Today, we fire up the flux capacitor and take the co-op time machine back to 1988. It was the infancy of the co-op brawler, with games like Gauntlet stealing players' quarters by the roll. Into this environment comes a game featuring one of the most iconic characters of all time: Superman. You'd think that a game based on Superman would be great. After all, who among us doesn't wish we had super powers like the Man of Steel? The game isn't quite as indestructible, with all manner of odd decisions. I can't think of a more bizarre way to adapt a character into a video game.
First things first: Superman is a very simplistic brawler. Really, the only innovation here is that levels come in three parts. The first section is standard side scrolling, though Superman can hover in the air if needed. The second stage of each level moves to vertical scrolling, with Superman hovering the whole time. The final part of each level has Superman flying quickly through side scrolling again, in his more traditional style. Apart from the variety of stages, the Superman arcade game is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from games of this time period.
The real strangeness comes in the adaptation of Superman into the game. There are all manner of flat-out strange and quirky design elements. You notice this very quickly: as the game begins, Clark Kent rips off his jacket and shirt, revealing the Superman symbol beneath. It's an iconic moment right? Then, as Superman leaps up, up, and away, his pants just disappear. Even my 9 year old son noticed this. I guess Superman can add "disintegrating pants" to his repertoire of powers.
Let's just for a moment consider what Superman can do. Flight, invulnerability, super strength and speed, heat, x-ray, and telescopic vision, freezing cold breath... the list goes on and on. You would think that any game designer would be giddy at the sheer number of cool abilities Superman has. And yet, they choose to ignore most of them, and Superman is reduced to punching and kicking his way through his foes. As a matter of fact, they even gave him a new power: holding down the punch button charges up a glowing projectile on the Man of Tomorrow's fist, which can then be shot at an enemy. Yup, Superman steals a page from Iron Man's playbook.