Review by Ian Pugh

"Batman hates clowns. But who likes clowns, anyway? I sure don't."

I have a serious bias for Batman Returns. Tim Burton's second cinematic go-around with the Dark Knight was one of my very favorite films growing up, with the exciting, nonstop action and Danny DeVito's bravura performance as the Penguin. I watched the movie so often that, if I were to search for that old VHS tape today, I'd probably find it in a serious state of disrepair. Looking back at the film, it has this odd atmosphere about it, as if Burton meant for it to become a video game. A circus-based criminal gang was just begging to become digital cannon fodder: Those wacky skullhead bikers and fire eaters were obviously stage-long villains to fight through, and of course the Strong Man was an end-level boss.

And so there we are; Konami released a Batman Returns scrolling fighting game for the SNES. I never actually owned this game, but I must've rented it a dozen times. I picked it up again recently - and in all the intervening years, none of its charm has worn off. All the fun of punching overweight clowns in the face remains.

This is probably one of the best console-based fighting games I've ever played, and I've certainly played my share. The controls are nearly flawless, and contain numerous innovations - Batman can perform a wide variety of attacks that aren't just comprised of punches and kicks. Just try picking up a clown and see what you can do with him - headbutt him, throw him at other enemies, or even grab another clown to smash their heads together. This may be the first game that lets you choose where you can throw your foe - either into the ground or into walls!

Konami tries to break up the gameplay by including stages where the game becomes a 2D platformer, and you're only allowed to use your Batarangs. Interesting, but it's an awkward attack, and you're left wondering why Batman doesn't simply pummel everyone in his way. It only makes you more eager to get back to your fists.

The graphics range somewhat in quality, but they are never unacceptable. Some sprites, like Batman's, are very detailed, and give a clear interpretation of the costume from the film. Others, like certain circus enemies and the Penguin, seem like standard SNES fare and could have been spruced up a bit. In any case, what you really want to be paying attention to is the backgrounds - Batman Returns uses the large art deco statues from the movie to the very hilt. Also, try throwing your opponents into different objects - road signs, parking benches, and windows are all adversely affected. That level of detail is simply astounding for an SNES game; not even Capcom's Final Fight series could involve the backgrounds so well.

Batman Returns was probably the first movie that made me realize just how important a musical score was to cinema. Danny Elfman's instrumentals have become nearly inseparable from the image of Batman, and you will be surprised by how much of that score they were able to shove into the game. Luckily, even the limitations of the SNES could not keep the music from sounding genuine.

There are actually some smart conversions of ideas from the movie, something rare within a video game from this era. The first boss is the stungun-wielding clown that holds Selina Kyle hostage. Remember in the movie, how Bats uses his grappling hook to yank a piece of the wall behind the clown and knock him out? Well, you can do that here, too. I wouldn't doubt if they put a grappling hook in the game's inventory for the sole purpose of this one action.

Of course, readily ignore the attempts to adapt the screenplay to the video game medium in its cutscenes. Simply put, a few sentences of the plot outline can't make a coherent story; they should've just stuck to the gameplay. Multiple references to the villainous businessman Max Shreck permeate the game, and there's not even a single screenshot of Christopher Walken. Didn't Konami know that Walken makes everything twice as good by his mere appearance?

But lack of Walken aside, this is honestly one of the finest scrolling fighters that the Super Nintendo had to offer. If you happen to come across it in a fit of SNES nostalgia, don't hesitate to pick it up. Hey, and why not rent the movie, too? It'll be a night of Michael Keaton-related fun for the whole family!

This review of Batman Returns for the SNES is Copyright 2004, Ian Pugh.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/16/04

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