond simply Superman's blocky character model and the “Kryptonite Fog” used as the game's excuse for the game's awful draw distance (this doesn't explain why the draw distance inside of buildings is bad as well). The streets below look like the videogame rendition of a car playmat. The flat roads and squares that I believe are supposed to represent buildings make it look like you're playing the game on an early version of Google Earth on a toaster of a computer. Later levels will take place in enclosed spaces, but the simple designs and colors used reek of laziness, as if they just shaped the room, used the “tile fill” tool on a texture, and moved along in less time than it took me to type this sentence.
Flying into the cars should be enough to pick them up. I say it “should be enough” because this is what the game expects you to do. However, you'll often find yourself just bumping and grinding into them, hoping whatever is supposed to trigger Superman into lifting the cars eventually happens. When it failed for me, I'd often start hitting buttons to see if something will make Superman lift the car. And it certainly doesn't help that flying into heavy enemies and boxes does NOT lift them up, as you have to press B to accomplish that Herculean feat. Another of these mini-missions at the start of the game ask Superman to lift a police car and prevent it from being destroyed. However, the villains shooting it don't have a set accuracy with their guns. Sometimes the car is blown to bits before you can even get close to the car, resulting in instant failure and if you hadn't passed it 3 times already (in a strange design choice passing a ring stage 3 times will keep it from triggering again) a do-over on the previous flying segment. Other times, Superman gets a very large chunk of time to grab the car, to the point you feel like the game is either giving you a freebie or it just thinks either you or the game itself totally sucks and that you need that much time. I think Titus knows they screwed this up, as a LONG line of enemies await to blow the car up, but only the first 2 or 3 are even relevant. The rest may as just be dollar store action figures on the carmat streets of Metropolis.
One last damning element of these opening stages worth mentioning is a part where you fight four enemies. This is supposed to be a section where you learn how to actually fight as Superman. However, these enemies are sent flying with just a punch or two each, and the game moves on. As I learned later on, this was a very misleading tutorial that, having typed it out now, starts to get to me more now than it did when I was playing the game.
Good luck walking straight...or flying straight...or finding the box that doesn't blow up...or having faith in the godawful controls.
Once you pass these mini-missions and save the game, the real fun(?) begins. You're inside of a dam, and must save a flock of workers in order to help disarm bombs that have been set at the damn. This is where you're up to your eyeballs in why this game is so maligned. The first enemy you see is a robot that opens fire on you. If you're lucky enough to both get close to it and be on the good side of the trash camera (as I write this line, I'm running out of synonyms for “bad”) you'll have your chance to attack. You punch it, you (maybe) make contact, and it just sortof jiggles around. Repeating this a couple of times defeats the robot. And by “defeats”, I mean the robot blows up with Superman in point blank range, damaging him. Gee, that would have been REALLY nice to have learned in the tutorials. Thanks a lot, Superman 64!!!
So then the next time you see a robot, you try to fly directly into it. And as I stated before, that doesn't do diddly, Brewster. Hitting B at this point lifts the robot over Superman's head. At this point, if you're lucky, you can throw the enemy before it self-destructs. Just like the mission with rescuing the police car, these bots will self-destruct with no seemingly set perimeters as to “when”. Sometimes you'll get a very long amount of time to throw them, sometimes you'll get little, and sometimes they'll blow up before Superman even finishes lifting them over his head. At one point, the latter happened to me, and I took no damage. Another time, I did take damage.
This game is full of inconsistencies and just flat out poor design choices. I could easily keep right on going with the uses of ice breath and eye lasers, how awful Superman and enemies are animated when they attack, the repetitive music that (while not grating) will get annoying in a heartbeat, the fact that the game suffers frame hiccups constantly, from the ring-flying segments to the enclosed spaces to even the game's own developer credits sequence.
A credits sequence that truly pushes the Nintendo 64 beyond its limits. Why else would it stutter?
But in the end, it's the controls and constant inconsistencies that earn this game its title of being one of the worst games of all time. You can enjoy a game that doesn't push the boundaries graphically or even look all that appeasing. “Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon” has jagged landscapes and graphical glitches for days, and yet it's one of my favorite games on the Nintendo 64. You can enjoy a game that totally whiffs in the sound department. “Kid Icarus” contains an ear-screeching soundtrack that makes me involuntarily cringe and yet it's a very solid and complex NES platformer (especially for its time). But if the controls suck, the game sucks, straight-up. A great game, or even a “Just OK” game has the controls compliment the level design and vice-versa. Therefore, if you can't get the controls right, you can't get the level design right. And once you've hit that point, there is no recovery.
Maybe there is a small part of me that summoned a morsel of joy from finally playing a game so legendarily bad. For that (and the case I found the game in), I suppose the $6 curiosity was worth it, as much as that hurts to say. And it hurts because I feel it's my responsibility to say as a reviewer that this game is flat out awful, it deserves to die, all copies should be destroyed, “donate it to all hell”, etc.
If you haven't played it yourself and are curious, go borrow a copy from someone or hope you score it as collateral in a lot with some much better games so you don't completely burn your cash on a curiosity.
In the end, I've had less fun with other games than I did with Superman 64 (again, that morsel of ironic fun I had from experiencing this game). But when you truly sit down and critically tee off on the laundry list of flaws this game contains, the elements that not just “aren't at their best” but are flat-out “bad”, Superman 64 truly deserves its spot in the “Worst Videogame of All-Time” discussion.
But I felt I needed to play it. And at the end of it all, I learned more about Superman 64, and even a little more about myself.
Now I'm gonna go play some Persona 5 to wash myself of this abomination.
RATING - 0.5 out of 5