Movie-based titles on the NES have not had a favorable history on this site, with lackluster attempts such as Robocop 2 and Darkman. Therefore, it is a refreshing surprise to find one that doesn’t just flat-out suck. Batman is a solid attempt to take elements from the movie and comics, and infuse them into a side scroller.
Taking its cues loosely from the blockbuster first movie, Batman has you chasing the Joker around a number of different levels throughout Gotham City. Most, if not all of these levels, are industrial in nature and never labeled by the game. A previous complaint with other movie games is the rampant appearance of random machinery or unexplained hazards within the levels. Batman falls victim to this somewhat, with plenty of gears, electrical surges, and conveyor belts you must contend with. However, since the movie contained areas such as a chemical factory and a cathedral, these hazards somewhat make sense. It would have helped if the game gave more descriptive labels to the settings of each level, instead of the generic “Level 1-1,” as the game’s detail is never great enough to identify a location exactly, though you certainly may have a few ideas.
Half of Batman is his assortment of “wonderful toys,” and the game certainly has a tool for each job. Batman can punch, throw Baterangs, shoot rockets, and toss ninja stars, with weapons cycled by pressing the ‘select’ button. The Baterangs fly out and return to you, causing damage to enemies forward and on the way back. The rockets travel the furthest distance and explode on impact. The ninja star travels forward a short distance before breaking into three separate stars which can travel through walls. All weapons use the same ammunition in different amounts; Baterangs use up one unit of ammo, while ninja stars take four a pop. Punching obviously requires no ammo, and the generic ammo can be refilled in increments of ten through rocket symbol powerups.
Batman’s enemies are not terribly diverse. Running soldiers, moving spike tanks, and stationary flamethrower men are the standard enemies. Occasionally the game will throw something new at you, but most of the time you’ll be fighting the three types above. They still offer a challenge, often being placed strategically on a platform you must jump to or a ledge just above you, but are never ever more than you can handle at one time. Boss fights are completely different, and their difficulty comes as a surprise with the relative ease of the level’s normal crooks. None of these bosses have anything to do with the movie, and are either giant supermen or some form of machine. The machines all have a specific pattern of what needs to be destroyed when and with what weapon. The superdudes all run in a predictable pattern and generally just require loads of ammo to destroy. Be warned when the boss fights come. If you aren’t prepared for a fight, you may find that you’ve played through the last four stages only to start back at the beginning again.
Though the enemies populating the level may be rather mundane, the real hazard comes from level objects that you are required to time and leap past. Taking a page from Ninja Gaiden, Batman has a wall-jump ability that is utilized multiple times in every level. Often, you will have to progress vertically by leaping between two walls while also avoiding gears and spikes. The game tends to overuse these sequences, and they can get quite annoying. Beyond that, the game is not terribly difficult. Enemies regenerate when they get far enough off screen and every enemy leaves a powerup when they die – you do the math. There is one enemy type that truly is a powerup dispenser in disguise, as it drops walking bombs in groups of three. They’re easy kills, and each provides a powerup. Hanging around one of these will have you fully loaded in no time.
Graphics are the game’s strongest point. In a world of cartoony NES titles, Batman’s dark and well-drawn visuals make the game about as photo-realistic as you can hope to get. The backgrounds are simply astounding for their time, and define the atmosphere of the game. The characters however, are a disappointment. Batman is tiny, and made of only two shades of blue/purple. The other characters fair somewhat better, but it’s hard to explain why the main character is the one looking the most out-of-place. A few cutscenes also appear through the game, using a combination of digitized photos and animation. Most of these show the Batmobile driving or the Joker taunting, and do little to introduce the level but a lot to keep the game tied to the movie’s plot.
The game’s sound is its weakest point. Only one theme plays over every level, which can get quite annoying. Boss fights introduce a shorter and faster-paced theme, but it’s still a forgettable one. Sound effects are relatively muted, and straight from the old archives. If you think you’ve heard these sounds somewhere before, well, you probably have. The game’s controls are never above adequate, and loses a few points for its dodgy execution of the wall-jump. You must first press the direction key into the wall and hit jump at the exact time, then subsequently changing direction affects how far you jump away from the wall. Often one of these fails to recognize, resulting in a jump that was not what you expected and usually sends you crashing into great peril. With so much of level navigation dependent on precise wall-jumping, less than perfect control simply won’t do.
Batman still does a fine job of keeping you entertained. Its levels offer enough of a challenge, and wall-jumping, although annoying at times, is still a neat feature and properly adds to the game. You could do a lot worse, and if you just want an enjoyable side-scroller to hack away at, Batman is a fine choice.
Entertaining bat-scroller, challenging levels, nice graphics.
Wall-jumping overly tricky, sub-par sound.