Video games and movies have a shaky relationship. Movies based on video games can end up being either the next Resident Evil, spanning a franchise nearly as large as the video games they’re based on, or the next Super Mario Bros., being abandoned and forgotten like a bad hair style in your high school yearbook. Video games based on movies, on the other hand, have been mostly bad (with notable exceptions, such as Spider-Man 2, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and just about any Matrix game outside the MMO). Far too often it feels like the video game was an afterthought, with the movie’s intellectual property being slapped on a subpar game that was rushed through production to meet the movie release date. Man of Steel is unfortunately no exception to this pattern of terrible movie-based games.
Man of Steel brings the basic characters from the movie (Superman, General Zod, etc, rendered quite well for a mobile game) and a skeleton structure of the cinematic storyline to Android, yet it lacks the charm of both the movie and Superman in general. Lois Lane and Clark Kent (among others) are nowhere to be seen. Jor-El (Supe’s biological father) appears as a voiceover during the comic book-style cut scenes, but the majority of the franchise’s characters are missing from this port. Considering the better than average graphics, I’d be willing to overlook a minimalist approach to characters and storyline if the gameplay was addictive. In this instance, it’s not even close.
While superhero and comic book games have been raising the bar on gaming in general (City of Heroes, Infamous 2, Arkham City, and Ultimate Spider-Man are among my favorites), Superman games seem to suffer in that it’s difficult to come up with compelling ways for a nearly invincible hero to be put in danger. Superman is immune to bullets and such, so being harmed by normal bad guys isn’t going to work for the character, but being able to walk around invincible until someone approaches with green kryptonite isn’t much fun for gamers. In Man of Steel, WB Games gets around this by having Supe fight fellow aliens and robots from his home world of Krypton. This allows for the game to play similar to a fighting game, with baddies approaching one at a time for their turn to trade fisticuffs with the spandex-clad man of steel.
The controls are easy enough to pick up through the in-game tutorial in story mode. You swipe your finger across the center of your Android screen from one direction to the other to attack. Keep going back and forth to perform combos. You can also grapple by pinching the screen. The bottom corners of the touchscreen have left and right dodge buttons while tapping or holding your finger on the screen will parry or block incoming attacks, respectively. Each successful hit builds up your combo meter, eventually allowing you to utilize superpowers such as an unblockable super speed attack and heat vision. Land enough consecutive blows without being hit back, and you’ll stun your opponent, allowing you to knock them into buildings or high into the air to perform a super finisher. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of it, but once you do, it quickly becomes tedious and repetitive. Each opponent has minor differences in fighting styles and looks, but the strategy of defeating them doesn’t change. It’s an Android button (or rather, screen)-masher.
Each time you destroy something or defeat an enemy, you’re rewarded with XP, which can be used to upgrade your stats (health, power, speed, dodge, etc) abilities, and suits. You also gain keys for completing rotating quests (such as 30 total grapples, 3 buildings destroyed in one game, etc) in survival mode. These keys can be used to unlock various super suits that have different abilities and upgrade capabilities. This would be great, except the story mode is so short you barely have time to afford a handful of upgrades before it’s over. The survival mode is too repetitive to encourage the continued replays necessary to earn the upgrades you miss in story mode, and there’s no multiplayer mode to utilize them either. I beat story mode with minimal upgrading, but the ridiculously long XP grind to gain Kryptonian skills and abilities felt like I was playing Man of STILL?!?! (cue rim shot)
Overall, Man of Steel is as bland as the old black and white TV show. Given the strides comic book video games have made in the last decade (X-Men Origins: Wolverine was better than the movie it was based on), this game feels more like I’m playing as my balding uncle with his belly protruding from a beer-stained Halloween costume than the actual man of steel. I’m a fan of comic books, video games and any combination of the two, but Superman still manages to disappoint every time. With all the amazing Batman games out there, you’d think Warner Bros would know how to make a decent Superman game, but this just isn’t it. If you’re a fan of the character or the movie, the visual style of this game will make you smile for a few minutes, but at $4.99, I’d expect a much more rounded experience. At the very least, they could’ve given him a few of the moves from the DC/Mortal Kombat crossover. It would’ve been nice to rip the head off a robot and beat his mechanical friend with it.