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DS  header logo

Superman Returns

For: DS

With heroes like these, who needs enemies?

Product: Superman Returns DS | Developer: Santa Cruz Games | Developer: EA Tiburon | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Superman Returns DS DS, thumbnail 1
When it comes to comic book heroes, Superman has always been pretty tedious. How do you generate dramatic tension where the main character is invulnerable? The only options are to throw in a love interest, or have so many disasters happening simultaneously that even the Man of Steel has to prioritise one rescue over another.

Of course, this being a game for male teenagers (surprisingly, it's rated 12+), there's no mention of Lois Lane in Superman Returns. So instead Electronic Arts is forced down the ticking timer route. You might be Superman, but how quickly can you do Superman things?

To that extent, one interesting decision taken by the gamemakers is to base the action within the context of boardgame Risk, in the form of a map of Metropolis city over which Superman does battle with bad guys such as Mongol, Braniac and Parasite.

You start off fighting against Mongol, while the other villains are regularly introduced into the action. Each one moves around the board, capturing areas to reduce your movement, and placing mini-games in situ which you have to overcome.

As Superman, you also move around Metropolis city, either attempting to win the mini-games – doing so successfully will turn all the adjacent area Superman red – or going directly head-to-head with the supervillians, assuming they are within your movement range. Once everyone has made their move, the number of incompleted mini-games is added up, and the overall health of Metropolis city, which starts at 100, is deleted by that amount. Once it hits zero, it's game over.

What's key to stopping this downward spiral is directly taking out the supervillians. If you don't, they'll keep dropping mini-games. If they're active, each also hits Metropolis' health with an extra minus three points.

These head-to-head battles are the most enjoyable thing about Superman Returns. Using a simple rhythm action approach, all you have to do is press the correct buttons as indicated by the falling sequences of As, Bs, Xs and Ys. You don't even have to be very good; as you take one point off your enemy's health for every button you match, and lose a health point for each one you miss, you only need to get more right than wrong.

No, where the game really falls apart are in the 15 mini-games (three per villain). Typically, these are based around a block-based 3D cityscape, which you have to quickly fly around fulfilling simple tasks such as throwing bomb-filled trucks into space, or using your X-ray vision to find an android. Other variations based on different environments see you rescuing people from oil rigs and stabilising falling buildings.

The main reason they're so painful is the clumsy nature of the flying controls, which will have you crashing into buildings almost every time you try to turn. And because each mission is strictly time-limited, too many such mistakes will see you time out. More problematically, this feeds back into the boardgame element of the game, with each failure making it progressively harder to overcome Metropolis city's growing health deficit.

Interspersed with this largely unfulfilling activity are a couple of set-pieces, which are based around the Superman Returns film. The most notable example is a flying chase where you have to avoid wreckage falling off an airliner with the Space Shuttle on top, before hitting three buttons in the correct sequence to release the shuttle and save the day.

There are also a couple of multiplayer modes. Find three friends with copies of the game and you can play Man of Steel, which is essentially the single-player game but with the bad guys replaced by up to three Supermen. The goal is to capture the largest area of Metropolis in order to convince the most people you are the real Superman. The other multiplayer mode – Action Comics, which requires one version of the game – sees you competing in head-to-head showdowns.

The basic issue is that playing Superman Returns isn't much fun. Its time dependent nature certainly makes it tense, but you never feel as if your skills are improving or that you have anything cool to do.

Instead, you end up learning a set way to complete each mini-game, mainly because you'll repeat them so often. It's less to do with being the Man of Steel, more a rusty version of the tin man – because this is a game without a heart.
Superman Returns
Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan | 18 December 2006
Another low grade Superman tie-in, there's nothing heroic about Superman Returns
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