Overall Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Back in 1989, Sunsoft developed the licensed movie tie-in Batman video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Long before Heath Ledger and the emergence of the comic book as modern America’s version of the Greek mythos in culture, Michael Keaton was the caped crusader in a couple of generally well-received films.
The NES cartridge, however, had mixed reviews, with some adherents still admiring it as one of their favorite platform beat-’em-up titles, while others dismiss it as a mere shallow, glossy interpretation of the hit Hollywood blockbuster. What reputation did it truly deserve? What were its real strengths and weaknesses? Gameplay
The player controls the protagonist Batman, a human vigilante superhero from the DC Comics universe. With the classic Nintendo controls of A to jump and B to punch, Batman utilizing pugilistic prowess in order to properly dispense of the many, many enemies he will come across.
Batman is able to nimbly wall-jump directly off of walls he jumps onto, a necessary skill to get through many portions of the adventure. He also quickly gains access to several different weapons, which he can quickly toggle through with the Start button (Select pauses in this title). However, whatever weapon he uses, whether it be a Batarang or the rocket gun (which seems slightly out of character for Bruce Wayne; but then again, so does the mass murdering), it replaces his simple punch, making the challenge of this game as much to do with beating bad guys as it does with inventory management and quick tactical thinking.
Battling his way through mostly dreary environments and foreboding locales, Batman works his way through a loose following of the plotline of the cinema version, ultimately toward the inevitable confrontation with his nemesis, the Joker.
This 8-bit trek actually looks pretty slick. There are few clipping or sprite issues, the animations are smooth, and the backgrounds set forth the appropriate mood. Batman gracefully leaps from walls, and the landscapes traverse smoothly across the screen, but perhaps the best graphical highlight is the relentless, fast-paced action around the rapid-fire weapons Batman uses against the nefarious arms (both in a literal, anatomical sense and the warfare meaning) of his foes. This is definitely a beat-’em-up that is more similar to Ninja Gaiden than Double Dragon, both in its sheer speed and stylized appearances.
One note of interest is that this game sports cut scenes, and they are done about as well as can be expected, considering the technology of the time. One final item to point out is the rather fiery, spectacular way Batman dies when his energy bar is depleted.
The music is brooding and befitting of Batman, and serves as the acoustic high point of this superheroic saga. The effects seem rather pale and standard by comparison, as you have to make due with the basic whooshes and pops of the usual platform fight quest.
Creativity & Innovation
Although it can be difficult to spot truly original concepts in a video game that is not only based on a movie but rather closely follows it in scope, Batman does sport a few interesting advances. Firstly is the inventory management system which, although it could have seen improvement, is an intriguing way to deal with arsenal usage on the NES, despite its begging of a hot-switch back to fists. Secondly, the enemy designs are creative, departing from the usual thugs into the realms of flamethrower-wielding soldiers and robotic spike droids, and that’s just on the first level.
Some hardcore gamers have fond memories of getting hours upon hours worth of enjoyment out of this license title, but others may point out what is perhaps a more obvious and objective conclusion: Despite its sharp look and fast-paced fighting, Batman ultimately settles as a standard platform beat-’em-up title, below the tier of such classics as the aforementioned Gaiden, certain Double Dragon entries, even Super Mario Brothers. However, it does deserve some credit as a playable licensed game, which was exceptionally rare at the time, and earns a middle-ground two and a half stars out of five for the dark knight.