As discomforting as this sounds, it's actually a very common and natural occurrence. Certainly we've all been persuaded by friends, family, and respectable gaming news sources. Additionally, the influence isn't restricted towards the positive. Indeed, in the wake of anti-French sentiments and boycotts following France's denouncement of the Iraq war, French's Mustard (unrelated to the country) felt the need to release a press statement assuring consumers that "the only thing French about French's Mustard is the name." As you can see, unrelated negativity can percolate into that which is only similar in the letters used to identify it.
Superman for the N64 -- commonly referred to as Superman 64 -- is widely regarded as one of the worst games of all-time. So when I discovered Superman Returns for the DS floating around the very bottom of the system's metascores, I was truly puzzled. "Could they really have messed up Superman this bad twice?" Read on to find out.
00:00:20 - I'm given a selection of colors / suits to choose from, including "Apokolips Armor" and "The Superman Monster." That's kind of a neat touch, especially if you're really into Superman.
00:00:59 - Wait, what? I'm guiding Superman's comet across space into the sun ... sure, why not? This part isn't terrible. It's not that great, but it's already proven to be infinitely more robust than Deal or No Deal.
00:01:54 - The cutscene gives the general gist of the film: I'm informed that Superman went back home only to find that his planet was desolate, and so he returned to earth. The presentation is actually not too bad. It's nothing to write home about, but thus far I haven't seen anything quite "shovelware-worthy." This game better get bad real fast or else I'm going to have to rename this column.
00:02:46 - Ohh, okay, here we are. I've entered my first challenge in which I'm attempting to foil Mogul's attempt to wreck havoc on Metropolis. At first, I thought I was just watching a map, but apparently this is the gameplay. It's kind of RTS-lite. It's unique, to be certain.
00:03:56 - Wow ... I just entered a battle with Mogul, and apparently the combat is based around the same rhythmic button-pressing gameplay we've seen before in many different titles. Really, you don't use any controls or maneuvers at all. The user just presses buttons at the right time as they fall into place. It's different, but still not quite deserving of the shovelware title.
00:07:39 - So I complete the first mission. In all honesty ... it's not that terrible. I mean, it's not a game I would purchase or recommend to people, probably not even those who are fans of Superman. Still, it's apparent that some reviewers were a bit jumpy with the negativity. I'll dive deeper and see if there's any terrible flaws.
00:09:15 - Another boss fight, this time with Braniac. I'm a bit more accustomed to the battle scheme, and it's really not all that awful once you get the hang of it. Some parts are pretty tricky, but overall it's a unique way to consider boss battles and to break up the action. The God of War series' use of action broken up by rhythmic button presses works much better, but this isn't the worst gameplay idea I've ever seen.
00:12:32 - A non-boss mission begins in which I'm putting fires out. After extinguishing all but one small fire, the headlines proclaim "FIRE BURNS THROUGH CITY." It's Mrs. O'Leary's cow all over again.
00:13:47 - The next mission is very much like the first; I'm flying to try and save an airplane and dodging debris on the way. Nothing terrible, but nothing exceptionally note-worthy.
00:14:57 - Continuing with a few more missions, objectives and boss battle opportunities are introduced as other tasks are completed. It's similar to the GTA style where there's usually several objectives available to complete, but you must complete several larger ones in order to proceed. Parasite escapes! Oh no!
00:16:48 - I think I've seen enough to make my judgment on this game.
Last year, a study by Stanford University had children taste two samples of the exact same food, the only difference being that the containers for one had the McDonalds logo printed across it. The other sample was left unbranded. As you might have guessed, the children described the McDonalds-branded food as tasting better the majority of the time. What I'm getting at is that familiarity is a very powerful aspect of our perception. If Superman 64 had never existed, would the scores for subsequent Superman games be altered? Will they always bear the culpability of one bad game, in this case a game that was created two generations ago by a completely different developer and publisher? As I've demonstrated, Superman Returns is not a good game. But it's nowhere near the level of heinousness assumed by most critics and subsequently inherited by many gamers/consumers.
We're a very curious species. Like any advanced intelligence, we tend to follow the lead of that which we perceive. We like to know everything, and when we don't, we try to make associations based on past knowledge. This is a highly desirable trait, but one must be sure to avoid crossing the line into prejudice. Otherwise, assumed merits such as fairness, accuracy, and consistency may find themselves becoming negotiable.
In gaming, the term shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit. Bury the Shovelware takes a closer look at these titles, typically those that inhabit the lower end of metascores. It attempts to: 1) find out where and how the developer went wrong 2) identify common traits present in most shovelware 3) measure how long the game can be suffered.
Reader Comments (Page 1 of 1)
8-06-2008 @ 12:44PM
Great analysis; nice post.
8-06-2008 @ 12:51PM
So if this isn't shovelware, what is it? Trowelware?
8-06-2008 @ 12:55PM
Kenneth Caldwell said...
Hey, very thought-provoking piece, Kaes. You raise some great points here, particularly in your explication of opinion leadership as it applies to criticism within the gaming industry. I think it's important that as consumers we question our assumptions about companies and their products, and consider the source of our influences. It's an admirable risk that as a published critic yourself (and therefore a type of opinion leader) you choose to educate your readers about rhetorical devices.
And it's nice to see the usual comic relief of your by-the-minute walkthrough. "This game better get bad real fast or else I'm going to have to rename this column. 00:02:46 - Ohh, okay, here we are." Haha.
8-06-2008 @ 2:47PM
"Like any advanced intelligence, [..]"
Oh, how many other advanced intelligences do you know? ;)
8-06-2008 @ 3:12PM
Advanced intelligence? No such thing.
8-06-2008 @ 7:51PM
Mr Khan said...
So it's a "meh" game based on a "meh" movie?
8-06-2008 @ 11:32PM
I've read a similar study in which a person is most likely to obey commands if they come from someone who appears to "know more" (aka someone who looks like a professional).
nice article by the way! I'm one of those people who fall under the prejudice category because I won't pick up games based on movies and shows (because they usually are showelware) Maybe I would if I really really liked the movie or show, but that's pretty rare in itself.
8-07-2008 @ 2:39PM
Is it really such a shock that a game based on a movie on a handheld system would be shovelware? I definitely feel that games are produced for all the currently available consoles/handhelds, that more likely than not, the handheld versions are going to be a mess. They're mainly there to make sure all markets are covered.
8-07-2008 @ 11:33PM
I grew up a huge fan of Superman.
I have bought most of the characters' games including this one for most Nintendo Systems (I wanted to try this title for the 360 as well as the XBOX version last generation, but couldn't justify buying a system just for one exclusive game that I wanted). Still, I hear these weren't that great either.
Some Superman games are very enjoyable. My favorite has to be "The Death and Return of Superman" for the SNES. Another enjoyable game was Superman for the Genesis - which is graphically appealing, but very difficult so may limit the playback of non-fans. Last generation, a couple of games based on the animated series also had some great moments and even replayability (I think they were called Shadows of Apokolips ).
I was actually looking forward to this DS game - bought it, tried it out and never picked it up again after the first half hour of play, There just wasn't a fun factor, and the guitar hero-esque way of fighting most characters in the game wasn't doing it for me - especially at the frequency the fights came up.
This is the first game I gave up on. I have previously played through most games based on IPs that I enjoyed just to justify my fanboyism. (Ghostbusters NES, Superman for NES, N64 and the original GB) but couldn't force myself to play through this.