It’s pretty much established now that the first two Batman: Arkham games are the best adaptations of Batman in video games – and rightfully so, but most of the rhetoric surrounding them focusses on the Arkham series being the first and only good Batman games.
Oh foolish media, do you forget your past so quickly?
There have been a staggeringly large number of piss-awful games based on The Dark Knight and the Arkham games are certainly the first ones to truly nail the feel of being The Bat, but amongst the big pile of shite shines two beautiful gems, both by those masters of the licensed game, Konami and both on SNES. First up, Batman Returns.
As you might know from previous posts, I fucking love scrolling beat-em-ups, so you make a good one and slap Batman in it and you just made all my dreams come true. Massive, detailed sprites fill the screen as you cut around environments based on the film, battering the faces of all those who step in your way.
Some people claim that the Mega Drive version of this game is the better of the two, those people are of course, complete idiots. Who would take the stumpy, purple sprite of Mega Drive Batman over the huge and heavily detailed one in this? Or the slow, stunted platform gameplay over the smooth, fast action packed gameplay of the Nintendo counterpart? The MD game had you struggling to defeat enemies in a way Batman really shouldn’t, whilst this version, you plow through your base-level goons like the pathetic thugs they are, fighting 4 or 5 at a time because you’re fucking BATMAN and nothing stands in your way.
The only thing it’s really missing is a co-op mode, but the film pretty much dictated a solo only game so the devs were stuck in this regard, I would’ve happily taken a palette swapped Bat-Sprite though, just to strut about cracking skulls with a mate. The game doesn’t bring anything new to the table for the genre, but it’s damn competent at what it does. Bats has got loads of moves from ya standard sma-the-attack-button-combo, jump kicks, back-attacks, batarangs and a brilliant double grab attack –
And the Batmobile levels (MODE 7 BABEY) are simple, but a load of fun and since this is based on the Burton films, Batman murders a SHIT LOAD of people. Cars get blown up, dudes get thrown from buildings to a pretty grim death. But again, that’s down to the material it’s based on, so I can’t hate on it. A fine game, if a little lacking in variety.
Then comes the best of all the 16-bit games – The Adventures of Batman & Robin. This ones a bit of a brawler, a bit of a platformer – different to the bizarre shoot-em-up gameplay of the Mega Drive version – but where it really stands out is the glorious way it apes the cartoon it’s based on. Each episode of the cartoon starts with a title card, always beautifully rendered and the ones in the game could slot right in without you noticing.
This level of detail extends to every area of the game. The graphics are drawn with the same level of detail as the cartoon, with that 1940’s Art Deco gothic styling, with Bats looking all latern-jawed and intimidating next to the basic thugs in their fedoras.
This is just a small section of his sprite sheet and it looks like a cell of animation from the cartoon. The colours, the shading on his cape and the way it flows as he moves, all meticulously drawn. There’s these great little character moments thrown in there too, like this one from Harley Quinn as she waves The Joker off on a roller coaster:
But it’s not just the attention to detail that makes it a good game, the gameplay itself is tight as a platformer should be. Jumping feels solid, there’s a weight to Bats as he leaps around the rooftops and swings around using his grappling hook. Then the combat, as simple as it is, feels great too. A few punches, a few grabs and an all powerful crouching kick that no enemy to have a counter for…much like Batman Returns, it’s simple but enough to make you feel powerful. There must be something about being Batman that makes it enormously satisfying to beat the crap out of goons. Offering a little break from the standard platform sections, there’s a few Mode-7 (obvs…it is a SNES game) powered into-the-camera chases thrown in for good measure.
Like all of Konami’s best platformers, it’s bastard hard too, especially when attempting to dodge Joker’s bombs whilst battering around on a rollercoaster or avoiding Poison Ivy’s massive mutant plants.
Neither of these games make you feel like you’re inhabiting Batman in the same way that the Arkham games do, but for their time, these are good takes on the character and especially in Batman & Robin, the attention to the source is nothing but staggering in the same way that the little easter eggs and references that fill out the Arkham games are. Seek em out and remind yourself that whilst the world of 16-bit licensed games is a pretty rancid pool, there’s still some good ones.
Like Demolition Man.
Quit laughing…I’m serious.