Superman

Atari 2600

Review by Joe Santulli

Atari

Adventure

Graphics: 6

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 6


Faster than a speeding pixelDid you know that in EVERY episode of "Seinfeld", there is a shot of Superman somewhere? Itís true. Apparently Jerry is a big fan in real life. Seinfeld is just one among millions of fans, among those, game designers for the Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Sega Genesis. Hereís the dirt on the first attempt at recreating the man of steelís adventures.

I can vividly recall the week when Superman for the Atari 2600 was released (yeah, Iím a relic). My friend Kevin owned a 2600 in the years when my parents were still convinced that video games would ruin a television picture, not to mention a young manís mind (heh, heh, how right they were). We spent Sundays together, Kevin and I, so his gain was mine as well. These were "lean months" for Atari... those early years just prior to Space Invaders but well after convincing us that cartridge-based gaming was here to stay.

It was at this time that the Yankees were world champions, and not looking back while the Mets were struggling to find their way out of the basement of the NL East. Imagine a time when Mike Vail was the Metsí big hitter and Reggie Jackson was his crosstown rival. By the way, Kevin was the Mets fan. I was the Yankees fan. This "I own an Atari" and "I have the world champs" was the foundation upon which our rivalry was built. Fortunately for me, Superman is a one-player game, because Kevin mastered this game beyond anything Iíd ever seen him play. Thereís a trick to the game (see below) that Iíd still swear Kevin discovered.

Unlike MOST superhero-based video games, this Superman closely matches the strengths and weaknesses of hiscomic book counterpart. He can fly. He has super strength (bad guys with machine guns donít bother him one bit, no sir). He has X-ray vision. Kryptonite really bothers him. His arch-enemy is behind the chaos. His babe is always nearby. Come to think of it, this is about the most accurate Superman rendition EVER done on a video game (imagine, Superman fighting Aquaman in a game and LOSING... heresy!).

More notably, this Superman game was a pioneer of the "role playing game" genre. Like Atariís other RPG effort Adventure, the goal in Superman isnít to score points, itís to achieve an end result. What you do along the way - and how you do it - is completely up to you. This was SO unlike games of its time where scoring points and moving on to a harder "wave" was what it was all about, itís difficult to put it into perspective. Think about Mike Vail vs. Reggie Jackson again for a moment. It was THAT much different.

The goal of the game is simple, but there are many paths. You have to re-build a destroyed bridge and incarcerate the thugs that perpetrated the crime. Behind it all is Supermanís arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. Thereís also a helicopter that flies around grabbing things and placing them elsewhere (similar to the bat in Adventure). Lois Lane walks around ready to change helpless Clark Kent into the man of steel, if you know what I mean. Vavoom! There are various locations with landmarks like the phone booth, the jail, and the Daily Planet. Floating Kryptonite changes Superman back into the flaccid Clark Kent if he comes into contact with it. A timer ticks away, serving as your "scoring device" if youíre trying to set a new home record. Superman was, after all, a second generation game. Players expected lots more stuff than the early efforts of Combat, Slot Racers, and Street Racer. And they got it. Superman was a real hit.

Although it appears to be a primitive early attempt at a quest/RPG game, I will always remember Superman for the Atari 2600 as a ground breaker. It was the Reggie Jackson among the Mike Vails of gaming.

EASTER EGG: Hold the joystick button down as you power on the game. Wait 2 seconds and release. Superman won't change into Clark Kent, and the bridge won't explode! You'll find the bridge pieces in the subway, but all you need to do is capture Lex Luthor and his men (and return to the Daily Planet). This trick only works on early versions of the game.

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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:33 PM