Review by Tarrun

"Bats, penguins, and clowns - oh my!"

Back in the early nineties when Batman's popularity was at its peak, you couldn't turn around without seeing something with the infamous logo on it. Bed sheets, clothes, TV shows, actions figures – pick a noun, and there was a good chance that there had been a Dark Knight version. Naturally, this includes video games, and in the twenty years that Batman has been staring in games, he's had his ups and downs. Thankfully, Batman Returns is one of the high points.

The game actually follows the movie pretty well, or at least as much as you would expect a side-scrolling fighter to. The Penguin, Catwoman, and the Red Triangle Circus gang are terrorizing Gotham City, and it's up to Batman to save the city. Naturally, most of the scenes have been adapted to fit a video game, so a ten second dialogue with Catwoman has become a boss fight and a five minute fight scene has been stretched out to cover an entire level; but again, that's to be expected. And to keep the player on track with the movie, there are short scenes in between levels that tie the game together.

The graphics in Batman are above average; some of the minor character sprites are bland, but all of the main characters: Batman, the Penguin, and most of the bosses, are all fantastic. The character models are quite large, so each one is very detailed and does a great job of recreating the costumes from the film. The backgrounds are also fairly interesting, and many objects can be interacted with during combat – windows, fences, and street signs can all receive damage when enemies are thrown into them. Overall you won't find better graphics on the Super Nintendo.

The sounds, including both the music and sound effects, are also amazing. I'll admit that I haven't seen the movie in quite a long time, but I could swear that some of the tracks are taken straight from the film. Regardless, each level has its own theme that creates a certain atmosphere depending on the mood; for example, while exploring a dark, deteriorating building in a level entitled “The Penguin's Trap”, the music takes a very deep and ominous spin on an otherwise clearly Batman-esque sound. As for sound effects, the punches, grunts of pain, and crunches are all fairly cartoon-ish, but most of them are quite clean for a Super Nintendo game.

Batman's gameplay is also quite amazing; it's the perfect example of the “simple but effective” concept. The controls consist of Attack, Guard, and Jump, but several different attacks can be performed through combos. Besides the basic three punch-knee-roundhouse combo and jump kicks, the Dark Knight can also lift an enemy up by their neck and beat them up, slam them to the ground, or throw them against a wall or object if there's one in the background. And similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games, there's a powerful special attack (a cape sweep) that drains your life each time it's used.

The enemies are taken straight from the movie and include just about every form of evil clown you can imagine. The standard Thin Clown is the one you'll encounter the most, but there are also Fat Clowns, sword swallowers, devils, bikers, clowns on stilts, and jugglers. Each enemy has their own strengths and weaknesses; for example, the Biker Clowns are susceptible to Batarangs, while regular enemies are only momentarily dazed by them (although that is quite useful at times). The bosses are fairly unique, and are made up of most of the characters from the movie that you would imagine: the clown with the stun gun that attacks Selina Kyle, the Tattooed Strongman, the Organ Grinder, and of course, Catwoman and Penguin. Each boss has three or four different attacks at their disposal, and it takes a surprising amount of planning to counter-attack and defeat them.

And while Batman is ninety percent a side-scrolling fighter, there are also a few unique platforming levels to break up the monotony of beating up clowns. Your Bat-Grapple comes in handy during these levels, which require you to maneuver across rooftops and escape from a burning building when the floor is on fire. There's also a level later in the game that puts you in the Batmobile, fending off an endless army of Biker Clowns while you chase down the Penguin's campaign van. Silly? Of course, but do you really need a good reason to take the Batmobile for a spin?

In fact, the only real problem with Batman's gameplay is the lack of any invulnerability after being knocked down. This means that while you're in the process of standing back up, Batman is vulnerable to any cheap shot that an enemy tries to throw at you. Quite often, you'll be backed into a corner, helpless as you smash the attack button and watch your life bar drop to zero. Thankfully, you gain extra lives for every 50,000 points you earn, which come fairly quickly. In fact, you should be able to pick up an extra life at a rate of once per level, which isn't a bad deal.

Besides the threat of cheap shots, though, Batman isn't terribly difficult. At default, you have three lives and three continues to get you through a grand total of seven levels, none of which are considerably long. On average, the game should take about a half-hour to forty-five minutes to blow through. This is a positive in some ways; you don't have to worry about seriously devoting a lot of time and effort into the game and its length prevents it from becoming redundant and boring. However, this also cuts the replay value to nearly zero. Completing the game leaves you with nothing but the challenge of finishing it at a higher difficulty, which, while succeeding at providing a challenge, isn't very satisfying. The fruits of your labor for finishing the game at the highest difficulty (Mania) are a five second scene from the film and an extra screen congratulating you. Is it worth it? You decide.

In the end, though, Batman Returns is a genuinely fun game; easily one of the best side-scrollers I've played on the SNES. Simply put, if you come across this game, you won't regret buying it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/03/06

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