You start out as Clark Kent, in a phone booth. Head east one screen, and Lex Luthor and his five henchmen will blow up a bridge and flee. Head back to the phone booth and change into Superman. You have two missions: Reassemble the bridge, and capture Lex and his men. Metropolis is represented as a 21-screen overworld, with four subway entrances, a jail, the Daily Planet, and the phone booth. You fly around looking for Lex, his men, and three pieces of the bridge. If you spot a villain, pick him up and carry him to jail. If you spot a bridge piece, pick it up and carry it back to the river. Once you have put all six villains in jail, and reassembled the bridge, change back into Clark Kent, and head to the Daily Planet to file your story.
There are "Kryptonite satellites" wandering around the city. If one touches you, you lose the ability to fly and carry villains and bridge pieces. Depending on the right difficulty switch, either Lois Lane will appear to heal you, or you will have to walk around the city until you find her. Touch her to regain your powers. There is also a helicopter flying around, picking up Lois and bridge pieces and scattering them around.
There is no way to die. Your objective is to complete your missions in the least amount of time.
Atari 2600 Superman provides examples of:
- Alien Geometries: Due to the weird way that screens connect to each other. See Video Game Geography, below.
- Backtracking: You'll do a lot of this as you wander around looking, and carrying stuff.
- Dungeon Bypass:
- Some (early) versions of the game had a bug allowing you to skip collecting bridge pieces. The game starts as soon as you touch the joystick. Use your X-ray vision (hold down the button), for a few seconds and you could fly off without becoming Clark Kent and watching the bridge blow. Since the only score was your time to complete, you could cut vital seconds off your time (just about a minute was possible).
- Through a different but still-simple glitch, you can actually skip the entire game: position Clark in the approximate center of the phone booth screen, hit Select to pause the game, wait for the background to cycle to the Daily Planet exterior, and then unpause the game by moving the joystick. Clark will touch the entrance to the Daily Planet and be moved inside, winning the game immediately, with only a few seconds on the clock.
- Flip-Screen Scrolling
- Gotta Catch Them All: Six villains and three bridge pieces.
- Hub Level:
- The subway stations. Moving up takes you to the next subway station (in the order Yellow, Pink, Blue, Green), while moving in any other direction will take you to an overworld screen, often a conveniently-located one (for example, left of the Pink station is the Jail; left of the Yellow station is the Daily Planet; down from Blue is one screen to the left of the Phone Booth).
- The Daily Planet is sort of a super-hub, in that all it does is connect to the four subway stations.
- Instant 180-Degree Turn
- Intimate Healing: A suggested explanation for how Lois Lane instantly restores Superman's powers after he loses them by touching a Kryptonite meteor. Her animation of kicking one of her legs back clearly suggests she's kissing you, at the very least.
- It's Up to You: It's understandable that you would be tasked with capturing Lex, as he's flying around. But his men are wandering the streets, machine guns in hand, and there are no police to stop them. There are also no city engineers on hand to carry the bridge pieces back, though (it's implied) they rebuild it once you've carried them all back.
- Palette Swap: Lex's men. They're all the same sprite, with just their colors changed. Only Lex has a unique sprite.
- Plot Coupon:
- Lex and his men, who all must be caught and thrown in jail.
- The three bridge pieces. When it's rebuilt (and you've changed back to Clark), you cross it to get to the Daily Planet.
- Side View: With an odd twist. If you fly up, instead of going into the sky, you go to another part of the city. Likewise when you fly down. See Video Game Geography below.
- Spiritual Successor: Superman was programmed after but released before Adventure, so you can interpret either one as the other's successor. (The Helicopter is as much as a troublemaker as Adventure's Bat)
- Token Minority: One of Lex's henchmen has a brown square for a head instead of pink. This nameless villain may be the first African-American video game character.
- Our Zombies Are Different: On the other hand, another of Luthor's henchmen has a green head...
- Video Game Geography: Type 1. There's 21 overworld screens, four subway stations, and the Daily Planet interior. Going left or right from an overworld screen works as expected, moving you to the next screen in the series, but going up or down instead moves you several screens to the left or right respectively. How many screens you skip varies depending on the screen you started from (sometimes 3, sometimes 4), and some screens (specifically, the Phone Booth and Bridge screens) can only be entered from the left or right. On top of that, the various subway stations and the Daily Planet entrance are all one-way connections. The subway stations lead to various points of interest (but not back to the way you came in), and the Daily Planet connects to all four subway stations. If that description confuses you, well, just look at how the world connects for yourself◊.
- Video Game Setpiece: Lex and his men blowing up the bridge.