Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude (2006, GBA)

You have a dev team and management team entirely burned out on Superman Returns. It was a total failure in every way. Then you notice you have promised to make a GBA title as well. What do you do? I guess the answer is give the franchise to a young designer and tell him to go nuts. I was in charge of this project that was only myself as the designer with one artist and one programmer and three months of dev time. What can you do Superman in that time? There were strip malls of Big Lots overflowing with forgettable beat-em-up movie tie-in games at the time. And Superman was the worst! He’s nearly invincible and neigh-omnipotent. How are you supposed to do a 2d brawler with him?! Answer is: you just say screw it and make a fun puzzle game instead!

In Superman Returns: Fortress of Solitude, you play as Superman training from the crystalline files sent by his father Jor-El that teaches him how to focus his mind to become the best superhero.This results in solving puzzles very similar to Sudoku that I would years later refine vastly (from the ground up) as an idea that would become Sudoku Together. The second main puzzle was called “Crystallization” that involved making rows and columns of like shaped or colored crystals. I think I ripped the main mechanic off of an old PopCap game and molded it until it worked for my purposes. The third part of the game was a quick (one-minute max) interlude between puzzles that challenged twitch skills using your heat vision and freeze breath against two types of enemies. Like a mini-Ikaruga. They all worked wonderfully together.

I may be the only person on Earth (with the exception of a QA Tester somewhere perhaps) that personally played the game through from beginning to end.It was completely ignored by reviewers and not even included in the normal Superman Returns marketing blitz. I think there was one review listed on it for Metacritic a year after release. I recently dug up a review of it by 1up.com that published in 2010 in a post that reviewed all the terrible Superman games over the years. The review was glowing calling it “addictive and challenging without being frustrating” and “one of the very few Superman titles that is well-made and worth playing”.

I’ll take that.