It’s funny how history repeats itself. Around August 2013, it was announced that Ben Affleck would be playing Batman, and the Internet at large rushed to preemptively declare the resulting movie “Ruined Forever”. Apparently no one remembered the reaction to Heath Ledger as the Joker, or, going back to the time before the Internet as we know it was a Thing in the Average Person’s Life, Michael Keaton as….Batman. Both of those turned out pretty all right.
Historically, Batman games have, on average, defied the trend of most licensed games of being terrible. And this game is no exception, being maybe the first Batman game to be released in the wake of the 1989 movie (A number of “Batman” games came out at the same time for various PCs; I honestly don’t know which made it to market first). Released by Sunsoft, Batman loosely follows the plot of the 1989 movie, which itself took some liberties with the origins of both Batman and the Joker (Good luck changing anything like that today). In the movie, a criminal named Jack Napier kills young Bruce Wayne’s parents. Later, an accident at the Axis Chemical Plant transforms Napier into the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Batman travels through five levels of side-scrolling action, with each level consisting of multiple stages, to track down and kill the Joker.
Yes, I said kill. Not only does Batman seek to kill the man who killed his parents, but plenty of other enemies explode violently and/or disintegrate as well. This is not the modern-day code-against-killing Batman by any means. While it does help that some of the foes are either non-organic, or outright mutants (Hello “Yompers”, so named in tribute to the Swedish speedrunning community, most of whom cannot properly pronounce the letter “j”.), it’s still a bit jarring to punch, Baterang, or shoot (!) foe after foe to death.
I mentioned Batarangs and shooting, and that’s how Batman gives you an edge over the crime wave plaguing Gotham City. You collect powerups that give you what amounts to “Bat Points”. You then get 3 weapons, a Batarang (What you’d expect, a boomerang), a Gun (Also what you’d expect, this shoots a projectile across the screen), and a Dirk (Not at all what you’d expect, this weapon shoots out three projectiles pretty quickly), which cost 1, 2, and 3 points per use respectively. There’s also a proper score, and there are even bonuses for this, but, much like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the points don’t matter–there’s no high score table, nor do you get extra lives or anything else tangible for acquiring them. You can’t even conveniently see your score without pausing the game!
The main mechanic that differentiates this game from other platforming beat-em-ups is the wall jump mechanic. When near a wall, you simply press jump, and you’ll bounce off the wall and higher up in the opposite direction. It’s a cool mechanic that can be used to take shortcuts in some stages. Of course, the last stage has what I like to call a wall-jumping final exam, where precision for an extended period of time is required.
This game is by Sunsoft. While Sunsoft’s games tended to be hit-and-miss in the overall quality department, if nothing else, seeing that “Sunsoft” logo on an NES-era game meant you were in for a quality soundtrack. Indeed, it’s the soundtrack that will keep you going through this game, as it’s quite a challenge. You do get unlimited continues, and game overing on a boss only sends you back to the previous stage (Dying on a boss while you still have lives left gives you another attempt at that boss), but the game is difficult anyway. In particular, the knockback and bit of hesitation when you take damage makes it easy to get comboed in some bad places.
The challenge, as well as the soundtrack, controls, and overall presentation, will keep you coming back to this game until you finally beat it. It’s not the longest game around once you get it down–it can probably be beaten in a half hour to 45 minutes on a casual playthrough–but, like other recent entries in this series, it’s getting to that point that gives the game its replay value.
Even once you get to that point, though, Batman is still worth playing. Given that the problem with licensed games dates back to the Atari and E.T., it’s nice to know that, even back in the NES days, there were games, like Batman, that defied that convention. Unfortunately, the game was never re-released on any modern platforms, so EBay it up if you want to track it down legally.