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Not so super, man

The latest incarnation of an officially licensed Superman video game turns out to be as mediocre as its many predecessors--passably fun, but somehow also capturing the tedium of life as an all-powerful, invulnerable superhero.

The latest incarnation of an officially licensed Superman video game turns out to be as mediocre as its many predecessors--passably fun, but somehow also capturing the tedium of life as an all-powerful, invulnerable superhero.

This 2D arcade-action game has some things going for it: The graphics are sharp (especially when you download the optional HD assets), and flying around as Superman--especially when you fly up into the darkness of space above Metropolis--looks and feels great. The cheesy comic back story (involving Lex Luthor and a weather-control satellite, naturally) can feel tacked on, alternating between superfluous single panels and long stretches of exposition, but it grounds you in the comic-book experience nicely.

That said, everything from the interface to the level design feels frustratingly lacking. The game gives you a relatively simple interface--a virtual d-pad on the left and buttons on the right for an action or speed boost. The action button depends on the context of your situation, such as heat vision when you're facing a mech or a drone, or cold breath when you're facing a fire--but inexplicably you can also tap your movement pad in some situations instead, like when you have to smash a getaway car or a runaway missile. The direction you're facing matters a lot in combat, but with the tools you're given in the interface, you often end up shooting past your enemy only to have to turn around so that you're facing the right direction for a smash or heat blast, only to have the enemy move and repeat the process again--so many of the game's battles are difficult only because of the interface's limitations. On top of that, your threat indicators (blue, red, or yellow directional arrows) change arbitrarily between waves (sometimes a fire is a red arrow, sometimes it's yellow), so you have no idea whether an arrow is pointing to a humble surveillance camera or a game-ending runaway missile.

This is all compounded by the fact that you face the same recycled enemies again and again throughout the game--drones, robot spiders, helicopters, orange-suited thugs, etc. None of them are a threat to you (you're Superman!), but you have to deal with them quickly in order to keep Metropolis from burning up (which you can track with a life bar above the city). This can make for some tedious gameplay (at one point, you have the uniquely unheroic task of flying all over Metropolis to smash 37 floating cameras--cameras? 37?--in a row), which is made worse by a claustrophobic and increasingly unconvincing Metropolis. For example, when you smash a getaway car, it stays there on the street, but if you help land a crashing plane, the plane then disappears before your eyes.

A good video game might have been made out of the elements here, but this isn't it. On the other hand, if you're a big Superman fan, the freedom of flying and the stirring music and graphics might be enough to keep you entertained.

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