Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Death and Return of Superman (SNES)

Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Smooth controls, balanced difficulty, pretty easy to get into and play
Cons: Music, distance attacks, enemy and level variety

The Death and Return of Superman was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and published by Sunsoft for the Super Nintendo (SNES) in 1994. It uses the standard side scrolling beat-em-up format that was pretty common back then (Battletoads, Double Dragon, River City Ransom, etc). This means you can walk left and right around the screen, and a limited distance up and down to give the game world some depth. It also typically involves a lot of punching or kicking, throwing enemies and/or objects around and moderate use of some sort of distance attack (missiles, guns, throwing knives, etc). Well, The Death and Return of Superman is no exception.
You can punch an enemy up close, walk into him to grab him and then throw him in any direction, shoot a projectile, or use your special attack. You have a limited number of charges for your special attack, but you can pick up a few additional charges via special power-ups to use them a couple of extra times. The special attack kills every regular enemy on the screen, so they are handy for times when you've got a bit too many of the wrong type of enemies to defeat without losing too much life. You can also jump, and while jumping you can attack to perform a quick jump kick or hit the jump button again while you're in the air to fly (jump again while in the air to drop back to the ground).
The game mostly follows the story arc of the Death of Superman comics, though it skimps out on many details and grossly emits some others leaving a few holes in the story line, but lets face it... beat-em-up games aren't played for their story lines anyway. You do get to control Superman as well as the other four Supermen: Cyborg, the Eradicator, Steel and Superboy. There's really not much difference between the characters beyond the cosmetic, each moving and fighting in the same manner, but at least it's good for a little variety.
Saddening is the fact that you take quite a bit of damage from being punched, so that kind of detracts from the immersion factor a bit. I mean wow, when an enemy walks up and punches superman a dozen times and kills him it really doesn't make you feel like Superman. I don't know how they could have remedied this without changing the game entirely to not be based on the man of steel, but still. Also, your distance attack (energy blast from the hand, lasers from the eyes, etc) is really weak and nearly pointless to ever use. Three or four blasts from your deadly laser eyes does as much damage as one punch? Sigh.
In the regular beat-em-up levels you fight your way one screen at a time, and after killing all of the enemies you get an indicator arrow pointing you to the next screen. Rinse and repeat until a boss fight. There are a few health power-ups, extra lives and special move power-ups available (some of them hidden in the destructible background), but it's all pretty linear and pretty standard. There are no weapons to equip or armor to pick up, and you can only use each character during their designated portion of the game. There are usually bosses at the end of these levels. Most are pretty easy, but a few seem tough. They attack really quick, have a long reach and seem pretty hard... until you realize that jump kicking them over and over can usually get you through the level unscathed.
There are a few side scrolling shooter segments mixed in to try and alleviate some of the repetitiveness of all the beat-em-up segments, but they're all pretty simple and easy. In these you just fly from left to right shooting enemies who die easily, and while you occasionally do take damage there seem to be plenty of health power-ups in these parts so you usually end up finishing these sections with nearly full health. There also aren't any boss fights during these levels for some reason.

All the levels feel a little repetitive, and all the enemies seem recycled. Most of the stages are basically the same but with different backgrounds, and many of the enemies are just recolored versions of previous enemies -- complete with identical health, damage and attacks. This was pretty common in a lot of games back in the days of the SNES, but was never that great in any of them. It may be easier to add more enemies this way, but it always feels like a cop out.
The graphics are pretty good, with the Supermen and the enemies being fairly well detailed. My main gripe about the graphics is that the characters are a little too big. While this leaves more room for detail, it makes them take up a lot of screen real estate and when you get a number of them on the screen at once it seems a little cluttered. Transitioning from one screen to the next also gets a little muffled because you can occasionally get hit by an enemy as he's walking into the screen, but since everything is so large you barely have time to notice him appearing in front of you, let alone time to react to it. It's not a huge deal, but it's mildly annoying.
The sound effects aren't that bad, but they're nothing to write home about. A pretty standard assortment of punches and smashes, they're perfectly acceptable and sufficiently varied to add to the gameplay rather than detract from it. The background music, however, is obnoxious. With only a couple of different tracks heard during the entire game, the lack of variety alone is disheartening, but when you add in the fact that the main piece sounds a lot like a broken alarm clock, you're just glad that televisions have mute buttons.
All in all The Death and Return of Superman is a pretty average beat-em-up game. Since I'm not a huge fan of the genre it's not a game I would go out and buy unless it was mighty cheap, but I got my copy in an assorted box of SNES games at the flea market along with some other games that I wanted. It's going for around $17 online right now, which is a little steep for a fairly easy beat-em-up game with limited replay value... but if you can find it cheaper somewhere it may be worth picking up. An average game overall, it's worth a single play-through for the right price.

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