Batman (NES) Review

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Quick Review 

~Review by tankMage (February 2020)

Score: B+

Here’s a short breakdown of Batman’s strengths and weaknesses, scroll down if you wish to read the full review.

Pros

-Decent cutscenes that follow the movie reasonably well.

-Great graphics.

-Excellent music.

-Well thought out stages.

-Climactic boss fights.

-Multiple weapons.

Cons

-Finicky controls.

-Difficulty spikes at certain points.

-Only five stages.

-Game feels disjointed from the movie.

Full Review

Wanna know how I got these scars? …crap, wrong movie.

    It’s well known that movie based video games (and video game based movies) tend to suck, but Batman is one of those memorable exceptions to that rule. Perhaps this is because the Caped Crusader with his acrobatic prowess, martial arts skills, and gadgets is uniquely suited to both mediums. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Sunsoft made this game, which is something of a miracle in an era when LJN seemed to be getting all the licensing deals. At any rate, Batman is a solid platformer that would still be decent even if it had some other character as its star. However, it fails to truly distinguish itself as a game, since it’s brief and a bit too straightforward, though that’s likely a result of the devs having to put the game together under tight time constraints.

Batman did use guns in the early days, so I guess this is ok.

    Batman is your run of the mill Nintendo Entertainment System platformer; Batman has to get from one end of each stage to the next, defeating enemies, jumping over things, and collecting powerups to get to the boss at the end. There are only five stages in total, but this game is fairly difficult, so it may still take a while to complete it. Sunsoft was kind enough to give players infinite continues, so you really only have to backtrack through earlier stages if you turn your NES off. While difficult, this game never feels cheap aside from the jumping monsters that attack you in certain stages… those things can fuck off. There are no instant death pits or deadly spikes and enemies always drop some kind of powerup, though they are usually points that do nothing. 

    The Dark Knight can use his fists to punch bad guys into submission or use one of his special weapons to dispatch foes. These weapons include the famous Batarang, Spear Gun, and the Dirk. The Batarang is basically a boomerang, but it’s a good weapon. The Spear Gun actually fires rockets and the Dirk is a blade that splits into three sections before zooming across the screen. All of Batman’s gadgets have their uses and it’s fun to be able to select them at any time, but many of the weapons seem to be things that the devs just kind of made up for the game. I’m no expert on Batman, so I could be wrong, but I remember him using things like grappling hooks, tasers, and maybe knockout gas. At least they were spot on with the Batarang.

    As for the platforming portion of the game, players will have to quickly master jumping from walls like Samus Aran if they want to succeed. The game does a good job of easing players into its jump mechanics, because the early stages only require them to use the wall jump to get to certain platforms. In later stages Batman will have to wall jump over acid pools and past other hazards, but there’s always some room for error, since missing a jump will only result in the loss of some health. That said, players will have to be precise near the end of the game when you have to perform complex jumps that have maybe a pixel or two margin of error, so there’s definitely some challenging content.

Someone’s been taking too much LSD.

    A good platformer needs good bosses and Batman delivers… mostly. Some bosses, like Machine Intelligence and the Joker take some skill to defeat, while others can just be blasted into oblivion with Batarangs, which is rather unbalanced when you realize this can be done with some of the late game bosses. This also brings us to a perennial issue with this game: most of the bosses have no real connection to Batman lore and the devs seem to have just made them up. In all fairness, many of Batman’s adversaries are lame and I actually appreciate the fact that Sunsoft got imaginative rather than dragging out villains like the Penguin and Bane to help the Joker, but this does make the game feel really divergent from the movie.

    Movie based video games from the 8-Bit days often had terrible graphics, even by the standards of the time. Batman puts its peers to shame. The stages are highly varied, with detailed backgrounds and moving scenery like fan blades and conveyor belts. Character sprites were also very detailed. Bosses and everything else are duochrome, though this was almost certainly a constraint placed on the developers by the NES’s aging tech. Batman himself is kind of purple, which is a strange choice since he is usually depicted in black or blue and grey, but I think Sunsoft made this choice, because his usual colors would have blended into the background of many stages.

    Cutscenes that often take quotes from the movie are displayed between stages. While these cutscenes do not tell a coherent story, they at least look pretty good and add a lot of flavor to the game. They also capture the dark style of the Tim Burton film. All in all the game only follows the movie loosely and it often feels inconsistent as a result. In fact, I originally thought Batman had started life as another game and had the comic book hero pasted into it later for marketing reasons, but this is apparently not the case according to what I read about it. In the end, it all worked out since Batman is a good game.

    The controls work pretty well, which is important considering all of the difficult stunts you have to pull off. While reliable, the controls do feel a bit stiff at times and can be frustrating in the final stages. I also didn’t like the fact that the player cannot switch weapons with the game paused. This was very inconvenient during boss fights, because I would have to hit start to cycle to the weapon I needed while trying to dodge attacks.  

I’ll mention the music and sound effects for this game briefly, even though they are very good. Batman’s music is perfectly matched to the mood of the game and the sound effects are about as good as you can expect from the NES. I especially recommend stage 4’s theme song.

Final Thoughts

    When all is said and done Batman is a cool game that offers a fair bit of challenge. It’s also a game that I have some history with, since I owned it when I was a kid and often played it. Back then it was too hard for me, but I did manage to beat it in my teen years. The fact that I was able to replay and enjoy it so many years later says something for its quality, because I often find that old favorites lose their luster when replayed if all they have going for them is nostalgia. Batman not only deserves recognition as one of the few good movie based games on the NES, but also as one of its better platformers.

Recommendations

Batman is a safe bet if you’re looking for a good platformer to sit down with for a night or two.

This Batman (NES) review is property of RetroMaggedon.com, ©2020

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