Retro Respawn – Handheld Month Week Two – Superman: The Man of Steel (Game Gear)

As I mentioned in last week’s piece, I didn’t know many people who had a Game Gear during my younger days. Most of my friends were card-carrying Game Boy owners, so my experience of handheld gaming was very much weighted in favour of Ninty’s chunky slab of gaming apparatus.

However, one friend I knew did have a Game Gear, and I got a chance to play two games on it. The first was Sonic the Hedgehog, which was essentially a direct port of the Sonic game found on Sega’s Master System console. Anyone who has had a chance to play this will know it’s a solid game that does the spiky blue critter plenty of justice.

Thankfully, I played Sonic first, because if Superman: The Man of Steel had been my introduction to the device, then I would have probably handed the Game Gear back to my friend before demanding he smash it to bits with a cricket bat.

Superman isn’t just a bad game, it’s a straight up broken one. Enemies appear out of nowhere and take almost half your life bar at will, and Superman’s attempts to fend them off are nothing short of pitiful. For being the supposed “Man of Steel”, the last son of Krypton is exceedingly fragile and tiresomely weak, needing at least three punches before he can defeat even the lowest level of goon.

An awful draw distance, combined with lightning fast villains, means that you have to edge your way at a snail’s pace across each level so that you don’t end up walking into a killer robot or Kryptonite-shooting cannon. Your basic punch has the range of a pinkie finger, meaning you have to get so incredibly close to enemies that you’ll usually end up accidentally walking into them before you can attack them, thus causing damage to yourself in the process.

Literally every enemy in the game is quicker, deadlier and just chuffing more efficient than Superman at all times. After a while, I just started avoiding any and all unnecessary combat and pretty much ran away from every nasty robot just so I could actually make it to the level’s conclusion. This wouldn’t be so bad if you were playing as a weaker character who needed to avoid fighting, such as Abe for instance, but you’re playing as freaking Superman for sausage’s sake!

Yes, if Superman were overpowered, then the game wouldn’t be as much of a challenge, but there was no need for him to be as thoroughly underpowered as he is. There’s a balance that would have produced a much more playable experience, but sadly, the game gets it very wrong. It also ignores the enjoyment that could be gained from being Superman and smashing killer robots to bits with your super strength. After all, what is Superman if not a walking power fantasy?

The coolest thing about Superman is when he blows through goons and villains like they’re nothing. The best drama in a Superman story is when he has to balance taking down the bad guys whilst also protecting those that cannot protect themselves. There’s very little mileage to be gained from having Superman in peril himself, but there’s tonnes by having him try to rescue cowering humans with one hand whilst smacking the crap out of a giant monster with the other.

Even when the game introduces something potentially exciting, like a flying section, it ruins it by making Superman weaker than MDF wood. In the second level, you have to fly to the top of an apartment building to fight an end of level boss, but while you ascend, you not only have to contend with men in flying suits firing bazookas at you but also members of the public chucking random stuff out of their windows as well. As you would imagine, getting hit with any of this stuff does a real number on your health bar, making the whole experience utterly insipid.

Another flying level sees you trying to catch up with a speeding train underground whilst dodging missiles being fired at you. However, the missiles lock on to you, meaning it’s essentially impossible to avoid them. There are health bonuses you can try to collect, but when I played this level most of them were actually partially offscreen, meaning it was literally impossible to collect them. How is that even possible? How could you be so woefully abysmal in your job as a game designer that you put a power-up on the screen that the player can’t actually physically collect?

The game is designed poorly from the very first level onward, with a cannon you actually cannot avoid or destroy, meaning that you HAVE to take a hit to get past it. This is unavoidable; you have to take damage just so that you can flash with momentary invulnerability to get past that section. What an absolute embarrassment this game is, I actually can’t believe they had the unmitigated gall to dare to release it.

I know it’s a running joke that Superman games seemingly always have to be rubbish, but this is especially awful even in comparison to its super siblings. A thoroughly rotten game that makes you feel sad to be alive. It actually makes existence itself hurt.

If you have a Game Gear, don’t buy this game. In fact, if whilst out shopping for retro games you come across this monstrosity, do the world a favour and buy it, only to then liquidise it when you get home. It’s more than this horrific excuse for a video game deserves.

I’m off to take a shower and sob softly in a corner for The Man of Steel. Next week, we’ll be swapping from Sega’s slick black device to Nintendo’s superlative gaming slab. Join us whilst we eat some spinach and search for some treasure.

Thanks for reading

Until next time;

Enjoy Yourselves!!!

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