"Superman," the new iOS game, is the best Superman videogame I have ever played. Now, normally, that might sound like a fairly grandiose statement, and you would be correct in that thinking, if it weren't for the fact that every other Superman game in history has sucked – hard. Going all the way back to his first appearance – on the Atari in 1979 – the Man of Steel has found himself licensed into an endless stream of digital garbage.
Thanks to mobile publisher Chillingo and developer Tiger Games, this marks the very first occasion -- with the exception of ensemble games like "DC Universe Online" -- in my three decades of life that I didn't want to throw a Superman game into a black hole.
The iOS "Superman," which bears an all-caps description on iTunes dubbing it "THE OFFICIAL SUPERMAN GAME," sort of came out of nowhere. The game was mentioned quietly about a month ago, and frankly, when I see the name Superman next to a videogame, I'm inclined to mash down my teeth much like a captured agent with a secret cyanide pill.
Fortunately, this short mobile game really isn't half bad. The basic premise has Superman facing off against Lex Luthor, since someone in Metropolis thought it would be a great idea to let a bald psychopath launch a weather-controlling satellite into orbit above the city. As you may have guessed, Luthor is actually going to be a jerk, sending mechanical spiders, falling space debris, and a whole assortment of other chaotic items into the helpless city.
If "Batman: Arkham City" has taught us anything about superhero games, it's that we want to feel what it's like to be that caped crusader. After playing "Superman," I've come to the realization that being the Man of Steel is kind of terrible. There's no time to relax, because you're basically the only one who can protect the city, and your only thanks is Jimmy Olsen's voice cracking while he tells you some other horrible thing is happening. Crime annoyance aside, where this particular game excels where predecessors faltered is in allowing the player to do what Superman does best: stop crazy tragedies from befalling Metropolis.
I jumped on a moving car and beat the hell out of it until the wheels fell off; then I smacked the stupid out of its occupants. I straddled a missile and punched it to save the city. At one point, I had to grab a giant, bomb-filled cheeseburger and fly it into outer space, which I am now convinced should happen in every videogame, ever.
Now, I don't want to paint too rosy a picture, here. Compared to the horrid Superman games of the last thirty years, "Superman" is excellent. Judged purely on its own merits – it's a halfway decent, dollar iOS game. Despite the cheeseburger fun, it suffers from the all-too-familiar on-screen joystick control problems that plague many touch-titles. As much as catching a falling meteor makes me feel like Superman, over-shooting it because the controls are finicky is aggravating. Add an occasional bug and semi-consistent crashing, the experience weakens.
In the end, "Superman" manages to succeed in the previously unattainable: making a Superman game fun. All eighteen levels bring in at least one new concept, and thankfully, none of them require you to fly through rings.
"Superman" is available now on iTunes App Store for $.99 (iPhone) and $2.99 (iPad).
Tell us what you think in the comments section and on Twitter!