Gotta hand it to Konami – they know how to make some good games. There haven’t been an impressive number of good Batman titles, but both Batman and Robin and this game (also both made by the big K) are among the best of any system. Holding true to the Batman sequel, Batman Returns has you following Penguin and Catwoman through a standard beat-em-up sidescroller based on scenes in the film.
Batman fan or not, if you like the brawling games you’re gonna like this one. His Batliness fights through seven stages, each with multiple sub-areas, and spends plenty of time thrashing members of the Penguin’s circus gang. This means that there’s not a whole lot of variety in the enemies – everyone you fight is some variation of a clown, be it “bike clown” to “bazooka clown” and everything in between – but there’s still enough variation to keep from being too boring. As with all other brawlers, your foes are great in number and weak in skill. They’ll take more than a few punches, and are a lot of trouble if they gang up on you, but generally serve as fist fodder over skilled adversaries.
Bosses are a little more difficult, and generally are either the Penguin or Catwoman. They each run through predictable patterns and have their “cheap attack while invulnerable” move, but though certainly challenging, neither are impossible to defeat.
Batman’s moves are among some of the most interesting in the genre. He is certainly badass, no matter how many enemies are attacking him on the screen. He’s got his standard combo triggered automatically by repeatedly pressing the attack button, and he’s got his usual jump kicks and “power spin that kills enemies but drains energy” trick. But the very best of the best are definitely unique. If you grab an enemy, you have the option to slam them to the ground – or my favorite – throw them into the background, breaking windows, benches, or whatever you throw them into. Unlike Death and Return of Superman, which also allows you to kick enemies to the proverbial background curb, there aren’t as many destructible items in the environment – but make no mistake, it’s still a nice feature. Another great signature move is the ability to grab two enemies on either side of you and smash their heads together, usually knocking out both. Fantastic looking, and actually useful too.
Of course Batman without his tools is just a wimp named Bruce Wayne in a funny suit. You don’t see as many Bat-tools as you might hope for, but the classics do make an appearance. In most levels, pressing A will chuck your Batarang straight ahead, doing no damage but stunning enemies and knocking down bosses or bikers. A few other levels trade your A button for Batty’s grappling gun and replace your punches and kicks with infinite Batarangs. There’s usually no real reason for this trade off except variation, though it happens most usually when you’re fighting aerial bosses. You’ll also get to drive the Batmobile for a short level, and chase bikers and cars off the road.
The graphics in the game are extremely impressive. The movie’s sets are recreated very well, and the winter setting is convincingly portrayed. Batman himself looks large and menacing, and strides with animated viciousness. All of his pseudo-kungfoolery is also well-animated, from his moves to the pain his foes receive in spades. There are also a few areas that look especially nice, such as the large Christmas tree in the first area complete with blinking lights, and an amazing boss fight with realistic shadows affecting the brightness of your characters as they move. It doesn’t sound like much but it looks very nice, and somewhat realtime shadows were certainly new for the SNES era.
The sound and the graphics are also top notch. The music has been taken from the movie’s soundtrack and reproduced faithfully. The punches, kicks, and other general effects are pretty much what you’d expect, but still sound very nice. Controls do exactly what you tell them to and it’s easy to pull off Batman’s assorted moves.
Though it’s a great brawler on its own, it stands to get a little repetitive based on the simple fact that you can only pile drive a clown into the pavement so many times before it’s just routine. That’s where the little details of the game come in to save the day. As lame as it sounds, the world feels alive around you and there are enough little things to keep you interested. Snow and confetti fall in the early scenes, adding to the environment. Panicked citizens flee past you as you fight, and there’s even a woman trapped by a clown biker spinning doughnuts around her. My favorite by far is the juggling clown who drops his pins clattering to the ground when you hit him. It’s such a small, but satisfying touch.
Entertaining arcade port. Worth your time.
Somewhat short. No final battle with Catwoman?