When the first Superman movie was released it met with wide acclaim as a faithful adaptation of the classic comic book series Shortly afterwards Atari (then owned by Time Warner who just also happened to own DC Comics) released the first Superman game for the Atari 2600. Much like the first movie, this game (programmed by John Dunn) also met with positive reviews. Unfortunately by the time the third Superman movie rolled around, the series had gone downhill. Making a game based on a bad movie is always tough, but when you're pressed for time too, things never turn out right...
For those of you who have blocked Superman III from your memory, I'll sum up the plot (or what passed for a plot anyway). Superman III revolved around Gus Forman (played by Richard Pryor who must have needed money badly to make this dog), an idiot who just happens to be a computer genius. After being discovered stealing millions of dollars from his company by siphoning off the half cents that get rounded off of each paycheck (this is actually a real scam called the 'Salami Technique'), he is talked into hacking into a weather control satellite so his boss (Ross) can corner the coffee market. Of course this gets Superman involved who stops the satellite and saves the day yet again (yawn). This upsets Ross to no end and he orders up some homemade Kryptonite to stop Superman once and for all. Of course no one knows exactly what Kryptonite is made of, so they guess and add tar as the mystery ingredient. The synthetic version doesn't kill Superman, rather it separates him into two beings; one good, one bad. Oh and Gus also builds a super computer to destroy Superman in addition to the Kryptonite. Like I said, the plot was REALLY bad...
The plot for the game revolves around Superman's fight with the super computer at the end of the movie. But what about that cool game Ross played in the movie you ask? As it turns out the 'game' was nothing more than an elaborate computer sequence designed by Atari specifically for the movie. The actual game that was developed didn't have to do with this sequence. This was because it would have been impossible to do anything like it on the Atari 8-bit computer (same deal as with the Last Starfighter game).
As mentioned before, the game revolves around Superman's fight with the super computer. The game board is separated into eight city blocks with the super computer in the center. You play the role of Superman (naturally) who must fly around the screen destroying energy pulses being sent out by the computer with his heat vision. These energy pulses will roam the screen in a random pattern, often snaking around for a few moments before actually hitting a city. If a pulse hits a city it will immediately be drained of all its power and will go dead (all the lights will go out). Once a city is dead, if a probe hits it again it will catch fire which Superman will have to put out with his ice breath. If a fire burns too long the city will turn to rubble and be permanently destroyed. Hitting the pulses is very difficult due to the fact that Superman is always moving, and it's really easy to overshoot your target. The computer will also shoot out green Kryptonite probes which will disable Superman for a few moments (afterall, you can't really kill the man of steel). Also keep an eye out for people that randomly appear during the later rounds whom Superman can grab for extra points. The whole game plays somewhat like Missile Command in the round, but doesn't have the same addictive fast paced gameplay.
If the game has one flaw (other than being slightly slow paced), it's the controls. Superman is simply too difficult to control! Superman is always moving forward, and the player must direct him using the joystick by pressing left and right to change the direction he's moving. Although you can control Superman's speed by pressing up and down, he always seems to be moving too fast. And while the board is rather large, it seems too small for the fast flying Superman (I guess that's the price you pay for moving faster than a speeding bullet). Fine tuning the controls would have greatly increased the the games playability.
So why did Superman III go unreleased? It was determined that after playtesting by focus groups that the game was not a strong enough candidate for release (ie. good, but not good enough). Not surprisingly the focus groups cited the difficult controls as their main complaint. Although a prototype 5200 box has been found, there is no evidence to suggest that Superman III was ever planned for the 5200. In fact the part number (CX-5222) was actually assigned to Jungle Hunt. This may have been due to a miscommunication with the art department.
BTW if the title music sounds familiar it's because it was later reused for The Final Legacy (Brad Fuller also did the audio for that game as well).