Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Superman 64 (Nintendo 64, 1999)

Today I'm going to take a quick look at one of the shittiest fucking games that Nintendo ever put the Seal of Quality on. And I thought Bebe's Kids was bad. What we have here is a textbook example of what NOT to do in video game design.

That's right, Nintendo allowed this to reach stores. Nintendo allowed this to retail for, what, $59? Well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Why is this game bad, you ask?

But wait! You can play this in all kinds of languages. Even gamers in The Netherlands can experience the wonders of Superman 64!

Okay, let's actually fire up this piece of fuck. Right off the bat, our hero has to fly through a bunch of rings in glorious 144p. Ya know, I don't remember him flying through rings in any of the movies. Well, whatever.

We soon get a huge tutorial window that obscures most of the screen...and doesn't pause the game. A big, obnoxious, unskippable tutorial window is bad enough, but if it doesn't pause the game...it means you're still playing, but can't see what you're doing for however many seconds the window stays up. Normally this would be tolerable (unless there are enemies onscreen) but this game usually has you on a very tight timer. So you have, quite literally, no time to waste, and standing there waiting for a tutorial (or other message) to get out of your way is a huge problem in almost every level.

The one good thing about this game, and about the only way to get any enjoyment out of it, is to fire up the Training level and just free-fly around. There's no timer in this level, so you can just ignore the orders to fly through rings and do your own thing. The flight controls are pretty awful, but once you get used to them you can control Supes well enough to enjoy the freedom of soaring around. Well, in this case it's more like flopping around in the air, because his animation makes him look like he's barely in control as he convulses about.

I start the game proper, as Lex Luthor has kidnapped...uh...Superman's friends. I presume that's Lois Lane and two dudes (which is also something she did once in college, unbeknownst to Clark Kent).

Given his penchant for appearing in games, this one would be better if Lex were played by...

...Kevin "The Fuck" Spacey.

The first stage begins! And...you guessed it...rings. You have to fly through a lot of them in a fixed timeframe, and if you miss more than a couple it's game over. The timer is brutal and leaves you with mere seconds to spare even once you get the flight controls down and speed through.

Also, get this... the timer is done in a font that, against these backgrounds, is almost-unreadable.

Dutch: "This just keeps getting better and better."

Regardless, good luck actually being able to see how much time is left before Lex Wins. Which he will, over and over and over. THIS is the first level? Feels more like a lategame level under dire circumstances, like if a bomb is about to level Metropolis. As a first level, it's weird and arbitrary.

Get through that, and you're dropped in this flat plane with vague instructions that make no sense...and fifteen seconds on the clock. Oh, and those fifteen seconds start counting down while you're reading the vague instructions, so don't take too long to try and process their cryptic meaning! What you have to do is grab these two cars that are driving around...and...put them back down. I guess. Pick up and put down both of them within the few seconds you have and you win. Fail to do this (likely because you have no idea what it wants you to do) and you get to repeat the ring level again.

There are so many bad design choices here that I don't really have time to go into them. Suffice to say, if you're giving the player a vague objective that they have to figure out, give them more than a few seconds. Actually, why does this game have timers at all? Without them it'd be playable, though still awful.

The next stage is...MOAR RINGS. I think the timer for this one is two minutes. The good news is that losing here only sets you back to the beginning of the stage, not the beginning of the game as per previous stages.

We at least get a little environmental variety here, as Supes flies through a canal in his Sonic-like pursuit of rings. Supes himself is a blocky mess, which can be partly attributed to the N64's relative primitivity... but mostly attributed to the graphic designers putting what looks like the bare minimum polygons into his model.

Another vague-instruction "boss level" follows, and again, you need to finish this in one go or you'll repeat the previous ring level. At least the instructions make some sense on this one; pick up that police car and bring it to the end of the street. The only problem is... you have FIVE SECONDS to get to the police car and grab it before it just sorta blows up. And it's driving away from you pretty fast at the outset, so you need to beeline straight for it. If you even take a second to think about what the hell is going on, it goes kaboom and you're back at the beginning of the previous stage.

Even once you pick up the police car, you have thirty seconds to fly down the street with it. This is an easier objective...as long as you stay high enough off the street that none of the goons down there can shoot at you. One shot is enough to detonate the car while you're carrying it, which is game over again. Seriously.

After that, we get...WHY? WHYYYY? another ring stage. And Luthor says the same thing at the beginning of every stage; they seriously didn't even make the effort to give him more dialogue than this. Everything about this game screams that they barely worked on it. I'd bet they spent most of the development cycle getting drunk and likely did everything in the last two weeks or so just to get it out the door in time.

The next part is a boss fight of sorts where you have to defeat these four goons. Yes! Six stages in and we have some actual combat! Unfortunately the combat is as terrible as everything else. With no lock-on button, Superman will just throw wild punches in random directions while you fight with the camera. Oh yeah, and you have 20 seconds to beat these guys...normally I'd say that's overkill, but with the controls as bad as they are you'll be lucky to pull it off.

After that is...MOAR RINGS

Finish yet another ring stage and it drops you into the most frustrating stage of the game. You have to use Ice Breath to stop these three tornadoes, but once again it gives you so little time to do it that you have to do a perfect run just to barely succeed. Weird thing is that there's no visible timer for this stage, so you never know exactly how close you are to failing. Course, with the timer usually unreadable as it is, it isn't much of a change. Did they just forget to program in a visible timer here?

At some point I made the mistake of dropping into the water...and could not get out. Yep. I don't know if it was glitching or what, but I could not find any way out of this pool. Couldn't take flight, couldn't swim, couldn't even move.

I had to load states at the beginning of this stage somewhere around fifteen times to get through it. Failing here means repeating the previous ring stage. Holy shit! Victory is a matter of using ice breath on the three tornadoes until they are no more, but you need to get very close to them for it to work. Very very close. Closer than in this screenshot. Close enough that if you get any closer, you'll pass through them and it won't work then either.

Also, you need to pick up the freeze breath powerup on the ground nearby in order to even have the power. Why not just start you with it since it's literally the only thing you're doing in this stage? Going to get it uses up precious time on the invisible, completely-unforgiving death-timer.

Yet again, all of the design flaws here would be tolerable if the timer didn't exist. If you somehow get through the tornado stage, you get to continue onto the wonderland of...


Succeed there and you get...what's this? A save game prompt? Do my eyes deceive me? The game...did something right that most normal games do by default?

Next, you're dropped into what I suspect is Lexcorp. However, with no text to tell the player what the hell is going on, who knows?

Here's a shot of Superman throwing his feeble punches. They have no range and no oomph. I don't expect a Jon Jones reach here or anything but at least make attacks effective (or take them out of the game entirely... Superman Flight Simulator could have been alright).

This clip plane / draw distance is completely pathetic. I can't figure out how to get out of the first few rooms of this place, since there are beams barring the doors. I've killed all the enemies; maybe there's a button somewhere. However, instead of looking for it, I'm going to press the most important button in Superman 64: The Power-off button, and throw this game into the trash.

In other news, I think I have a photo of the Superman 64 design team during the process of creating this game:

That was some New Years.

Other awful games:


  1. And to think I thought the Seal of Quality meant something...

  2. What a gigantic turd. They finally (FINALLY) give you a level that might have some depth and you can't even complete it.

  3. How psycho is it that Lex Luthor created all these weird puzzles? Does he actually just enjoy watching Superman do these things?

    I also cannot read the timer. I'm honestly amazed you got as far into the game as you did. It reminds me of the most frustrating N64 game I ever played, Iggy's Reckin' Balls, which was still much better than this in comparison.

  4. The sad thing is that GTA: San Andreas does a lot of the same stuff Superman 64 does. Un-clear objectives with very short timers to figure out WTF to do, rings to fly through, terrible flying controls...

    At least playing Superman 64 partway allowed me to recognize the horrible mistakes GTA:SA makes. The game is generally well-liked (people held it up as "better than this new GTA4 crap" for years) but there's a large contingent of the internet that recognizes GTA:SA as really poorly-made, and it is.

    GTA4 is definitely a lot better, but it has a lot of problems too. At least there aren't any stupid rings to fly through or bad flight controls or super-short timers.

    GTA:SA's flight controls are the worst flying controls I've ever experienced in a game. Worse than Superman 64. Not kidding.

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