Platforms: Sega Genesis / SNES1
Genre: Sidescrolling Beat-'em-up
Developers: Blizzard Entertainment and Sunsoft
Publisher: Sunsoft
Year: 1994

When I loaded up the ROM just now to check on who was the developer of the game, I must say I was quite shocked to see the Blizzard logo. It's hard to believe that the same company that created the brilliant Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo series was also responsible for this piece of unmitigated crap2. The best thing about The Death and Return of Superman is laughing at just how lazy the developers were in making it. But I'll get to that in a minute.

The Death and Return of Superman was, as one might imagine, a video game tie-in to DC Comics' Death of Superman saga. I won't bore you with the details of that convoluted storyline (especially since Jallak's excellent write-up covers it very well), but suffice to say that soon after game begins, Supes goes up against this strange Kryptonian monster named Doomsday, and they wind up delivering death blows to each other at the same time. Funny how that works. Then the four Supermen appear - the Cyborg, the Last Son of Krypton, Superboy, and Man of Steel. Blah blah blah, something happens, the Cyborg is revealed as the villain, Superman sits up and says, "Surprise! How do you like my new outfit?", kicks ass, chews bubblegum, fucks Lois to death, the end.

Oh. Maybe I should talk about the actual game.

As the game progresses, you get to play as all five "Supermen" at some point. You can fly, punch, fly AND punch, throw people into walls, and use an energy attack (heat vision for Supes, some kind of laser for Man of Steel, etc.) that takes three hits just to register on an enemy's health bar, and use a special move that barely kills even the lowest-rated enemies (and requires special S-logo orbs that only appear three or four times in the game). There's no point in making distinctions between the five versions of these moves, because they're exactly the same. Oh, the animations are different, but all the characters' moves do essentially the same thing, deal the same damage, etc. Another thing you can do in this game is get killed by some 80's rejects wielding chainsaws. I mean, come on. I know you have to be vulnerable to attack in order for the game to be at all challenging, but we're talking about fucking Superman here. They could have at least made it some whacked-out "space chainsaw" made of adamantium (whoops, wrong comic universe) or something. And don't even tell me they're made with kryptonite. Where the hell would street punks get kryptonite?

Gameplay is essentially the same two levels over and over again. The "surface" levels just feature endless scenes where the same two or three (one time there were four! Wow!) types of minions come to attack you over and over again. Despite the fact that they can slap you around like you were Batman or Darkwing Duck (or some similarly superpower-less hero), health tokens appear only rarely. (Playing the game on the Gens emulator, I found myself saving practically every time I managed to make a hit without taking one in turn - it's that bad.) After doing this five to thirteen times, you face a boss - essentially the same boss every time. (The only deviation I've noticed is that the Cyborg can throw little grenades at you when you fight him, while the rest of the bosses resort purely to melee attacks.) In the "air" levels, you fly horizontally and your ranged attack can be fired in a near-continuous stream, making short work of the flying attack robots that you encounter - the same robots, every level, in the exact same pattern of appearance every goddamned time. Perversely, these levels are chock full of health tokens, even though you get hit about once every ten robots even if you don't dodge.

I've already mentioned the extremely obvious sloth involved in the creation of this game, and given a couple examples. But I just want to emphasize it:

  • Character's Moves: I'm sure someone is bound to defend Blizzard (or Sunsoft, or whoever) for the dearth of character moves and variations between the different players by saying that they were working within the limitations of the platform. This someone, however, would be an idiot. Plenty of Genesis games of the same genre were able to give different characters their own special abilities, their strengths and weaknesses - Streets of Rage 2 and X-Men 2 spring to mind.
  • Enemies: There are about ten enemies in the whole game, not counting the bosses. The developers didn't even bother to change their animations - the best they did was change colors.
  • Bosses: The bosses are incredibly stupid. Half the time the boss is one of the rival Supermen, but does he fly or use his ranged attack? Nooooo. He just walks around trying to kick you.
  • Cut-Scenes: With only a couple of exceptions, the story panels consist of the same five portraits of the Supermen with white text running down the side. For the most part, this is just mildly annoying, but at some points it becomes hilariously stupid - at one point, we have Superboy telling Steel and Superman that he'll stop the Engine Bomb... while he smiles and points his thumb to the S-logo on the back of his jacket.
  • Need I go on?

    In summary, The Death and Return of Superman is quite possibly one of the worst games ever produced for the Genesis console. If you're looking for old cartridges or ROMs to play, I suggest you get Zero Wing instead. At least then you can laugh at the horrible Engrish translations.

    1: E2's resident Dean of Video Games, Servo5678, alerted me to the fact that this game was also released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I haven't played that version, but I'm betting they're largely the same, if not identical.

    2: In Blizzard's defense, Sunsoft is listed as "co-developer", and I don't know just how much influence they had. Moreover, they could well have been pressed for time by the need to release the game in time to pick up on the popularity of the Death of Superman storyline. Still, that's not much of an excuse.