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Batman: Revenge of the Joker

Genre: Action Developer: Sunsoft Publisher: Sunsoft Players: 1 Released: 1992

I think maybe I should start this review with a simple saying:

“Technology doesn’t always enhance the experience.”

Why do I say this? Imagine taking what once was an 8-bit game; case in point today: Batman: Revenge of The Joker. Released for the NES in 1991 by Sunsoft, RotJ was one of those games that, while unpopular with the general public, made NES fans sit up and take notice. Why so? Imagine your 8-bit system suddenly performing feats nearly matching those of a 16-bit system. I remember seeing my NES suddenly being able to do parallax scrolling, higher color graphics, and sound and music that sounded more FM than NES, and thinking maybe it was having a case of identity crisis.

Okay, you’re thinking, “so what? Every developer pushes a system harder and harder as they learn more about it. Get to the point already, dude,” you may say. So I will…what happens when Sunsoft decides to have the game ported to a REAL 16-bit platform? My answer: the same thing that happened to Batman during the ’60s TV show: lose what made Batman Batman and turn him into an idiotic and goofy shell of his former self. 8-bit to 16-bit doesn’t always translate to a good game made better.

Batman: Revenge of the Joker is meant to be a sequel of sorts to Sunsoft’s 1989 Batman video game for the NES, which in turn was based on Tim Burton’s movie. The Joker, having been beaten by Batman once again, decides to plot his revenge on the Caped Crusader, and sets up shop on a small island outside of Gotham City, where he’ll launch a massive laughing gas attack…his lethal Joker Gas, of course. While a bit lame (c’mon…why doesn’t he do to Batman like what he did to Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke? Now THERE was revenge!), it still gives Batman reason enough to go and stop him. Batman must travel through seven stages, broken down into several sub-stages each, to reach the Clown Prince of Crime and put an end to his evil scheme once and for all.

Anyone who remembers the first Batman game on the NES will recognize a few gameplay elements from it here. The life bar is the same, divided into eight units. Enemies come in swarms in later stages, like before. Some of the projectiles work a little like the ones in the first game as well. But that’s where the similarities end. Instead of running and punching, Batman’s got a new Batarang launcher attached onto his arm, which is his permanent weapon and can be powered up by collecting “N”, “S”, “C”, and “B” icons from crates. “N” is his normal Batarang. “S” fires a sparkly homing Batarang. “C” fires a huge cluster bomb-like Batarang, and “B” are heavy Batarangs that drop in an arc in front of Bats. The weapons can also be charged to double their strength, and don’t worry about running out of ammo, since it’s infinite all the time, no matter what. Did I also mention you can charge your attacks as well, for more devastating effect? Besides weapons, Batman also collects various blank orbs which fill up a second meter under his life bar. When this bar is full, he equips a badass launcher that fires devastating amounts of powerful Batarangs for a limited time. Thankfully, this bar remains at whatever level it was even when you die.

Moving on, Batman’s life meter varies under certain circumstances. During normal stages, it’s the eight unit meter, but during boss fights, the meter switches to a numbered rating. Bats gets 80,000 units; bosses range from 40,000 to 120,000. It takes an enormous amount of skill to defeat most of the bosses, and you should come prepared with a better weapon than just your wimpy normal Batarangs, otherwise you’ll find yourself stuck in one very long boss fight. Besides boss fights, there are also a couple of stages where Batman straps a rocket to his back and takes off like a bat outta hell (heh) through several small shooting stages. Unfortunately, these stages are kind of lame, but there’s not that many. They’re more filler stages than real ones, if you ask me.

The visuals is one area where I’m confused: why did the developers of this version seem to mix up various styles of Batman and the Joker? Just from the title screen alone, this game already looks screwy; Batman looks like one of his 1970s incarnations, like when Dennis O’Neill was one of the big writers of his stories. The Joker’s really tall and extremely gangly, and I can’t place his look. To me he looks like some of the ’80s renditions (The Killing Joke, for instance, had a somewhat gangly looking Joker in it). But when you go into the in-game graphics, I’m suddenly haunted with visions of Adam West in the Batsuit all over again! It seems that the developers must’ve been big fans of the 1960s TV show, because everything is a stark contrast to the dark, eerie NES game; bold, overly bright graphics everywhere. Batman’s short and chubby looking, and has a very stupid looking jump animation that looks like a cross between a hop and a kick. What happened to the cool looking ’70s comic style from the NES game? Sixteen colors or not, Sunsoft did the series justice with the limited technology the NES offered. Here on the Genesis, I get bright, almost cheery colors, Adam West as Batman again, and a Joker that almost (emphasis on “almost) reminds me of Caesar Romero (1960s Joker!) mixed with Killing Joke Joker. Which one is it, peoples? At least on the plus side, parallax scrolling and special effects are cleaner and look good on the Genesis, plus most enemy animations are cleaned up as well.

Lastly, there’s the audio experience. Now here’s where I’m really upset. The NES version had some wicked music and excellent sound effects. I’m especially partial to the Stage 1 theme, the Stage 3 theme, and the boss fight. How would my favorite tunes stand up on the Genesis, a system with an FM sound chip and more channels of sound? Not so good, I’d say. The tunes are all there and the basic melodies are the same, but the instrumentation is too bass heavy and sounds very chunky as a result. Some of the other tunes sound very flat, and some are just WAY too loud. Lousy mixing aside, for some reason the tunes don’t have the same appeal as they did on the NES. The sound effects, as well, sound too cheery for this type of game. Fire your Batarangs enough times, and tell me it doesn’t start to sound like a chirping bird. Is it me? Or how about when a spiked metal ball crashes down from above? I’d expect a good loud metallic “CRASH!” but instead I hear either a fart or a dull thud.

I think it’s rather shameful. Ringler Studios has a full 16-bit system to work with here, and I’m thinking at first that one of my favorite NES games will make the upgrade into one bad mo-fo of a game. Yeah right…instead all we get is a mediocre 16-bit version of an excellent 8-bit game. THAT, my friends, is embarrassing enough. But nothing was more embarrassing than having to be haunted by another Adam West-ish Batman. YEEEESH.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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1 Comment

  1. b.tokin says:

    lol, sega didn’t make this game suck, sunsoft did…
    and if this was your favorite nes game… YEESH
    go play contra or super mario bros 3,
    those are that console’s real gems.

    (nintendo fan posting in a sega fan-site… *sighs & head shake*)

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