Tim Burton’s take on the Batman franchise was so rad. I mean, the movies are as goofy as hell, but between the excellent performances from the cast, and the awesome set design and atmosphere, they’re a sight to behold. The second movie, Batman Returns, also serves as an excellent alternative Christmas movie to people who prefer to avoid the good feels of the holiday. Sort of like Die Hard.
There were about a jillion games that followed the movie. Each platform seemed to have its own port — Genesis, Sega CD, NES, SNES, Game Gear, Sega Master System, Amiga, DOS, Atari Lynx — almost all of which are entirely distinct. Konami worked on both the NES and SNES version, and this was when they were in their prime. For this Christmas, I’m looking at the SNES version, which includes names like Etsunobu Ebisu. So, y’know, Merry Christmas to me.
I’VE PLAYED THIS STINKIN’ GAME LIKE A HARP FROM HELL!
Konami rolled the genre dice and landed on beat-’em-up for Batman Returns, and, oh gosh, what a fit. The game itself follows the plot of the movie pretty closely, succinctly summing up the background details in short cutscenes, leaving you to play all the action scenes. The Penguin is running for mayor, Catwoman is sort of helping him while trying to get revenge on Christopher Walken, who doesn’t really make an appearance here. Which is unfortunate, because beating up on Christopher Walken would be all kinds of awesome.
It’s a pretty straightforward beat-’em-up in the sense that you chase the right side of the screen while beating up everyone who comes at you until you reach the end. It doesn’t deviate from the formula to any significant degree. The biggest changes are in the addition of some more directly side-scrolling action stages that require light platforming with the terrible grappling hook mechanic, and a single driving stage. It’s more variety than you’d get from something like Streets of Rage or Final Fight, but it’s also pretty fleeting.
WHAM! BIFF! POW!
The combat is what really helps Batman Returns stand out. There’s only one attack button, but you can also grab enemies in a system similar to Final Fight. Once you have an enemy in your grasp, you can lay into them with a combo, slam them against the ground, slam them against the wall, or grab another enemy and slam them into each other. The sound effects and general pacing makes the combat feel so tangibly physical, it’s outstanding.
There’s also a batarang that deals basically no damage, making it more useful as a way of temporarily stunning enemies to let you get in close. As is legally mandated, there’s also a limited screen clearing attack, as well as a spin that I never used because it chips off a bit of your health whenever you hit someone with it. Oh, there’s also a block button, which I can’t believe is such a rarity in the genre.
From beginning to end, you fight an assortment of clowns, which makes it either the best or worst game for a coulrophobe. I kind of feel like this makes things monotonous, but then I remember that Streets of Rage has you fight palette swaps of thugs throughout its entire runtime, and it becomes a bit more understandable. I guess it makes things at least visually monotonous, even if it doesn’t affect gameplay.
The bosses are about what you’d expect; fantastically cheap. Like most beat-’em-ups, the trick is to take as little damage as possible while trying to cheese the boss’s attack pattern. They’re honestly not bad, though. There is, again, a decent variety present, and even when certain characters repeat themselves, it’s usually a completely different battle.
TRAGIC IRONY OR POETIC JUSTICE?
In your typical Konami style, Batman Returns is also a bit of a visual treat. It copies the visuals of the movie almost to a fault, where you’re left wishing for some colour to show up. The characters are huge, distinct, and detailed. There’s a nice variety of visual effects present, though they show a bit of uncharacteristic restraint with taking advantage of the SNES’ Mode-7 effect. There’s some interesting lighting, atmospheric effects, and warping, so there’s a lot to dig into.
It’s a wonderful transfer of the movie’s visuals. Gotham’s twisted, art deco landscape and dingy streets are all accounted for. Like the enemies, this does get a little monotonous, but genre staples like environmental hazards and an elevator section all make appearances. Given the game’s brief length, and the fact that it accurately fits the atmosphere of the films, it’s absolutely forgivable that the levels lack a bit of diversity.
It’s also one of the few versions of Batman Returns that uses part of Danny Elfman’s original score so, yes, the Batman theme does make an appearance.
GOOD WILL TOWARD MEN… AND WOMEN
If there’s anything that’s really lacking, it’s a two-player mode. That’s kind of understandable, because who would player 2 play as? Robin wasn’t introduced in the film series yet (thank goodness), and Catwoman is sort of ambiguously evil. Maybe it could have been Alfred!
Anyway, Batman Returns is an extremely enjoyable beat-’em-up. It suffers from the typical pitfalls of the genre, such as a somewhat monotonous design, cheap bosses, and a brief length, but it’s no worse than any other. There’s also limited continues, which Konami was all about back in the day.
Where it excels, however, is a fantastic combat system that feels physically satisfying. The fisticuffs are probably some of the best I’ve experienced in a beat-’em-up, creating something that doesn’t re-write the book, but it innovates in small ways that makes it stand out. It’s like catnip to me.
This review was conducted on an SNES using an original cartridge of the game. It was paid for by the author.