torstai 19. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Batman Returns (1993)

Genre(s): Fighting
Released: 1993
Available on: NES, SNES
Developer(s): Konami
Publisher(s): Konami
Players: 1

Tim Burton’s sequel to the 1989 blockbuster Batman was one of the most anticipated motion pictures of the early 90’s. Like in the case of the previous movie, several game companies fought tooth and nail for licensing rights, and once again they were split between three different developers: Atari Games, Konami and Sega. Atari developed and published their version exclusively for their own Lynx handheld, Sega made one for each of their systems, while Konami took care of home computer versions, as well as the NES and the SNES versions. The SNES version by Konami was the most successful and arguably the best of all the different Batman Returns video games made. Konami answered to Capcom’s Final Fight, not even trying to make Batman Returns anything more than a standard, arcade-style, side scrolling beat ‘em up game... and it worked!

Holiday greetings from the Dark Knight

A Christmas party in the Gotham City Plaza is interrupted by a group of horrid circus sideshows known as the Red Triangle Gang. The police are powerless to stop the ambush – the Batsignal is lit. Batman answers the call and crashes the party. A while later, a corrupt businessman named Max Shreck helps a tragic, disfigured individual known as the Penguin to run for mayor. Batman suspects the Penguin of being the leader of the Red Triangle Gang and fights to expose him while being constantly distracted by another masked vigilante, the sultry Catwoman.

If you’ve seen Final Fight or Konami’s own, arcade-style Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, you’ve seen Batman Returns – how it looks like, how it plays out like. The graphics are very similar to any arcade games of the era: large sprites, colourful and interactive backgrounds, and smooth movement. The game has a vintage look not seen in many licensed games. So Konami did well with the graphics, how about the sound? To my knowledge, the SNES game was the only one to feature choice cuts from Danny Elfman’s original soundtrack, including the modified Batman theme. The atmosphere of the game is very real, partly thanks to the music, and it’s unparalleled by many games of its kind. Batman Returns really feels like a Batman game.

He's Batman and he needs some personal space.
Let’s not waste time in trying to make it anything really deep or complex – Batman Returns is a pretty standard beat ‘em up game. You eliminate a certain amount of enemies in one screen, which varies between 2D and 3D, until you’re given the green light to move forward. A very simple formula indeed, but it works like a charm, and there are some elements to spice things up a bit if it gets too stale for your personal taste. There are action sequences which require fast thinking and movement, ie. one stage has a burning hallway in which you have to rely on your grappling hook to get ahead; one stage is also wholly based on the use of the grappling hook. Ironically, the grappling hook is the most awkward item to use, it takes much learning. Many stages require exclusive use of the Batarang, due to the amount and sort of enemies.

Batman has one more gadget in his utility belt, the test tube. Using one disposes of most enemies on screen, but tougher villains, bosses included, only lose a large amount of health, naturally. You start off with three of these tubes, the rest are scattered around in different containers, like all regular power-ups such as health items and points. Every 10,000 points tally up to one extra life. The game has a limited amount of continues, actually there are only three of them, but luckily you have the choice of difficulty level, as well as the amount of lives you start off with. Konami knew what kind of challenge they were providing gamers with.

Batman has a fairly wide variety of moves, considering the game’s simple nature and the relative one-button mash of Final Fight. Most of the different punches and kicks are parts of combos you’ll be using a lot. Using a combo at a specific location or spot can trigger a special move, which usually ends in the enemy being thrown against a wall or through a window, and losing a heap of health. You can also grab an enemy and throw him/her on the ground, lunge a series of headbutts or smash the enemy’s skull against another’s. Airborne moves include a dropkick and a short glide – the latter works great for several enemies next to each other. What’s best is that you can manipulate the enemy, in other words they can actually be eliminated by each other if you dodge an attack with perfect timing. They can hit each other, be stunned by their own bombs etc. Hail incompetence! This may sound like a small and irrelevant feat, but it might help you a little, and certainly adds to the fun factor. To top it all off, you can use a powerful special move by pressing Y + B, a lá TMNT II. However, in this game using a special move drains your own stamina as well, so don’t go thinking progress in this game is as easy as in TMNT II.

Catwoman's hot, even in pixels.
Most of the regular enemies are pretty easy to overcome, but most of the boss fights, from the very beginning, are quite difficult, and those fights are why you should really concentrate on saving up your lives, and some test tubes. Each of the battles requires unique strategy, and they bring some depth into the otherwise simplistic game.

Once you get the hang of it, Batman Returns isn’t too hard. You should remember, though, that you can never take the bosses for granted, and that your chances to continue are limited, no matter how many lives you start off with. Those lives are drained surprisingly easy, especially in the later boss fights if you don’t come prepared. Despite the simplicity of the standard game, it’s very entertaining, except for the instances in which you must use the grappling hook. They’re purely frustrating and detached from the game itself. One stage is a car chase, in which you have to use the Batmobile to track down and dispose of enemies, and even that feels more like a part of the game than the sessions with the hook.

Batman Returns for the SNES is the best retro title in the Batman video game franchise, in my opinion. It’s funny that once again Sega got the short end of the stick, and this time the joke was exclusively on them since they decided to fund their inferior Genesis game’s production themselves. Konami won this war for Nintendo, and Batman Returns is still a game I’ll gladly get back to every once in a while, unlike the other version I have which may rot for all I care.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 8.8
Playability : 8.0
Challenge : 8.5
Overall : 8.2


GameRankings: 80.50%

There are a total of seven different, unique versions of the game; even all of the several versions made by Konami differ from each other quite a bit. The Amiga version is a platformer.

Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded the SNES version of Batman Returns with Best Licensed Game in 1993.

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