Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in, with our Portabliss column. In each installment, we'll tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: Superman.
You have to give a little credit to anyone willing to put "Superman" in the title of a game, considering The Man of Steel's history with interactive entertainment is ... suspect at best.
But for Chillingo to have that be the only word in the title of its new mobile release? You could smash a mirror over the head of a black cat that lives in a haunted asylum built on an ancient Native American burial ground, and still not be risking that much peril.
Smartly, Chillingo skirts some of the cruft that's grounded Superman before and boils him down to his essence. One button runs or flies at super-speed, the other uses one of the big guy's arsenal of powers like heat vision, super breath or super ... punching. On the other side of the screen is a virtual joystick that helps Kal El navigate his colorful 2D world.
Each of the stages (woven together by a bare-bones narrative) presents an array of challenges, from knocking satellites out of the sky to chasing down getaway vehicles. Since our yellow sun makes Superman invulnerable, success is based on how little of the city you allow to be destroyed and not how much health you retain.
There's a lot of variety, it's well animated and structurally pretty sound. So what's the problem? In short, virtual controls stink, they have always stunk, and this is no exception. Superman usually does what you'd expect him to do, but it's far too easy for your thumb to slip off the stick, or to accidentally shoot heat vision when you mean to fly at super speed. And flying in circles around an enemy because you can't get the thumbstick aimed in just the right direction feels decidedly un-super.
That said, you can probably squeeze $0.99 of fun out of watching the Last Son of Krypton idly zipping up to space and blowing out the occasional fire. It's just a shame that Chillingo had to go and add "virtual controls" to magic, kryptonite and video games on the list of Superman's vulnerablities.Superman is available on iTunes for $0.99 on iPhone and $2.99 on iPad. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.