Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Superman 64 (Nintendo 64)

Even if you've had your head buried underneath a rock for the last 50 years...even if you've never seen the movies, never seen the TV shows, never seen the animated series, never read the comics, never bought the toys...chances are, you will have heard of Superman 64. It's been a constant subject of debate, reviews and Youtube videos. It's name has practically become legend over the last 15 years. I've had it in my collection for a while now, but until today, I've been hesitant to play it. Would it live up to it's hype? Would it meet my expectations? Would I be able to write a review befitting of it's quality? Would I be left mentally scarred for life after playing it?

With all this in consideration, I decided to approach Superman 64 with a completely open mind....different people like different games after all, and maybe it's one of those underrated classics people keep discovering months or even years later? There's plenty of games like that. Lost Odyssey was a lot better than I thought it would be. Beyond Good & Evil turned out to be great when I eventually played it even though it wasn't a sales success. Mirror's Edge fast became one of my favourites after I picked it up cheaply, and I can't wait for the sequel.

Superman 64 is not going to be joining that list.

Green rings, green skies - get used to seeing these
The story behind Superman 64 is that Lex Luthor, with the help of Braniac has created a virtual version of Metropolis and trapped Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Professor Hamilton inside it. In order to rescue them, Supes has to enter Virtual Metropolis and complete various tasks and defeat villains along the way such as Metallo and Darkseid who are making a nuisance of themselves and threatening the lives of civilians. Yes, even in the virtual world Superman still has a duty of care to virtual people, although it's never made clear if Lex Luthor has also kidnapped a bunch of civilians or not. In order to reach each objective, you have to 'solve Lex Luthor's maze'....which is pretty much just flying through a sequence of rings within a fairly tight time limit. This is much easier said than done as the first thing you'll notice is that Superman doesn't actually like being controlled by a human player and seems to do everything in his power to fight against you. He flies through the air with all the grace of an 18 wheeler truck and steers like one too. In fact, it's pretty much the same when you're walking on the ground too...despite having the full 360-degree control of the Nintendo 64 analogue stick to play with, Titus in their infinite wisdom decided that it'd be best to have Superman rotate on the spot when you push the stick left and right, and run forward and backwards with up and down. Granted, this was released in 1999, and you could even argue that the original Tomb Raider games also had tank-like controls, but neither the Playstation or Saturn were originally released with analogue controllers as standard like the N64, and when you look at the kind of control Nintendo implemented into Super Mario 64 (an N64 launch title), and also other games that came out prior to Superman 64 such as Banjo Kazooie, then this just seems piss poor in comparison. Switching from flight to walking and back to flight again seems to be a very hit and miss affair. The instructions tell you that you hit the Z trigger to do this, but often Superman will just come to a stop and hover or if you're on foot he won't react to your trigger presses which can be massively frustrating if you're trying to land nearby an enemy or objective, or trying to escape from an enemy.

When you reach the end of a set of rings (which thankfully can be turned completely off in the options by switching the difficulty to 'Easy' if you so wish...although this prevents you from seeing the full ending to the game), Superman is given a objective to complete, such as stop a speeding car before it hits a civilian. No problem for Superman you might think but it's a huge problem for a Superman with borked controls. You use the B button to accelerate forward while you're flying, but the B button is also used to grab objects such as cars. So if you're chasing a speeding car that you need to grab hold of, then you're going to have to take your thumb off the B button, come to a stop and tap the B button again to grab it. But of course the car carries on moving, so you'll need to hold the B button down to catch it up again and then....well, you get the idea. It's unnecessarily fiddly and more often than not you'll only manage it by luck rather than judgement. If you fail an objective, then you're placed back at the beginning of the last set of rings you reached to do those all over again as well.

Oh Superman! Have you glitched through the floor again?
And if you think all this sounds bad? Try dealing with it in an enclosed area. After you persevere through the first section you reach a dam interior where you have to rescue some trapped workers and then deal with some bombs. Because of the low ceilings, you'll be forced to travel around mostly on foot and deal with hordes of enemies and robots. Superman can punch, but you never really feel like you're connecting and, with an inability to lock onto enemies at all, you'll mostly be rotating around on the spot and swinging wildly at thin air whilst the bad guys stand slightly to one side and fill you full of bullets. You can pick up and throw your opponents, but this involves running right up to them, stopping, tapping the B button and then using the A button to throw them. Whilst getting shot at the whole time. And that's even if it works, because roughly 50% of the time Superman won't respond properly anyway. If you do find yourself flying around indoors, you'll constantly be getting stuck on parts of the scenery or hitting invisible walls, or even glitching through solid walls in a lot of cases. The sheer ineptitude of the programming and design on display here is absolutely staggering.

Manage this section, and it's back out into Virtual Metropolis again to fly through yet more rings and complete more mundane tasks over and over again. It's worth pointing out here that the city is strangely empty, devoid of any signs of life until you reach your objective and sometimes have to save one or two innocent bystander from being attacked. Another thing worth mentioning is that the draw distance is extremely low, resulting in severe fogging everywhere even during the indoor sections. The graphics are actually pretty bad in general, with low res and muddy looking textures being the order of the day and some laughably pathetic animation, particularly for Superman himself when he walks and flies. And throughout this all, you'll be hearing the same short bits of music on loop over and over again just to drive you mad in case the rest of the game hasn't already succeeded in pushing you over the brink into insanity.

Wow, check out that draw distance!
I played/struggled as far as a multi story car park stage before I really couldn't stand any more of it. The game told me I had to rescue Jimmy Olsen and defeat Darkseid, but I couldn't find Jimmy anywhere despite searching the stage from top to bottom, and just seemed to be walking and flying around endless samey looking corridors, hitting an endless supply of identical looking enemies and becoming completely bored. There was no indication I was heading in the right direction either. After somehow glitching through the floor of the second story and falling through to the ground floor (I've still no idea how I did it either), I decided enough was enough and turned it off. I really don't know how this could have been put out as a finished product, and I really don't know how it managed to get the Nintendo Seal Of Quality on it either. It's a broken, sorry looking mess of a game that fails in pretty much every aspect.

Is it the worst game I've ever played? I'd be lying if I said it was. I've seen some horrendously bad titles on other systems that barely even classify as games, and I'm sure I'll cover some of them more in due time. But is it the worst game I've played on the N64? At this moment in time I'm pretty sure it is, and I'm also sure that I'm unlikely to find something that will take Superman 64's place at the bottom of the barrel. It's glitchier than just about anything else I've ever played, and it's pretty alarming that this was once put out for sale at full price as a new release next to games like Goldeneye, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron to be honest.

TromaDogg's Final Verdict: 2.5/10

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