Poor Superman. We don’t yet know who’s going to win in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but there’s no question Clark Kent has already lost the “Who has better video games?” battle. Is Superman just too powerful to be fun to play as? It’s hard to say, but the fact remains, no character has ever had as many bad games attached to his good name as Superman.
So, if you’re looking to do a little Super gaming in anticipation of Batman v Superman, please allow me to talk you out of that foolish notion with this list of the 10 Superman games you absolutely need to avoid, ranked from bad to worst (with #10 being not completely terrible and #1 being the absolute bottom of the barrel).
10. Superman (Genesis, 1992)
Developed by Sunsoft, the guys behind most of the best 8 and 16-bit Batman games, Superman for the Genesis is kind of a heartbreaker. The team behind this game is certainly capable of good things! It’s got nice music! The real crime here is that Superman just isn’t Superman. He can’t fly, stomps along at a decidedly gradual pace and crumples from a few enemy hits. Really, it feels like this was supposed to be another Sunsoft Batman game that got a Super re-skinning at the last moment.
9. Superman Returns (Xbox & PS2, 2006)
Superman Returns actually does a nice job of capturing the scope of Superman’s powers. Blasting around with super speed is exhilarating, and you can unleash some pretty impressive fire and brimstone with your heat vision. The game also utilizes a unique mechanic where Superman himself is invincible, but Metropolis has a life bar. If you don’t fly to the rescue quick enough, or are too careless with your powers, the city will sustain too much damage and it’s Game Over. Pretty smart, right? Well, unfortunately it’s a good idea squandered. This is yet another bland Superman game where you do nothing but fly around listlessly performing generic tasks (this will be a theme of this list). It’s probably a good thing the Superman Returns video game doesn’t follow the movie’s insipid storyline, but it would be nice if they’d replaced it with something vaguely interesting.
8. Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude (GBA, 2006)
I know nobody else on the planet remembers this GBA variant of the Superman Returns game, but I do. Basically the game consists of two generic puzzle games, one a Sudoku rip-off and the other a basic match-three thing, and no, neither of them have anything whatsoever to do with Superman. Shrug.
7. Superman (Atari 2600, 1978)
Was Superman a good game back in 19-dickety-two when it was first released? I don’t know, probably, but it’s completely incomprehensible through modern eyes. Like all Atari 2600 games, the graphics require you to do a lot of guess-work, and honestly, the game tries to do too much with the humble hardware. The game is basically the story of Clark Kent’s walk to work, which requires you to do a series of tasks in a very specific order, none of which the game explicitly tells you about. Did this game impress people back in the day? Yeah, but so did puppet shows and that movie where a train drove towards the screen. Times change.
6. The Death and Return of Superman (SNES & Genesis, 1994)
Geez, spoilers! The Death and Return of Superman was another stab at ol’ Supes by Sunsoft and published by a pre-Warcraft Blizzard Entertainment. The game sticks closely to the events of Superman comics from a year earlier, letting you play as the four Supermen of varying degrees of lameness that replaced the real Superman when he “died” at the hands of Doomsday. Unfortunately, the game is just a bog-standard mid-’90s brawler, and much like Sunsoft’s other 16-bit Superman game, you just don’t feel particularly super while playing the game. Best to let this one stay dead.
5. Superman (NES, 1987)
Well, okay, Superman for the NES does have some adorable chibi-style graphics, but that’s about where the compliments end. It may say Superman on the box, but this is really more of a Clark Kent game, as your main goal is to chug around town solving confusing, poorly translated mysteries. Really, changing into Superman is just something Clark does to help with his commute. This was one of those games I rented from the local mom-and-pop place a million times as a kid. I mean, the box art was cool enough, so maybe if I rented it enough times, a different, better game would eventually be inside.
4. Superman: Shadow of Apokolips (GC & PS2, 2002)
Based on Superman: The Animated Series, Shadow of Apokolips is one of those early 2000s games that tried to pass off chunky, textureless graphics as “cell shading.” The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which came out only a few months after this game, was cell shaded. Superman: Shadow of Apokolips was just ugly. Like most bad 3D Superman games, Apokolips has a lot of dull flying around, but this one also adds Clark Kent stealth missions to the unappetizing stew. It might make sense if you controlled Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen during the stealthy sections, but Superman, the most powerful person on the planet, doesn’t need to sneak around. Not the worst game based on Superman: The Animated Series, but still extremely blah.
3. Superman: The Man of Steel (Xbox, 2002)
One of those early, sketchy Xbox exclusives that’s since been lost to the sands of time, Superman: The Man of Steel actually looks pretty good for an early 2000s vintage title. Unfortunately, this is just another “fly around doing Metropolis’ chores” game. All that mindless flying about is made infinitely more irritating by impressively busted controls and the fact that there are tight time limits attached to everything. But hey, if you like screaming with rage as you slowly bonk into things whist your timer runs down, then, uh, enjoy Superman: The Man of Steel (and your inevitable rage stroke).
2. Superman (Game Boy, 1997)
This is probably the most half-assed Superman game ever made, which isn’t an easy title to earn. The game kicks off with a shockingly poorly-traced picture of Superman (Clark is sporting a concerning extra lump on the side of his head) and its all downhill from there. The game’s characters barely resemble human beings. Superman’s sprite when he’s flying may legitimately be the worst I’ve ever seen. Level design is non-existent, most stages last around 30 seconds, and the entire game is over in under 10 minutes. Superman for the Game Boy is a truly shameful product, but it turns out the game’s developer Titus was cooking up something even worse for Superman fans. Something to make Lex Luthor himself proud.
1. Superman (N64, 1999)
Well, I guess you probably saw this one coming. Yup, I’m going the predictable route and topping this list with the Titus-developed Superman 64, because it really, truly deserves it. So, what makes Superman 64 so bad? It’s homely as sin, but then most Superman games are ugly. All you do is schlep around doing mundane tasks, but as we’ve covered, that isn’t exactly rare for Superman games, either.
Superman 64 is one of the worst games of all time because it’s just straight-up broken. Hit detection is busted, controls don’t work and you’ll frequently fall through walls and floors into the level geometry. Also, back in 1999, I truly thought the game would be good. How dare you break my teenage heart, Superman 64. Is it the worst game of all time? Hard to say, but it permanently dispelled the myth that the Nintendo Seal of Quality actually meant something, and it’s certainly the lowlight of Superman’s sordid video game run.
There you go, some of the lowest points of Superman’s usually high-flying career. Think this list is properly ordered? Have you ever played a Superman game you actually liked? Fly down to the comments and let’s chat.