Title: Death and Return of Superman
Publisher: Sunsoft, Acclaim
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment, Sunsoft
Release Date: 1995
The Death and Return of Superman is one of the most important and controversial story lines in the history of the character, if not the medium of comics as a whole. The story of how Kal-El meets his end at the hands of genetically enhanced monster ‘Doomsday’, sparked huge interest in the character. Co-developed by Blizzard Software and Sunsoft, this game version necessarily omits certain characters and subplots from the story, but remains faithful to its scale and impact.
Events take place over 10 levels, the majority of which being side-scrolling beat-em-up style, but there are a few flight levels in place to break up the action. In line with the plot of the comic, the game allows players to take control of the other ‘Supermen’ who appear after Kal-El’s ‘death’; namely, Steel, Cyborg Superman, The Eradicator, and Superboy. In addition to a standard striking move-set, Superman’s flight ability can be used at any time to either traverse an obstacle, or simply gain some distance from battle. The function comes with no cost in energy terms, just like the charged ocular energy blast, making these ‘superpowers’ invaluable tools in your arsenal.
The main combat system is limited to punching, grappling, and environmental pickups, with Superman able to throw his enemies into obstacles or each other, or use them as a shield to block incoming fire. Of course, in order that the game provides a challenge, ‘Big Blue’ isn’t invulnerable, but multiple hits are still required to bring him down. The vast majority of enemies can be dispatched relatively easily and there a number of satisfying combos available during combat. The diving punch, for example, is a fantastic move to create space, and should things start to go south, players begin the game with three screen-clearing ‘smart-bombs’, where Superman smashes the ground with his fist. However, these should be reserved for boss fights, as each of those guys has the power to wipe you out in a few hits.
The sprites, especially that of the various Supermen and the level bosses are large and brilliantly detailed, making full use of the Megadrive’s graphical capabilities. The title arrived late in the console’s lifespan, just before it would be unseated by a little machine known as the PlayStation, but it’s clear SEGA’s black titan had reached its technical zenith. Animation, too, is impressive, with Superman flexing his abs when landing a punch, subtly changing stance before delivering an eye beam barrage, and floating God-like when in flight. Enemy sprites are fairly limited and repetitive, but overall the visual package is on a par with arcade machines of the time.
The soundtrack is the game’s most disappointing aspect, with only three or maybe four dull and uninspiring tracks playing throughout the entire game. The lack of John William’s heroic score is a real miss, and musically the game features nothing memorable. Sound effects are a little better, with some cool thwacks accompanying each blow landed on an enemy, and a satisfying crunch when throwing someone against a wall or object, but there are more than a few inexplicable effects in there too.
Aside from its problematic soundscape, The Death and Return of Superman is a visually fantastic, challenging beat-em-up, that does a ‘super’ (sorry!) job of recreating the comic it’s based on. Definitely one for fans of the character, but also one for genre enthusiasts.
The Writer of this piece was: Martin Doyle
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