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Batman: The Video Game

Genre: Action Developer: Sunsoft Publisher: Sunsoft Players: 1 Released: 1991

Of all the possible film adventures of the Caped Crusader on which to base a video game, the 1989 movie is definitely the best. The NES got an incredible release, so naturally I was elated when the Genesis got its version, for if the first game was great, then surely the 16-bit entry would be even better. Ironically, my elation was quickly tainted by several factors over which poor Batman had no control.

The first thing that led Batman: The Video Game was the fascist licensing contract to which all of Nintendo’s third party developers were bound. I swear, it wouldn’t surprise me if each company executive was required to sign their agreement in blood. While the U.S. courts took their sweet time to resolve the issue, Batman waited in gaming limbo. Eventually, the courts decided against Nintendo, and companies were permitted to release their games on other consoles. The only problem was that Batman arrived almost two years too late, and by then almost all of its hype had dissipated like so much smoke.

Upon its late release, gamers were still eager to try it out. There was, after all, a derth of Batman titles on the Genesis (can you believe that was ever the case?), and the Dark Knight has ever been a fan favorite. It was quickly evident that the game, though suffering from several flaws, was still a lot of fun to play.

Yeah, I liked Batman. It was too short, had some occasionally cheap A.I., and the bosses were dumb as bricks. Can you believe it’s still one of the better titles out there featuring DC’s famous hero? There was nothing wrong with the presentation, that’s for sure. With colorful, detailed graphics that captured the feel of Tim Burton’s great film, it surely had all the visual impact gamers were expecting from his 16-bit debut. The soundtrack complimented the atmosphere nicely, and thankfully steered clear of Prince’s musical contributions. The NES version’s score was better composed, but the pieces here held their own well enough and were very true to the source material.

I think that may be Batman‘s biggest flaw. In its eagerness to cash in on the movie’s success and offer gamer’s the closest thing to it on the Genesis, Sunsoft may have followed the formula a little too closely. For example, the museum level was straight out of the film, but didn’t really translate well to a game. Repetitive and often mundane, it didn’t excite at all. You just basically trudged through it until it was thankfully over.

The same can be said for most of the bosses. Remember that awesome dude with the two swords who came at Batman and was summarily dismissed with a single blow? Well, he’s actually more of a pushover here. Once you met him, he quickly rushed you with both blades ready to slice and dice. What does Batman’s years of training and experience require him to do? Why, the unexpected of course! No villain would ever expect Gotham’s toughest defender to merely stand in one place, jump right over the bad guy, turn and punch. Wash, rinse, repeat. Even the sorry allotment of batarangs the game provided wasn’t really a deterrent against such pathetic opponents.

The game did try to make things challenging, at least halfheartedly. Just like those first person shooters that try to add “replay value” by making you do the same sorry objective over and over until you get it right (hey Medal of Honor, where do you think you’re going?), Batman offered some cheap A.I. First off, you only started off with half your energy filled, and a mere two hits was enough to do you in. Mind you, this was the same amount of damage the fire-breathing fat guy can take. How’s that for respect? C’mon Sunsoft, this guy’s one of the founding members of the Justice League for crying out loud! Should you have managed to fill your life bar with one of the sparse heart icons, you’d still go down with only a few hits. This could be especially frustrating the first time you fight a particular opponent and weren’t familiar with his weakness. You could lose a ton of lives before you even figured out where to hit him.

Another problem was that while the action stages were adequate in length, the two vehicle levels – batmobile and batwing – could drone on for much longer than anyone would ever need them to. Granted, we’re not talking Adventures of Batman & Robin long here, but it was still a pain sometimes. This was most apparent when you needed to continue. Even if you died at the boss, continuing set you back at the beginning of the level, forcing you to wade through the cheap hits and paltry few power ups until you got to the end.

Gee, with all the negativity expressed above, it sure does seem like Batman isn’t worth playing, doesn’t it? I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, and as I stated earlier, the game is highly playable, even with all of its problems. The easy boss problem can be fixed by foregoing the practice of looking for their weak spots. Instead of hammering away at them with batarangs and then finishing them off with a jump kick or dodge/punch combo, try using only your foot sweep or simple punch. It makes things much more difficult.

The majority of Batman‘s other shortcomings can be remedied in similar fashion. Cheap A.I. got you down? Increase your life supply to either five or seven. Blow through the game too easily? Play on hard and don’t continue. The result is the same, but the being able to tweak the difficulty to your liking may very well change your initial opinion.

When all is said and done, I do really like Batman: The Video Game. It’s challenging, great to look at, and oozes personality. I’m especially fond of the Japanese version, with its tiny box. So cute! If you’re not looking for the absolute best Mr. Wayne’s alter ego has to offer, then by all means, have a go at this one. It’s a decent little romp whose biggest flaws can be worked around with little trouble. Don’t you wish you could say that about every game you’ve played?

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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4 Comments

  1. kukuro says:

    Old gamers would say that the only Sunsoft Batman game is the Ninja Gaiden-like (hard as shit) NES one. But the first 16-bit console has also its Dark Knight software. And beyond its aesthetic and underated soundtrack, the cartridge is an average action/platformer with linear level design (except two autoscrolling stages with the Batmobile and the Batwing) and heavy controls.
    CONCLUSION: 6.5/10

  2. Zebbe says:

    I love the music. It really makes up for the game itself, which is standard platforming of the so-so type.

  3. Alianger says:

    The review doesn’t really reflect a 7/10 score, but I do think the game deserves it. I really enjoyed the autoscrolling parts (cheap hits aren’t that big a problem) and the platforming gets better in the later stages. The music is awesome. Whereas the NES game only had 2 or 3 standout tracks as well as a smaller selection of them, this soundtrack was great throughout.

  4. SiliconKnight says:

    Really nice game. Love the music. I disagree that the compositions are inferior to the NES, they are also credited to Naoki Kodaka, and the only notable omission is “Streets of Desolation” (the BGM of the first and last stages in the NES game).

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