Name: Death & Return of Superman
Format: Genesis/SNES (tested)
Genre: Scrolling Beat 'em' Up
Region Reviewed: NTSC
Year of Release: 1994 (SNES)
In 1992 during a meeting with the group handling the Superman series, Mike Carlin, Superman editor, said about the man of Steel: let’s just kill ‘im. Carlin stated later that “the world was taking Superman for granted” so they went ahead and decided to just wipe the last son of krypton off the Earth. That’s how Superman’s death sentence was signed.
The Death of Superman was a commercial success worldwide, and a well deserved one. The graphic novel is plain awesome, it’s full of action, the pace is fast where it should be and it slows down when necessary, if you, dear reader, have not yet read it, just do a back flip (I know you can do it, sweet computer ninja) and go grab a copy, download it, I don’t care, but this is a masterpiece for all comic lovers, hell, for everyone. But lets not get carried away, shall we? DC accompanied its new masterpiece with a wide variety of products, among them was the video game “The Death and Return of Superman”, which is a spoiler in itself when you think about it.
Blizzard Studios and Sunsoft joined forces to develop (for the SNES and the Genesis) one of the few Superman games worth remembering. Just as it happened with Marvel’s Maximum Carnage, this comic book story translates incredibly well into the gaming world, something that is not a minor thing since if you go through all the Superman games, even the new ones, you will see that, despite all the abilities the Man of Steel has (or maybe BECAUSE of them), developers have been unable to work out a good title. Blizzard and Sunsoft, however, managed to create a good game, basing its entire storyline in the comic book. And not only they did that with one Superman but with a whole bunch of different Supermen.
After pressing the start button, you will be taken to the first cutscene of the game where you are introduced to the story that preceded the actual death of Superman, where Kal-El must stop the Underworlders in their attempt to control the power lines of Metropolis. The instant you set foot on the stage, you will smell that ancient scent of a good beat ‘em up (yeah, remember that genre?). This beat ’em up, however, has a very particular thing: you can throw your enemies in different directions, right, left and also up, which causes damage to the different objects in the stage such as columns, electrical equipment, doors, windows and allows you to discover different power ups, extra lives and energy boosters. This feature may go unnoticed but I have seen it only once, in Batman Returns, also for the SNES and I believe it adds something different to this type of title.
Another thing that happily surprised me when I played the game for the first time was the addition of a sub-genre within the game. In between stages, the different Supermen take off and the game is turned into a kind of shoot ‘em up, where your character must atomize different enemies to reach the goal. Is it a good shoot ‘em up? Not at all, but it gives the player a different experience, although short, and a break from breaking mutant skulls and smashing thugs with chainsaws against walls.
The controls of the game are just typical for beat ‘em ups. You use the D-pad to move the character around and with the rest of the buttons you punch, jump (or fly if you punch it twice), use a special technique to obliterate all the enemies on stage and finally another button activates a special power that varies depending on the character you are using. You get to play with all the Supermen in the saga: the original Superman, the Cyborg, the Eradicator, Superboy, Steel and Superman reborn. The characters, unfortunately, are pre selected for the player and you play with them depending on the stage you are without the chance to actually select them at will. All Supermen have a different and unique feature, but there are no mayor differences except for the way they walk or fly.
On top of the fact that the game controls are pretty responsive and easy to get, the graphics look great. The stages are designed according to the places shown in the comic book and help to build the atmosphere of the game. On the other hand, the enemies look repetitive, bigger variety of thugs, soldiers and robots would have been much better, but this in no way interferes with how the game feels. I ‘ve mentioned the cut-scenes earlier, and they are indeed of graphical importance. Here the developers have been absolutely faithful to the actual comic by including these semi animated comic strips and you have the same feeling as if you were turning the pages of a digital comic book when you advance through the story.
The game is not easy at all, so, do not expect a walk in the park here. Despite having infinite continues, the battles are hard. Regular thugs require a proper beating before disappearing into a pixelated oblivion but bosses are really tough, after winning some boss battles you may actually feel like a Superman. There are no passwords in this game, let alone a save feature, so if you plan to beat the game, be ready to spend a good couple of hours in front of the TV. After you hit continue, you go back to the beginning of the screen with four lives and your special attacks full, but more often than not, you will find yourself thinking that even that is not enough to clear a stage.
So far I have described all the good qualities of the game, but unfortunately there is a dark side in all things, even in fairy tales, or games based upon comic books. It is quite obvious that the developers paid attention to lots of details in this game, the graphics and the gameplay are the living proof of that, but the sound, oh my God, the sound fx and the music are by far one of the worse experiences I‘ve had in that department with an SNES tittle. There are 3 or 4 tunes that are replayed throughout the whole game, and the sound effects would be perfectly ok in a Game Boy port of the tittle, but they are far from average in any 16 bit console.
I have to be honest here, I normally don’t pay much attention to the game’s music, I know there are lots of gamers who really appreciate the music of the games they play and like, I have never been one of them, and that’s why I need to emphasize how terrible the music of Superman Death and Return is if even I have noticed it. However, if you enjoy the story and the graphics, the sound will in no way deter you from liking a game where finally something decent has been done with Superman.
Verdict:- This is the only game that I have for both the SNES and the Genesis, that’s how much I like it, so my opinion might be a little biased.
Personally, I praise the idea of turning one of the best graphic novels into a videogame, and Blizzard/Sunsoft knew exactly what to do with Superman: a beat ‘em up title. The game will captive mostly the Superman / DC / comic fans, but also any casual beat ‘em up player who barely knows who Superman is and just wants to grab a joystick, press buttons and have fun.
What would have made the game perfect for me? Well, the music and sounds need serious work, but also I would have loved if the game had threw in a few sidekicks that you could call by pressing a button (Maximum Carnage, anyone?), some Justice League members or even Green Lantern himself, why not? They appear in the comic after all…
Second Opinion:- Maybe if this game was readily available everywhere for sensible prices then more retro fans could appreciate it's majesty. It's a classic brawler in every sense of the word and Transbot loves these kinds of games as they are in so many ways the perfect example of the best bits of retro gaming in the 2D era.
The music however makes this robot's ears bleed and it needs to be stopped! Whoever did this needs to be shot or at the very least punched very hard in the face because it threatens to ruin a very solid game. Overall though this is a very competent title and a great example of the genre and this 2 level type D firing boss instructs you to play it as soon as you can.
Transbot Scores:- 8 out of 10