maanantai 28. marraskuuta 2011

REVIEW - Batman Returns (1993)

GENRE(S): Action / Fighting
RELEASED: January 1993

Tim Burton's holiday sequel to THE summer blockbuster of 1989 spawned many different video games for many different platforms, and I still think Konami's Batman Returns for the SNES is one of the best Batman games ever made, a notably better effort than what Sega managed with their share of the license back in the day. Before the release of the SNES game, Konami made one for the fading NES, and opted to use their highly successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series as a kind of a blueprint. They squeezed out everything they could from the narrow NES control scheme to offer a playable experience even to followers of the previous generation instead of just making it for the money and rushing to get it out of the way. That's Konami, folks.

A game of cat and bat

Christmas time in Gotham City is far from merry. A group of hostile circus sideshows known as the Red Triangle Gang emerges out of the sewers to terrorize the citizens gathered in Gotham Plaza for holiday festivities. The police are powerless to stop the mayhem, so the Bat-Signal is lit to alert the Dark Knight of Gotham City. Batman saves the day, but it seems his work is not over. With the help of a corrupt businessman named Max Shreck, a disfigured, tragic being known to the people of Gotham as the Penguin suddenly becomes the hero of the city. Batman suspects him to be the leader of the Red Triangle Gang, and attempts to look into the matter, just to be constantly harrassed and slowed down by a sultry, mysterious, violent vigilante who calls herself Catwoman. When Penguin and Catwoman join forces to frame Batman for murder, Batman's in a whole world of mess.

Go for the legs.
I'm not ready to tell you about my take on Batman: Arkham City, but I can tell you something that most of you surely know already; the game seriously rekindled my interest in the Batman media franchise, like Arkham Asylum did with lesser impact before it. Upon finishing the game, I suddenly felt the urge to read a whole bunch of comic books, watch all... wait, MOST of the films, and of course, play a lot of older Batman games, were they better or worse. What better way to bring Batman back to the blogging fray than yet another game called Batman Returns? For certain, I had fears regarding this game. How could a game so similar to the SNES title work on an 8-bit console? Well, then I remembered that it's Konami we're talking about. Let's look at their 8-bit track record leading up to Batman Returns: Gradius, Track & Field, Metal Gear (the MSX game), Contra, Castlevania, Blades of Steel, Double Dribble, Tiny Toon Adventures, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series since it took a turn for the arcade style it's become known for. These were all great games in their respective genres, they're classics - classics that made Konami perhaps the best and most consistent third-party video game manufacturer of the 80's and 90's. OK, they also made mistakes, such as Castlevania II and Top Gun, so they were never perfect. Where does Batman Returns take Konami? Absolutely nowhere. It's not a fresh, new experience in any way, it's very much like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II with Batman for a lead character - but that just means that it's got to be a quite good game. And that's what it is - Konami could've easily not given a shit about the game and no one would have noticed, since 16-bit games were what made the numbers. Konami realized what most developers didn't; even if the NES' sales among CONSUMERS were going down, its popularity among PLAYERS wasn't.

Baby, when you're dressed like that, you can
do whatever the hell you want.
The game is very much like its following 16-bit counterpart, but being an NES game, it's very limited by way of comparison, and that's where a slightly modified 8-bit TMNT engine comes into play. The whole digital pad is utilized to squeeze the most out of the limited scheme. You jump with A, and attack with B. By pressing upwards and B, you use a gadget, which is selected with Select. By pressing downwards and B, you may block attacks. By pressing downwards and A, you execute a slide attack. By jumping and pressing B, you execute a dropkick. By pressing both A and B simultaneously, you do a special attack in the vein of TMNT, but in this game, you lose health by using it. Your mission is to punch and kick your way through six levels with two to three stages each, defeat the Penguin and save Gotham City from a whole lotta hell. It's simple, right? Well, not quite.

Just like the otherwise outstanding SNES game, Batman Returns does have many weaknesses, and most of them arise from the developers trying to break the monotony of a beat 'em up. While the grappling sequences that plagued the SNES version are not a problem in this game at all - since you mostly use the grappling hook just to break background items to gain power-ups - this game has some very frustrating platforming sequences in all the wrong places, and some standard, ranged enemy characters whose attacks are nearly impossible to dodge because of Batman's very slow movement. Also, the bonus sequences involving the Batmobile and Batskiboat are just useless diversions which as the complete opposite of the frustrating parts do not pose any challenge at all. Of course there's nothing wrong with a little sidestepping, but it could simply belong a little better.

The Shreck cat looks more evil than in the movie.
Breaking an age-old tradition, I decided to leave graphics and sound for last, and the latter is the reason why Batman Returns ultimately fails to shine as a forgotten 8-bit gem. Takashi Tateishi's soundtrack tells me how great Naoki Kodaka's effort in Sunsoft's first Batman game really was; it's basic Konami fistpump, there's no connection to the franchise or a slightest Batman feel to it whatsoever. It's got "TMNT leftover" written all over it. The graphics are good, but the otherwise awful Batman: Return of the Joker looked better - and the game was made two years before Batman Returns. It had great music, too, also written by Kodaka. So, was this game made to prove a point of gameplay making the game instead of audiovisuals? It's true, Batman Returns is a good game under its run-of-the-mill a/v, while Return of the Joker was garbage under its pretty exterior - but still, I would've liked the game to look and sound a little more like Batman. It's the whole package that matters.

Batman Returns for the Sega Genesis was abysmal. A simple beat 'em up or not, Batman Returns for the SNES is still one of the best Batman video games out there. Batman Returns for the NES is smack in the middle of these two games; its good qualities ultimately weigh it closer to its Konami-made 16-bit counterpart, but those in search for a whole Batman package on the NES should probably turn to Sunsoft's first game instead. Good and overlooked - for sure. A milestone of a Batman video game you simply can't afford to miss - not so sure.

SOUND : 5.5


GameRankings: 80.50% (SNES)

As explained before, many different games were made based on the Batman Returns movie license. The home computer game was developed by Denton Designs and Spirit of Discovery, and published by GameTek. This game differed from all console versions by a great deal, since it was more of an adventure game based on Batman's detective work than a straightforward action game. The Sega Genesis and Game Gear games were developed and published by Sega. The Sega-CD game was developed by Malibu Entertainment and published by Sega. The Sega Master System game was developed by Aspect and published by Sega. The Atari Lynx game was developed and published by Atari.

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