Superman 64 VS E.T. Atari: Battle for the Worst Game Ever

Script written by Fred Humphries

It’s a race to the bottom in order to see which is the very worst game of all time – and we have two prime contenders glitching themselves out to get there. But which is it gonna be? Only way to find is to watch as pits ET for the Atari 2600 against Superman 64 to see which is the worst of the very worst.

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E.T. Atari VS Superman 64 – The Worst Game of All Time

They might be memorable, but it’s certainly not for the right reasons. Welcome to, and today we’ll find out who takes the most unwanted accolade in all of gaming. E.T. for the Atari 2600, or Superman for the Nintendo 64

Bear in mind that any “winner” of our five categories will actually be the game that has done things worse and so an overall loss will be the best these two monstrosities can hope for.

Round 1: Gameplay

With literal and metaphorical pitfalls, E.T. requires you to sluggishly scour a landscape that bears the vaguest resemblance to the popular movie in the search for pieces of an interplanetary phone. An interesting enough concept perhaps – particularly for an industry still in its infancy – but every element is so poorly executed that any potential innovation is overridden with total inanity. You will get trapped in an inescapable abyss and unavoidable antagonists will collar you; these are just two instances where awful design manufactures difficulty, draining the energy of the long-necked alien and forcing you back to the start of this infuriating journey.

17 years after E.T. launched on the Atari 2600, Superman, (or Superman 64 as it’s commonly known) was released with DC fans expecting an exciting title as 3D gaming began to take over the market. Developers Titus Software – perhaps under orders from Warner Bros - instead decided to squander Kal-El’s unrivalled abilities and create some of the most mundane challenges you’ll ever play. In the first minute of the game you know something isn’t right as criminal mastermind Lex Luthor tasks you with flying through rings (get use to them). An easy undertaking in theory but the infamously unresponsive controls make guiding Supes nearly impossible. The occasional freeze breath and heat vision power-ups give you a fleeting taste of what Superman is really capable of, but most of the time you’re limited to fist fights with a muddled selection of pixels the game passes off as henchmen.

Both titles are utterly devoid of enjoyment and excitement with any degree of difficulty derived only from the broken state in which they launched. As notoriously poor as E.T. undeniably is, it tried new gameplay elements that were unheard of for the era. By the time Superman 64 came around just before the new millennium, we had already experienced huge adventures like Ocarina of Time, leaving this uninspired title no excuses for being so damn shoddy.

WINNER: E.T. Atari 0 / Superman 64 1

Round 2: Level Design

Good level design is meant to provide immersion and direction to the player, not the abundant frustration and disorientation E.T. produces in every repetitive screen. The color palette is dominated by too many of shades of green, making each object indistinguishable from the next and disguising those dreaded pits. Don’t expect any guidance from the world around you once trapped in a hole either: luck is always favored over logic and your progress in the game is left entirely to the E.T. gods. The exploration makes no sense and you’ll frequently be thrown around the map to yet another forgettable setting that is guaranteed to drive you loopy.

It might be hard to see through the fog, but the game is actually based in a VR incarnation of Metropolis, yet for an enormous city it is remarkably uninhabited. Everything in this barren world plays just as badly as it looks:
the terribly basic ring sections are put together so sloppily that some individual rings are hard for even Krypton’s finest to locate. More problems arise when a little precision is required in the puzzle stages: you have to be in just the right spot to do something as simple as pressing a button, yet with The Man of Steel’s oil-tanker-like turning circle, even that becomes arduous. If all else fails just ghost through one of the many unfinished walls or doors and you’re good to go.

Trial and error is the order of the day in both games but this one ultimately comes down to whose design hampers you more in the quest to complete the story. Superman 64’s Metropolis is almost too empty to hold you back, while the possibility of screwing you over at every opportunity is in the very fabric of E.T. Atari, earning it more New Mexico dirt to pour all over it.

WINNER: E.T. Atari 1 / Superman 64 1

Round 3: Glitches

Graphical anomalies, game-breaking disasters and freezing frame-rates: the whole glitching gang has turned up in Metropolis to make the already terrible gameplay completely worthless. Ironically you’ll probably only enjoy the game when it inevitably starts to fall apart as Superman getting stuck in the ground or holding an invisible box provides unintended hilarity. There are too many bugs to list in this video but you’ll be thankful for one type in particular: sequence breaking glitches let you skip huge sections and curtail the usual 6.5 hour completion time – thank the lord for that.

No on-screen character in E.T.’s first game tie-in is immune to the problems that the overworld presents: whether it’s E.T. himself tumbling into a pit he’s nowhere near or pursuing FBI agents getting snagged on an invisible tree stump, something will be happening as it’s not meant to. The mothership’s presence is a common feature for those seeking to exploit the game, with certain well-timed actions causing E.T. to hang out the side of the saucer or entirely crashing the game.

“Unplayable” is a word you will often hear in relation to both games but many of E.T.’s shortcomings can reasonably be put down to bad design rather than all out brokenness. You don’t even need to try to glitch Superman 64, they surround you at every turn, making this an easy win for DC’s leading hero.

WINNER: E.T. Atari 1 / Superman 64 2

Round 4: Legacy

You’ve probably never had the misfortune of playing this mess yourself but you’ve no doubt heard about E.T. Atari as a prominent part of gaming folklore. Its role in the industry crash of 1983 is difficult to quantify but it is undoubtedly an element of Atari over-ambition that saw 3.5 million copies of the game returned or unsold. Myths about those unwanted cartridges filling up a Mexican landfill were exaggerated – the actual figure is still a sizeable 728,000 – yet it is these kind of unusual tales that take the impact of one of the Atari 2600’s best-selling titles well beyond the gaming community. We’ll also go into further detail about a certain five-week development in the next round…

Despite it’s obvious dearth in quality, Superman 64 actually sold reasonably well in the couple of months after release and satisfied the only audience who could enjoy the game – kids. Eric Caen – co-founder of Titus Software and open critic of the licensor’s meddling in development – has said being linked to a cultural icon exacerbates its “terrible reputation”. No doubt that’s true but Caen cannot deny it would still be a horrible experience even if it wasn’t a DC licensed product. Despite its strong sales start, a planned PlayStation port was cancelled, costing the company dearly and destroying any respect they had previously held.

Any list discussing the “worst video games ever” inevitably includes this pair near the summit and through that they have both achieved a cult status many good games would relish – and probably deserve. E.T. might not have single-handedly taken down a whole industry as some have claimed but it was definitely an enormous factor in tipping it over the edge.

WINNER: E.T. Atari 2 / Superman 64 2

Round 5: Development

For two long years Titus Software battled against Warner Bros. and DC’s need to put their fingers in the pot, resulting in only 10% of Titus’ original ideas being included. Caen does concede that those initial concepts were too ambitious for the N64 but still places the blame solely at the feet of the licensors. Their interference resulted in the toning down of Superman’s powers and the notorious “Kryptonite Fog” justification for a terrible draw distance. A beta build of the game gave us a look at what could have been before politics took over, and while it’s still by no means an exceptional game, it’s more stable, looks less sickly and has better controls.

With a complete disregard for quality and a total emphasis on making cash, Howard Scott Warshaw was charged with creating a tie-in to Steven Spielberg’s hit film in only five weeks. The legendary director wanted a Pac-Man clone but Warshaw ploughed on with an ambitious adventure title built from the ground up. Given that ridiculously short production time the final product is relatively decent, just nowhere near good enough to recoup the $22 million Atari shelled out to secure the rights to the E.T. license. As the biggest video game company at the time, Atari were inexcusably reckless in believing they could rely on the film’s profile alone to be profitable and have no one else to blame for the disaster that followed.

Both development cycles are a shining example of how events can spiral out of control when large corporations blindly force their will upon hard-working developers, but this deciding round comes down to one factor: time. To create a full game in five weeks – regardless of quality – is a feat in it’s own right, but to come out with a broken mess after two whole years – a full 695 days more than E.T. – is a masterpiece of mismanagement.

WINNER: E.T Atari 2 / Superman 64 3

It was close, but there we have it. Superman 64 really is the worst of the worst.

Cheer up Sup’s, look on the bright side; If this were a duel list I’m pretty sure there would be no doubting the results of that battle right?

Do you think we’re right in giving the gaming wooden spoon to Superman? Have your say in the comments and as always, don’t forget to subscribe to

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