The Rising Sunman

Most of my attention this week was claimed by Sunman, an unreleased NES title discovered and distributed, in ROM form, by the folks at The Lost Levels. It’s the sort of thing that NES historians love: a complete game that has never before seen the light of day or even a mention on a release schedule. Not quite the legendary Bio Force Ape, but a great find nonetheless.

 

Apparently Sunsoft’s attempt to turn a lost Superman license into a viable title, Sunman is a rough action game impeded by grueling difficulty and limited attacks. Much like the Man of Steel, Sunman can shoot heat-vision eye rays and deliver powerful punches, but he’s limited to the latter most of time, and it becomes quite frustrating when you face laser-firing foes that deal out copious damage. And then there’s the speedboat boss, the gunfire of which cannot be avoided. I’m certain of it.

 

All the same, Sunman’s an interesting subject on account of its nebulous origins, its complete lack of press during the time it was apparently in development, and its director and designer, who is none other than Kenji Eno, the self-styled artiste behind the Ds titles, Enemy Zero, and the inscrutable Real Sound (which is played entirely without visuals). Sunman’s straight-on superhero tale has none of Eno’s characteristic experimentation, but perhaps there’s a message hidden in the actual gameplay. The unalterable challenge of Sunman might be Eno’s meditation on the true nature of heroism. Like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Sunman reveals that fighting crime isn’t all tights and laser eyes; it’s a harsh, unfair ordeal that often inspires dialogue unsuitable for children.

This interpretation throws a cynical light on the game’s level-skipping cheat code. (Pause it and press A and B at once on the second controller.) Maybe Eno was of the opinion that only suckers fight the hard fights.

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