Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Completely Unwarranted Deeper Analysis of Superman 64

Superman 64: general consensus was that it was an abomination of a game.  Have you ever stopped to wonder why, though? Sure, the first level involved you navigating Superman through  a series of hula hoops suspended in a pink sky.  Sure, the controls were more or less ass.  Sure, most people said enough of that shit and promptly returned the cartridge to Blockbuster.  The evidence all leads to the conclusion that this was a godawful videogame that should share an unmarked grave with E.T.  What this also proves, though, is that Superman really is one of the best superheroes ever created and is deserving of the title "Superman" in the Nietzscheian sense of the word (how the hell do you turn Nietzsche into an adjective, the dude might have been so dour because his last name is goddamn crazy).  That is because Superman always does the right thing and if faced with the task of playing a bad videogame to save his friends, nay anyone, then he would rise to the challenge in a single bound.

Hold onto your Rumble Paks

What led me to challenge the traditional opinion on Superman 64 was a discussion with a GameStop employee.  Somehow we began to discuss upcoming movies and he mentioned he was excited about the upcoming Superman film.  I concurred and mentioned that anything would be better than Superman Returns, and I facetiously added even Superman 64.  This statement was quickly rebuffed, but the thought had already entered my mind.  Unable to form a coherent argument for my controversial stance at the time has led me here, and hopefully others can join in on the enlightenment.

The flight, strength, and near-invincibility is hard for bad guys to adequately counter.  That is why Lex Luthor is Superman's iconic villain.  While Lex may trade blows with the son of Jor-El on occasion, Luthor is at his best when scheming and attacking Superman from other means besides frontal assault. In that respect, the floating rings of doom in hotdog-flavored air is one of the most evil machinations in all of the multiverse.  You cannot always have a pocketful of Kryptonite; sometimes you hold hostages and issue frustratingly tedious demands.

Not only does this game exemplify why Superman is a hero, but why he is interesting.  A common complaint amongst those who view the man of steel in a negative light is that he is too powerful and this makes him uninteresting.  There is validity to this complaint as an important aspect of storytelling is presenting credible threats to the hero to overcome.  Of course Superman is a physical powerhouse--his name is Superman for Kirby's sake--but that doesn't preclude him from facing credible threats. It just means a standard splash page of trading punches isn't the answer.  Thus Superman’s true power, super morality (Silver Age Super Dickery notwithstanding), is turned into a weakness greater than Kryptonite in many scenarios where his morality will restrict his actions and allow the villains some semblance of a chance.  All of Superman’s actions in the game can then be easily reconciled with his character in general, something that cannot be said for JMS’s Grounded arc.

Looking back on it, Superman 64 was actually a damn fine Superman videogame.  The story presents a credible threat and understandable challenge to the man of steel that puts him at a distinct disadvantage that he cannot simply overcome with brute strength.  The triviality of the tasks emphasizes Superman’s will to always do the right thing regardless of the threat to him; this threat is transferred through the medium to the gamer as best as possible in the guise of wasted time on a game that “isn’t fun or good.”  This presents itself as a meta-judgment on the player.  Are they a good person willing to do what they must to save those at risk, or will they fall to the bad guy’s devices?   With all this in mind, Superman 64 doesn’t look so bad and actually stands as an exemplar of Superman in media other than comics.

Are you frustrated?

Let me offer a concise summary to those of you still confused by this somewhat revisionist view on what is publicly thought to be one of the worst games of all time:

1 comment:

  1. DC should make a game about Aquaman or the Flash