It must be frustrating to be the most iconic superhero in the known universe, yet still be a laughing stock amongst the video game world. But just like every Superman game before it, Superman Returns is a Kryptonite sandwich. How exactly is the Atari 2600 Superman game still the best one ever?
Big Blue Boy Scout is absolutely stacked with powers right from the start: Super strength, heat vision, freeze breath - the works. You have no life bar. You're indestructible - why would you need one? Instead, the life bar is cleverly attributed to Metropolis itself - you may not take damage, but your beloved city can.
Best of all, you can fly; easily Superman Returns' finest feature. Soaring through the skies of Metropolis is as breathtaking as it is fun. Flying over the gorgeous cityscape - at least on 360, as the PS2 and Xbox versions are looking long in the tooth - you'll hear your trademark cape rippling in the wake of your incredible speed. After the "Kabloom!" of the breaking sound barrier, you're bracing yourself for the greatest Superman game of all time.
Unfortunately, this is as good as it gets. Superman Returns is about as free-roaming and open as going to a grocery store that has no food. You can fly around all you want, but you can't actually interact with much. Other than rushing over to the pre-arranged, but largely redundant, main story events that appear as hot spots on the map every so often, the only activity afforded is the pointless fetch-quest of finding 100 glowing cats.
Instead, most of the action takes place on the ground, where things are more mundane than super. Typically, you'll streak to the scene and wind up combating yet another batch of Superman Returns ' six or so types of mutant hell-beast, or even repeatedly battling showcase boss Metallo, who constantly "escapes" capture so he can reappear later.
The targeting system sucks, often sticking to the enemy you just knocked down (and therefore can't attack until he gets up again) while another is bashing you in the back. The final aggravation is the camera, which constantly gets stuck on things in the environment, so you can't always see your foe.
Navigation either on foot or in the air a chore, thanks to that same junky camera and the fact that most of the few landmarks are visible only from the sky. On the ground, you're just another guy lost in a sea of tall, gray towers.
There is fun to be had when 5th dimensional ne'er do well Mr. Mxyzptlk interrupts the tedium for one of two types of minigame. The racing one is too easy, but the other type is soem of the best fun in the game. It replaces Superman with Bizarro, who has all of Supes' powers, but the brain of a two year-old.
As Bizarro, your task is to go on a Hulk-like rampage, indiscriminately destroying the city, rather than saving it. Unfortunately though, the Bizarro moments are fleeting and far between.
The good news is that Superman Returns is identical on PS2, Xbox and Xbox 360, progressively better graphics being the only difference. The movie's cast members Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey (Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor) add their voices to the project, but they do little more than re-enact scenes from the movie that are largely irrelevant to the game. And Routh lifelessly dispensing cornball lines like "To the scrapheap with you, Metallo," while Superman is knocked on his ass just exemplifies Superman Returns ' wasted potential.