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Superman opens with a bridge being blown apart by a helicopter-pack-wearing Lex Luthor and his gang of thugs. Superman--who begins the game as Clark Kent--must head into a phone booth, change clothes, and head out to capture the criminals and find the scattered bridge pieces. Once the criminals have all been deposited in the jail and the bridge pieces have been reassembled, players must reenter the phone booth, change back to Clark Kent, and walk over the reassembled bridge to get to the Daily Planet. The player's score takes the form of a timer, effectively making Superman one of the first games to actively encourage speed runs.
The criminals are all helpless against Superman, who can pick them up at will and carry them around the open city. The only danger comes in the form of blinking kryptonite satellites, which float around the world and emit beeping noises. Should Superman run into one of these easily avoided dangers, he loses the ability to fly, forcing players to walk around on-foot in search of Lois Lane. Touching Lois recharges Superman, allowing him to fly again. There is also a helicopter in the city that can pick up bridge pieces, criminals, kryptonite, and Lois, making them harder to catch. The helicopter effectively acts in the same way as the bat from Adventure.
Metropolis is represented as an open city with connected screens. Traveling up or down lets players skip around the screens in a different order than one would find by flying left to right. Some screens have subway entrances, which also allow Superman to travel more quickly. In order to keep tabs on nearby events, holding down the fire button activates a sort of "super vision" mode, allowing players to see which screen is connected in any of the four cardinal directions.
Originally released in 1978, Superman is among the first licensed games to be released. It was designed by John Dunn for Atari.