Quick, what's the most famous, most beloved, and most iconic superhero of all time? If your answer was anything but Superman, then you're just mocking me. Superman was the definition of a superhero since his creation.
However, I don't care for him. He is indestructible and has enough powers to wage a one-man war if he wanted to. His only real weakness is a glowing green rock, for crying out loud! What does it say that the only Superman story I found interesting was the one where he died?
With the issues I mentioned above, it's no wonder that the bulk of the Superman games released over the years have been awful. Developers were faced with a no-win scenario. If they made a game completely true to the character, it would be like playing Doom on God Mode, which is boring. If Superman was made fallible to make a game challenging, the fans of the character would freak out. However, it seems Atari found a solution: Competing for bragging rights.
In Superman for the 2600, your goal as the title character is to capture Lex Luthor and his five goons, repair a destroyed bridge, change back into Clark Kent and get to the Daily Planet. Since there is only one button on the 2600 joystick, flying is done just with the stick, and picking up the bridge pieces and crooks is as easy as flying into them. The button is used to trigger what the manual says is Superman's X-ray vision, but should really be considered just a pair of binoculars. It's only used to see the next screen over, and there really is no reason to use it. The only threat to him is kryptonite floating all over the place, and all touching it does is prevent him from flying until he finds Lois Lane. Couldn't the button have provided one of his other powers like heat vision or frost breath?
There is no way to fail this game. Superman is invincible, and there is no threat of Metropolis blowing up like in the game based on Superman Returns. The challenge comes from the clock. The game ticks every second that you are playing, and you're out to complete all of the objectives and get to the Daily Planet as Clark as fast as you can. The game can even be paused by pressing the select button. If you're not concerned with getting faster times, one playthrough is all that's required to see everything.
It's a good thing Superman is colorful, because otherwise the game is very ugly. I know the game is from the early years of the 2600's existence, but the system was capable of so much better. The characters are simple looking but passable; meanwhile, the cityscapes look absolutely terrible. The sound design is okay, though the shrill beeping whenever the kryptonite is on-screen will give you a migraine.
Superman on the 2600 is a weird entry in the history of superhero video games. So many Superman games made him weaker for the sake of a challenging game, pissing off fans of the character. This is one of the only times where, aside from missing powers, the game got the character right. Unfortunately, the result was a game that doesn't challenge the player in the slightest. For the time, it's not bad, but it doesn't hold up to modern standards for superhero games in general.
On the other hand, it is one of the better games based on Superman. How sad is that?