I'm not a big comic book fan. I remember reading some DC comics (Detective Comics comics?) that came out of a box of cereal when I was around seven or eight and being too bored to finish it. All of my subsequent efforts to get into comics have more or less ended the same way. Most recently, I got some comic books with my 2600 stuff back in March. Four vintage Superman comics were mixed in with the manuals, from around the same time the movies were coming out (as there were a few advertisements in there for them). I never did finish them, but I did look through the ads. I should give them a second go sometime.
Also with the 2600 manuals were a few Atari-themed comics. I believe issues 2 through 4 of Atari Force were in there from Berzerk, Star Raiders, and Phoenix if I remember correctly. I don't remember how many Atari Force mini-comics were released. I, as big of an Atari fan as I am, couldn't finish them.
As far as superhero comics go, the only one I believe I have read to completion in recent years (if you count it as one) was "The Quotile Ultimatum", the mini-comic included with Yars' Revenge. I really enjoyed this one and how creative it was. Atari Force didn't seem to be near as accurate to their source games as this one was, but I should take another look at those. This mini-comic was very creative in expanding the "lore" of Yars' Revenge.
I'm not saying that I don't like comics as an artform. I actually used to really enjoy reading the Sunday comics as a little kid before realizing how painfully unfunny they were. I also used to read a few "graphic novels", and I even had my own "comic strip" for a while (we'll get to Metroid's Turnover Tops another day). I just don't like superhero comic books. Is it that I'm intimidated by them? A little. I feel like I need to do some serious catching up to do on all the backstories, and I couldn't just jump right in on any issue. Is it because I don't give two craps about the characters? That's a part of it for sure. I feel the biggest reason, however, is that I just found them boring. I never much cared for action scenes in books and movies, even less in my youth. I've always prefer the story-driven segments of movies or books, and action scenes have always been less interesting to me as a whole. That's part of the reason I prefer Star Wars (A New Hope to all you filthy casuals out there) to Empire Strikes Back. Action scenes are even worse in a comic book, as you have to leave something up to the imagination, but it isn't as free and creative as when you're interpreting the words of a book. It's too limited to imagine the scenario for yourself, but just abstract enough to not be like a cool movie spectacle. I don't prefer action scenes in movies and books to story driven scenes, but in comics, it just seems to be all action and not enough story. And the action itself is considerably worse than if it was in a novel or movie.
Now, with that said, I do enjoy some superhero movies. I think what really introduced me to them (if you don't count Star Wars, which you shouldn't count anyway) was Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. I loved this movie. It was funny, had lots of story elements, and yet still had enough things to make it a superhero movie. Shortly thereafter, we rented and watched (multiple times) its sequel, which was better in every regard. Guardians Volume II was funnier, built on the characters and story, had some emotional and suspenseful moments, and had a killer soundtrack. If you haven't already, watch the Guardians movies and get the soundtracks. But I digress. I later watched some more movies in the MCU, and even saw Endgame in theaters with my friends on opening weekend. I haven't seen all of the MCU movies yet, but all the ones I have seen were excellent films.
So let's talk Superman for the Atari 2600, one of the first-ever licensed games. Superman was created by John Dunn and released in 1979. While Superman was released a few months before it, Dunn actually built this game off of Warren Robinett's Adventure engine. The reason this game came into being is because Atari's parent company, Warner, already had the rights to the character. Superman was a sort of tie-in game with the recently released movie, though other than the characters the games have nothing alike.
I had actually never seen Superman until a couple of months ago. I enjoyed it, though it wasn't as good as Superman II, which I had seen years prior. You know those rotating triangle prison things? I think of those all the time, especially when I'm playing Freedom Fighters! on Odyssey 2. As well as "kneel before Zod".
So, like Adventure, Superman is a multi-screen action-adventure game. You play as Clark Kent at the beginning. Walk to the right, and you'll see Lex Luthor and his henchmen blow up the Metropolis bridge. Make your way to the phone booth and change into Superman! Now your job is to put all the crooks in prison, which are all symbolized by a bar by the timer, and find the three bridge pieces and rebuild the bridge. Once the bridge is fixed, make your way to the phone booth to change back, and make your way to the Daily Planet newspaper building to finish the game. Use the joystick for moving and press the button for X-ray vision. This will let you look ahead one screen in whatever direction the joystick is positioned in, which is useful for finding important items and avoiding upcoming danger.
Superman isn't all sunshine and roses, however. Though Kal-El can't actually die, he can be inconveniced by the numerous Kryptonite Satellites Luthor has unleashed. If Superman were to touch one, he would lose his ability to fly and carry items and villains. Your powers can return by simply touching Lois Lane, who will kiss you and return your powers. I'm not a big comic book guy, but I don't remember anything like this happening. Is this accurate?
There are two main variations to the game: one player and two players. The two player option sees both people controlling different axes of Superman's movement. It's not good. The single player option gives one player full control of Superman. Unlike Adventure, there is only one game map, though there is an accurate in-game timer that pushes you to complete the game in as little time as possible, in a way making this one of the first speedrunning games. The difficulty switches determine the speed of the satellites and bad guys, and whether or not Lois will automatically come to your aid if you are hit.
The graphics, while not great for the system, were leaps and bounds (over tall buildings) over any other game that preceded it on the VCS. Take a look at all the other games from the 1970's Atari VCS catalog. Some of the "better looking" games were Basketball, Human Cannonball, and Sky Diver. Superman had lots of animation, multicolored sprites, and lots of individual assets. John Dunn's art background really shows here, despite his boss telling him to "not get too artsy with it". Despite the nice graphics, Superman suffers from a lot of flicker, which can occasionally make it difficult to pick up items. No biggie, though.
I never liked this game back in the Wii2600 games. It's much less self-explanatory than its sister game, Adventure. I never knew what I was doing. Why was the city stacked up like it was? What was I supposed to do? What were all these doors and colored rooms? Indeed, Superman is a game where you at least need to know the backstory in order to play. It wasn't fun to play it without it. It also helps to know what the subway station does, and what you need to do once the bridge is rebuilt and all the bad guys are in jail. I'd say this is one of those "manual games", though it isn't as necessary as it is in say, ET. You can explain the goal of Superman in a sentence or two and be able to play the game correctly. You don't need to worry about strange symbols at the top of the screen or energy meters or anything as complex as ET. Or Raiders of the Lost Ark, for that matter!
When I refreshed my knowledge of what I was supposed and what everything was to do the other day, I booted up Superman on my DSi using an emulator. I can't find a way to get the thing to change the difficulty switches, so I was stuck playing with fast satellites, fast Lex Luthor and henchmen, and most deviously the elusive Lois Lane, who was nowhere to be found when I found myself weakened by a satellite. Most of my time spent playing Superman that first time was spent looking for Lois to heal me and stumbling across Metropolis, as I didn't have a map with me. I ended up beating the game (for the first time ever, I might add) in a whopping twenty-nine minutes and thirty seconds. Definitely not faster than a speeding bullet.
It's easy to compare this game to its sister game Adventure. There are things that Superman does better than Adventure and vice-versa. For one, Superman has much better graphics, animation, and spritework than Adventure does, while it also has a built-in timer and a "task list of sorts". The timer is like a score; beat the game in the lowest time possible. Adventure doesn't have this, which in a way gives the player less incentive to keep replaying it. Superman also has a lot more goals to accomplish, like going to work, building the bridge, and putting everyone in jail. The game also has more human characters and a much more complex story than its fantasy-themed counterpart, and even though its multiplayer mode is less than ideal, at least it has one.
However, Adventure has a world layout that is, while still not perfect, much more logical than Superman's. With a strictly top-down perspective, moving in four directions works much better and makes more sense here than in Superman's sandwich-like layered city. Adventure's world also has more distinct environments, and the world is generally less confusing as it doesn't wrap around. Metropolis looks nice, but it all looks the same, and while Adventure's world doesn't look as nice, at least they are distinguishable. There are also more items to interact with in Adventure, like keys, swords, and magnets to name a few. These items also serve functional in-game purposes rather than just being a thing that you have to bring to a specific spot on the map. There are also multiple maps and game variations, including a beginner mode, a larger map, and a randomized variant.
So, which one is better? I'll leave that one up to you. Personally, I think I'm in the Adventure camp on this one, though Superman is really fun too. It's just that Adventure does a much better job of being an adventure game. The world makes more sense to me, and I like the strategy of choosing your item and always being on the lookout for the dragons. There's also a lot less time wasted in Adventure. Not that I don't like Superman, I really do. There are things that it does much better than Adventure, especially the timer and graphics. It's just that if I had to pick only one of them, I'd probably go with Adventure. Or as my damaged label says, Dventure.
I don't yet have Superman. I recently sent one of our members a PM. @Scott Stilphen has been selling some of his Atari 2600 games for years, and he has this one listed as one of his for sale. I'm waiting for him to respond, but I hope to purchase this game and a few others from him in the future, if he still has them available, of course.
So, overall, Superman on the Atari 2600 is a great game if you know what you're doing. It is especially fun to compare and contrast both Superman and Adventure, and play them side-by-side. I had a lot of fun researching and writing this blog post, so I hope you enjoyed it.
Sadly, due to obvious copyright issues, Superman hasn't been rereleased in modern Atari compilations. So if you want to play it, you'll have to emulate it or pick up a copy someplace. It's much less sought-after than Adventure, and you should have no problem finding it for a decent price. It's well worth it.
Take care, everyone, and I hope you enjoyed my blog post!