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App of the Day: Superman

A single bound.

Of all the comic book heroes, it is invariably Superman who ends up with the worst games. There's an inherent problem - how can you build a challenge around a character whose default setting is God mode?

Well, you could make a whole world from blinding fog, as happened with Superman 64, a serious contender for most incompetent game ever made. Or you can forget about it like Superman Returns, and have enemies who can kill him quite easily. Poor as Superman Returns was, however, it had two great ideas - make the flying amazing, and somehow tie Superman's 'health' to the city.

Tiger Games' Superman takes these concepts and soars with them, building a 2D Metropolis that Superman can zoom around and cover in less than a minute, then throwing crisis after crisis at the city rather than the hero. The touch-screen controls are fine, though not quite offering Super Crate Box levels of precision, and one of the two buttons is dedicated entirely to making Superman go faster - whether flying or running.

I thought this was the Hulk's line?

The other button, for context-sensitive actions like heat vision or blowing out fires, gradually becomes irrelevant, as you realise with delight that almost everything has a solution that involves going faster. Yeah, you could punch all of Luthor's security cameras - or you could scream past them at Mach 3 leaving a trail of debris. Why stop for common criminals? Sprint through and send them flying - the Man of Tomorrow waits for no criminal!

Superman starts slowly, with its first third rather too gentle. But after that the threats to Metropolis are constant, and you're dashing from one crisis to the next: blowing out fires, smashing comets, catching planes, throwing bombs into space, bashing up Luthor's thugs and flying loop-de-loops around fleeing enemies.

Superman had come to regret applying for an internship in Eric Pickles' department.

Certain missions are designed around your being able to complete everything in one unbroken run, zipping from end to end and street to space without stopping, and these are the ones you end up replaying. There's just something so... heroic about saving the world in one smooth motion.

Though it would go too far to call this the first great Superman game, the fact it's good at all speaks volumes about a character that developers just haven't been able to get right. The character's powers are the problem, but this offers a solution - though the mechanics are only skin-deep, the fact is you're concentrating on Metropolis rather than constantly bashing enemies. This means Superman's limitless abilities and invincibility don't matter as much as what you do with them. Which, to me, seems uncannily like the plot for all the best Superman stories.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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