Your Weekly Kusoge
For those around at the time, Superman 64's critical reception was phenomenally bad, and since release it's come to be known as one of the all-time worst games ever released, due to poor and unresponsive tank controls, shocking bad visuals, atrocious and illogical game design, and a thoroughly stupid story involving virtual reality. In fairness, this reputation as "the worst game" isn't entirely warranted - as pointed out by N64 Magazine there were a few equally if not worse N64 games, including Carmageddon, Mortal Kombat Mythologies and Aero Gauge. Still, Superman 64 has become the poster child for N64 kusoge.
Prolific Longplay video maker Proton Jon actually interviewed one of the Titus guys behind the game, Frenchman and Titus co-founder Eric Caen. Due to Google claiming that Jon's blog is potentially harmful to computers, we've mirrored the interview HERE. The entire interview is a fascinating breakdown of self-delusion on the part of Caen, and also the problems which license holders cause when you work with their material. As Caen explains: "The main issue was working with the licensor. They caused us so much trouble - they refused to let Superman kick 'real' people. They generated the final quality of the product!"
When asked what he thought of the game's reputation Caen replied: "Superman is a cult character. I don't think it is easy to deliver even a portion of players?expectations, and we were probably too ambitious and a bit presumptuous at that time... but its terrible reputation is exaggerated mainly because Superman is an icon!" Now, even accepting the problems caused by the licensor, DC Comics, at some point you have to draw a line and acknowledge the simple fact that Caen's team clearly had no idea what they were doing. Irrespective of any political meddling from above.
Superman moves like a drunk tank, despite direct analogue joystick control having already been present in earlier games like Mario 64. The fly and landing buttons only seem to work intermittently, and when Superman does land, it's not always on the land but quite often a non-existent piece of "ground" in the sky. Melee combat is slow, awkward and imprecise, leading to much flailing of limbs. The cityscape consists of a few tall buildings and walkways, with entirely flat textures below for buildings - the kind of flat terrain you'd expect in a Mode 7 SNES title. Not to mention the chronic fogging which makes flying an exercise in pure frustration. Outdoor missions are timed, and while you might be able to hear your enemy target, you'll seldom see them, leading to game over. Mission objectives, given the virtual reality setting, are suitably surreal: grab a police car and fly it down the road!
And of course there are the infamous rings in the outdoor levels, which have become symbolic of the entire Superman 64 experience. Caen defended this point, claiming: "Rings are only in the tutorial levels." Except they're quite clearly not. The rings appear in every outdoor level, which precede every indoor level. The game is quite literally, in the most literal sense of the term, fifty percent rings. Half of all the levels. Which raises the question: is Caen implying that there's a tutorial level directly preceding the final level?
The indoor missions are worse than the ring missions, which at least played like a crude Pilotwings 64 rip-off. The environments are all cramped, made worse by sloppy collision detection and the tank controls. The objectives are also obscenely stupid. One involves a Rubik's Cube style word puzzle, which is never properly explained. You need to press switches which change the letters while a timer counts down. Upon failing the game asks: "Can't you spell Lex Luthor?" Well no, not when there's no logical pattern to things. Hilariously, when playing through a second time to screengrab this section, the game glitched out, sending Superman into an empty void and necessitated a level skip.
As if this beleaguered experience wasn't bad enough, the ultimate insult is that to access the final level you need to play through on the hardest difficulty setting, otherwise it sends you back to the title screen. Afterwards you are rewarded with a rubbish 10 second ending. Still, despite its awfulness, you the public bought it in droves, as Caen explains: "The N64 game sold very well and was profitable for us!" Shame on everyone who gave this man money.
Perhaps the absolute best worst thing about Superman 64 though, is that the unreleased beta, which contained material removed at DC Comics' insistence and somehow found its way into the hands of a collector, is considerably better than the final game which was released.