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