Will The Real Superman Please…ah, you get it
I was what you would call a comic book “fan” when I was a kid. I didn’t collect any particular publisher or story arc, but I would simply take a look at what was on the shelf and just pick up whichever cover had the best artwork. In 1992, I believe almost every one of my friends became a comic book fan for at least one month, and it was all because Superman, the icon who had helped create the super hero genre, died. The world as a whole took notice, as made apparent by the continuous coverage the story received in the media and, in my case, the school playground. Everywhere you went, people were questioning if the Man of Steel was really dead, or was this all just a cash grab that DC comics had cooked up due to extremely low comic book sales at the time. Looking back at it now, I think we have our answer, but you have to hand it to DC; this revitalized the comic book industry as a whole, and by 1993 the “Death and Return of Superman” story arc had reached its conclusion, and Blizzard Entertainment/Sunsoft were there to piece the story together in video game form.
The game’s intro screen is one of the best I’ve seen in the 16-bit era. A bloody Superman logo scrolls slowly down the screen accompanied by a dreadful tone. The screen shakes with a couple of thunderous smashes and eventually Doomsday’s fist comes crashing through the iconic “S” and your TV screen. As a kid, I was taken by surprise to see all this blood dripping from the logo. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of blood in video games up until this point, but this wasn’t Mortal Kombat or Splatterhouse, this was Superman!
The story presented here in the game resembles the comic’s story arc very closely. It starts you off in control of Superman, who is on his way to the Metropolis power plant to investigate the city’s complete power failure. Upon arrival at the power plant, Superman discovers that the underworlders , who are led by the supervillain Clawster, are trying to take over the city of Metropolis. After quickly dispatching Clawster and his cronies, all seems to be back to normal in the city, but unbeknownst to Superman, Doomsday is making his way toward earth to wreak havoc. Quicker than you can say “Jimmy Olsen”, Doomsday and Superman are in the middle of the city, battling it out in one of the most epic comic book fights of all time. In the end, the two combatants deliver simultaneous final blows to each other, both killing Superman and putting Doomsday into a coma. Now with Superman dead, Metropolis has been left with no protector, and in a city that’s constantly being threatened by the world’s most powerful supervillains, that’s not a good thing. Enter The Cyborg, The Eradicator, Superboy, and Steel. These 4 men all believe themselves to be the next Superman, and ultimately the protector of Metropolis.
The 4 Supermen (5 if you count the original) that you take control of all feel quite a bit different. Superboy is fast but takes more damage, Eradicator has the ability to kick as well as use his fists, Steel is slow but is extremely powerful, and Cyborg is able take quite a beating, because, well, he’s a cyborg. Each hero has a powerful special ability that can be used to clear all the enemies on the screen, but this ability is extremely limited. Defeating enemies comes down to walking up on them at the right angle to trigger a grapple-like hold that will give you the ability to either throw them against the background or slam them face first into the pavement. The only enemies I had trouble with were gun-toting attackers as well as the grenade throwing variety. They’re relentless and will continue to shoot or throw explosives at you even when you’re down and It’s times like this I wish The Death and Return of Superman was a co-op experience, as beating the hell out of these guys with a buddy would be extremely fun.
Graphically, The Death and Return of Superman was amazing for its time. The Supermen sprites were all large and very detailed as well as the numerous villains in the game. Environments are also lively, and include breakaway backgrounds that house hidden power ups and life. The Supermen will combat various enemies in locations such as Metropolis, Coast City, Cadmus, and eventually Engine City. A few levels of the game pit the Supermen in a horizontal shooter style stage, but I found these to be incredibly boring and repetitive. These sections don’t last very long, which is a good thing considering they only consist of one enemy that offers no challenge whatsoever. These shooter levels feel as bit tacked on just to remind players that Superman can fly. The bland backgrounds in these sections, coupled with tedious gameplay really bring the game to a staggering halt at times where the story is getting good. The game eventually does redeem itself with its final horizontal shooter level, which has Superman trying to stop a missile that is hurtling toward Metropolis.
The game’s music is very uninspiring to say the least. This is where the difference between the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo version will be noticed most, since the Genesis version just seems to have that tingy-ness to it. I like my beat em’ ups to have a nice mix of good tunes to go along with what is ultimately a repetitive genre, but the music here is extremely unmemorable. The sounds of enemies bashing against the background makes up for the shallow music a bit though, as that is a rewarding experience in itself. Other than the sounds of fist bashing against faces, there really isn’t much here to talk about. It makes me wonder if maybe Sunsoft just couldn’t get the license to the John Williams’ classic Superman Theme, since it’s nowhere to be found in the game.
The Death and Return of Superman is a good beat em’ up that I still like to return to to this day. The lack of co-op is a bit disappointing, and the music leaves something to be desired, but overall I think it tells the story arc very well, and would please any DC fan that also happens to be a gamer. The game’s value is quickly rising, so if you’re interested in it, I suggest grabbing it while you can.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Released on: Super Nintendo (Reviewed), Genesis; Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment/Sunsoft ; Developer: Sunsoft ; Year released: 1994