If you’ve been reading my reviews, you’ve probably seen that some of them are dedicated to Marvel-licensed games and just one dedicated to a DC Comics-licensed game. So, I’ve decided to review another DC Comics game and one of a superhero that never actually got a good game: Superman.
Superman: The Man of Steel is an action game made by Tynesoft Computer Software and originally released in 1989 for the Commodore Amiga, Amstrad CPC (ported by Kinetic Designs), Apple II, Atari ST, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, DOS (ported by Subway Software), Electron, MSX and the ZX Spectrum.
Not to be confused with the console games with the same title. And I know what are you all thinking: is it better or worse than the infamous Superman 64? Well, let’s find out. But before that, let’s take a look at the box covers:
This is a pretty decent cover with a classic Superman pose, taken directly from the Silver and Bronze Age of Comics. It looks like an actual comic book cover. Too bad that all the grey, blank space doesn’t help. But the DOS version featured another, very similar cover:
Now this cover’s background looks better but the artwork, in general, isn’t as good. And I’m not a big fan of all the yellow in it. But, at least, it still looks like a comic book cover.
Well, it’s time to boot up for Truth, Justice and the Retro Way!
As seen in the video above, the game starts with an uninspired title screen accompanied by some of the worst tunes I’ve heard through a PC speaker (or perhaps my DOSBox sound was badly configured). Then it jumps to a cutscene, presented in a comic panel, depicting Perry White informing Clark Kent that Darkseid’s parademons are invading Metropolis and heading to Star Labs, where Lois Lane is. Clark quickly changes to Superman and flies to confront the parademons.
And this is where the game starts. You’re taken to a screen where we can find the main view on the right with an info bar on the left, depicting Superman’s powers, a time counter, a Super Status bar (which serves as both a power and health bar) and the score counter. But before starting the level, it replays the awful title theme one more time, but luckily you can skip it. And after choosing the difficulty level, you can finally face the parademons.
One interesting aspect of this level is that you don’t just control Superman, but also a crosshair in form of the Superman logo, which can be used to aim Superman’s laser vision. But every time Superman uses his power or he’s hit, it drains the Super Status bar and if it reaches zero, then it’s game over because there are no continues and you only have 3 lives (although you still need to restart the entire level). Fortunately, the status bar can be recharged if Superman avoids the enemy.
The objective of the level is to destroy parademons and their cannons, of which you need to destroy twenty. And they’re constantly teleporting in through boom tubes. If you succeed in destroying all the cannons, then it’s off to the next level, where Superman needs to save Lois Lane from terrorists who’ve captured the Governor’s yacht.
The game now turns into a side-scrolling view where Superman moves from left to right, defeating the terrorists and like the previous level, you have a power/health bar that depletes every time you use your powers or get hit and if it reaches zero, it’s game over. This level is a bit easier because it ends when you finally reach the Governor and Lois Lane.
Then Superman goes to Star Labs where a scientist there informs him that a space shuttle is in danger of being destroyed by asteroids and Superman must protect it. This level has a top-down view and this time you must not only look out for your own health bar but also make sure that the shuttle isn’t destroyed by the asteroids. You must use your heat vision or your strength to destroy the asteroids before they hit the shuttle, but be careful of the kryptonite asteroids.
The game now alternates between side-view and top-down view levels (with one more behind-view level, like the 1st level) where Superman must defeat Darkseid’s and Lex Luthor’s robotic forces. And while the 1st 4 levels lack boss fights, they do start to appear at the 2nd-half of the game.
Now to the technical aspects. As you’ve already seen in the videos above, both the music and the graphics (both CGA and Tandy) are atrocious, as are the sound effects. The controls, both by keyboard or gamepad, are a bit floaty and it doesn’t help that, in the side-view levels, Superman tends to fall back every time he’s hit, which makes controlling him quite the task. The game’s length is large, which doesn’t justify the insanely high difficulty. Good luck even finishing the 1st level!
So in conclusion, Superman: The Man of Steel for DOS is probably the worst Superman game I’ve ever experienced, along with Superman 64. I’ve already talked about the presentation and the high difficulty but the gameplay isn’t better. The levels that share the same view are basically the same level but with different enemies and background. The fact that Superman’s power and health share the same bar that is continuously depleting when using powers or hit by enemies contributes to the unfair difficulty. In other words, avoid this game, even if you’re a Superman fan.
However, if you want to try it, then click here to play in your own browser. The Amiga and Commodore 64 versions are a lot better, with better graphics, sound, music and gameplay. Superman in the Amiga version even has access to more powers and moves, despite the controls still being a bit floaty. The Amiga version is so much better, that even feels and looks like a different game!
And this concludes our review. I hope you’ve enjoy it and remember to keep on flying and playing!