Genre: Action Developer: Sega of America Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1992
The Dark Knight of comic book fame first leapt onto the silver screen in 1989, and was followed up with top-notch NES & Genesis carts. Flash forward to the summer of 1992, and the movie’s sequel, Batman Returns, is blazing all the movie houses, so naturally video game versions appeared. While Konami made versions of Batman Returns on the Nintendo systems (including the so-so NES game and excellent Super NES cart), Sega brought the movie to all four of its systems, including the Genesis and European Master System. Will this be a worth follow up to the original Genny title, or will this cart be a case of bat-bunk?
Like all the other versions, this game follows the film’s story, but for some reason Sega decided to start the gameplay from the MIDDLE of the story, unlike the Konami carts. It’s Christmas Eve in Gotham City, but Batman’s not taking a holiday; he’s out to stop the plans of the dastardly Penguin and his minions, the Red Triangle Circus Gang. However, the Penguin has tipped the odds in his favor by murdering the Ice Princess and pinning the crime on Batman, turning the citizens of Gotham against our hero. If that weren’t enough, Batman also has to deal with a wild card, namely Catwoman, who could either be friend or foe. Somehow Batman must defeat the Penguin and clear his name.
Batman’s second go-around takes him through five major areas of Gotham City, each with four levels, such as the streets, an abandoned cathedral, and Shrecks’ Wonderland; all the way up to the Penguin’s Lair. Each level is populated with different thugs and other enemies. Batman’s basic attacks are punches and kicks. He can also rely on his trademark utility belt which contains several special weapons, including batarangs, smoke bombs, a harpoon gun, and the super batarang. Each special weapon can be used a limited amount of times, and you can obtain power-ups to replenish your ammo. If you’re falling, Batman can slow his descent by spreading his cape to glide down to the ground, but this is also limited. Moreover, Batman can also open his cape and unleash a swarm of bats on his foes, and he has a grappling hook he can use to swing across gaps and climb up to higher ledges. At the end of each level you have to defeat a boss to proceed, and you’ll run into the Penguin and Catwoman several times throughout the game.
The graphics do an okay job of setting the atmosphere. For the most part the backgrounds are nice, but they have that dark, grainy look to them. In some situations it can be hard to make out the characters before they attack you, especially Catwoman. I hope you like the color purple, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it here. Batman himself looks good and has some nice animation, especially when he walks, but he moves pretty slowly. The other sprites are decent, and the Penguin sort of looks like his movie counterpart.
The audio is a mixed bag. The background tunes are pretty good and fit each stage well. The sound effects aren’t as good; they sound terrible, and Batman does a funny grunt when he takes a hit. While the controls work well for the most part, using the grappling hook can be a problem. Sometimes it won’t work when you need it too, leading to many lost lives.
Be warned; this game’s difficulty is on the high side, and it can get frustrating at times. There are a lot of cheap hits that will chip away at your health, plus many of the spike pits and pitfalls are obscured by the foreground and you probably won’t see it until it’s too late. It also doesn’t help that Batman’s movements are sluggish. He can’t run so you have to jump across the screen to get anywhere fast. The enemies can dance around you before you can get your punches off. The bosses also take many hits to beat, and you can’t just go in with fists-a-flying; you have to try and figure out the strategies to defeat them, and that could take a few lives. Some of the bosses, like the Strongman at the end of Level 2-1, are just a pain to deal with. Not only that, but there are many places where you can fall to your death. When you lose all your lives you do get unlimited continues, but you start at the beginning of the act, not the stage you died in. That means if you progressed to the last level of the act when you lost, you have to fight the same enemies and bosses you just defeated to get back to where you left off. However you can set the number of lives you start with (up to 7) and when you die you start your next life from that very point.
At its core, there’s isn’t much variety to the gameplay. It’s just straight beat-em-up action that moves at a slow pace. You’ll also notice that the Batmobile only makes an appearance in the intro screens of each act. The film featured some exciting scenes with the Bat-vehicles, so Sega could have added some variety by putting in stages with the Batmobile or even the Batskiboat, like you find in the Nintendo carts. You won’t find any of those here, though Sega did add Batmobile stages in the later Sega CD version of this game. Finally there’s no cut-scenes to move the story along other than the intro and the ending.
So while the Genesis Batman Returns didn’t set the world on fire, it’s not a total dud. There’s some fun fighting action to be had here, and you might enjoy it if you have the patience to weather the game’s high difficulty level. The bottom line is while Sega did a decent job bringing the movie to their black box, it could have been a whole lot better if they toned down the difficulty and added some variety. If you really want to play Batman Returns on a Sega system, you might want to pop in the Sega CD version instead.