The Death and Return of Superman – A Beat ‘Em Up Retrospective

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m not overly familiar with comic book story lines, except the ones I see in movies. I did have the Death of Superman comic and I know how that story goes but the resurrection part I missed. My parents didn’t buy me those comics. So when I was a kid I just thought that Superman died and stayed dead. The one thing that I learned after playing this Super Nintendo game is that one can not rely on a beat ’em up to properly explain an established story. I was thoroughly confused while playing this as to what was  happening in the plot. There are a bunch of different Supermans, most are good but one is bad. There is even a Superboy, and a Superdog. I made that last one up, but it would not surprise me entirely. I’ll get into the story more as we go.

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The game starts off with us playing as regular Superman. His sprite looks great and nicely detailed while the enemies look like crap. I guess we know where the focus went. His moves are standard to most beat ’em ups, there’s a punch, a jump and a jumping punch move. We can shoot lasers from his eyes which is cool but it really doesn’t do any damage. There is a special move with it’s own button, but to have use of the power we must collect the power-ups, which don’t come around very often. Tapping the jump button twice will allow Superman to fly, or hover around. It has it’s ups and downs. Hacky jokes aside, it does come in handy to dispose of the annoying floating enemies.

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Blizzard, who are known now for their epic well made license to print money games, did not put any effort into the bad guys when it comes to this game. There are only 2 or 3 different enemies per stage, not including the boss. And the stages are decently long. So yes it gets soul-suckingly tedious. A lot of stages even have the same enemies from the previous level, it’s a game on repeat. I understand some classic beat ’em ups do suffer from the same thing, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on the NES. But the Footclan all dressed alike as it is so it makes relative sense. Not so much in The Death and Return of Superman. Their names are even dumb. Half the time they are named after the weapon they have in their hands, like Chainsaw or Molotov. It’s creative writing 101.

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After a fierce and difficult battle with the super villain Doomsday, Superman dies anyway. And this is where the story loses me. Next we play as a half robot Superman and the game turns briefly into a flying, side scrolling shooter. It’s a fun break from the punching and a little easy as there are lots of health power-ups floating around. After that the game carries on with more fighting the same characters over and over again. Our playable character changes more often than the enemies. After the half robot version of Superman, we get to play as a metal Superman, and finally a sunglasses wearing Superman. Superboy is in the mix as well. Despite looking different they all handle the same except the Superman who wields a sledgehammer. I may have forgotten to mention him. He hits people with a hammer instead of fists.

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It’s actually interesting to me that instead of having us choose which character we want to control like in streets of Rage, they decide. I know they are following the convoluted story of the comics. But my point is that the different Supermans – is it Supermen? And boy, all act like every beat ’em up ever made. There’s a fast but weaker character, a big and strong one and all-rounder. I wonder how different Final Fight would be if it followed this formula. But of course the Superman game suffers from lack of a 2 player mode. And interesting enemies. And virtually everything else that Final Fight offers.

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When I seen the Blizzard logo I was actually expecting a good game. But it’s not. I like how the boss fights aren’t gimmicky, they are just one on one fights. I was happy to finish this game, more so than others. Not because the ending is spectacular or anything like that, but because I was able to move on to a different game.

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If you like beat ’em ups and want to write about one and have it featured here, contact me at ghostofgamerpast@gmail.com.

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