As you'd expect, Superman Returns for the Nintendo DS takes the story from the recent film and expands on it by incorporating tangents involving other villains from the DC Comics canon. Sadly, the story is the only aspect that the game comes close to getting right. There's nothing to the board game-style presentation except that it provides another means for you to fail and have to start over, and the action levels that populate the board are badly designed and full of problems that hamper your ability to complete them. To make matters worse, the graphics and audio throughout range from mediocre to downright ugly.
Superman Returns for the DS continues a long legacy of truly atrocious Superman games.
The single-player mode presents Metropolis as the squares on a game board and the various super beings, including Superman, as the pieces on the board. The majority of squares are neutral, but some of them turn into disaster areas when a villain appears. During each turn, you, as Superman, and the bad guys can each move a certain number of squares. The general idea is to clean up the disaster squares and land on the squares occupied by Braniac, Bizarro, and the three other evildoers in order to challenge them to epic battles. Landing on a disaster square or initiating an epic battle will bring up an action stage in a 3D environment where you can put Superman's powers to good use. In the disaster stages, you have to do things like rescue a certain number of civilians, uncover a certain number of explosive trucks with your X-ray vision, or put the freeze on a certain number of henchmen before time runs out. Epic battles, meanwhile, are fistfights between Superman and a super villain, where you have to land punches and kicks by pressing the buttons shown at the proper time. All the while, Metropolis has a health indicator of sorts that ticks down each turn and gets a boost or a jolt depending on whether you succeeded in cleaning up the disaster or winning the battle you were just in.
The board game-style layout is an interesting idea, but there isn't much meat to it. You won't uncover any bonus squares or rewards that you'd look forward to while playing a traditional board game, and, although you can choose where to go, you'll eventually end up tackling all five villains and their 15 related disasters regardless of how you reach them. Clearly, the sole purpose of the game board was to come up with a way to give players a negative outcome. That makes sense in the regard that Superman is invincible in the game, so, since he can't die, his overall success or failure depends on whether or not Metropolis survives. Sensible or not, they could have done something to make traveling the game board more exciting.
Running out of turns and seeing Metropolis perish at the hands of Superman's enemies is actually a common outcome. It isn't that the disasters or epic battles are particularly complicated or difficult. In theory, they ought to be easy. In practice, however, the controls are clunky and slow to respond, and the levels themselves are full of glitches, graphical issues, and bad design decisions that make it tough to complete missions in the limited time provided. Often, it's just that Superman will get stuck up against a building for a couple seconds or a target won't appear until you back up and move forward again. The time limits are nail-biters though, so these sorts of unpredictable time wasters are usually catastrophic. In some instances, the culprit is a bad design choice on the part of the development team. Take the missions in which you have to locate trucks filled with explosives and hurl them into space, for example. You get a time bonus when you find a truck loaded with explosives, but that time bonus is eaten up by the nonskippable cutscene that shows Superman throwing the truck into space. There's also the matter of Bizarro's missions, which are displayed upside down. That's cute, but the disorientation only adds to the frustration brought on by the other problems. About the only positive thing that can be said about gameplay is that Superman's invincibility, strength, and various super abilities are faithfully represented.