|The prelude to awesome...|
It does seem like the guy is absolutely everywhere at the moment. However the current hyperbole surrounding the Caped Crusader does give me the perfect excuse to talk a bit about one of his most highly regarded forays into the video game world: Batman Returns on the Super Nintendo.
Developed by the magicians at Konami back in 1992/93, Batman Returns is essentially a scrolling beat-em-up based on the movie of the same name...think Final Fight but with Keaton, Pfeiffer and DeVito replacing Cody, Hagger and Guy! The story goes something like this: maniacal business tycoon Max Shreck has formed an unholy alliance with The Penguin and Catwoman, together the three plan to bring Gotham to its knees (just for a change). As the heroic Dark Knight, you have to punch, kick and swing your way through a menagerie of baddies on the snowy streets to save the day. As it is commonly known, movie/game tie-ins are notorious for being, well...a bit cack really, but thankfully Konami bucked the trend here in a big way.
|Konami + Super Power = amazement|
As with the majority of Konami’s SNES offerings, the graphics on show are nothing short of divine. The game opens with a quite stunning intro sequence that shows off some swanky digitised stills from the film, amazingly Michelle Pfeiffer manages to look enticing even when displayed in 16bit!
The in-game sprites (both major and minor characters) have a chunky and well designed look about them. The entire game is fantastically animated and manages to move with a fluidity that is quite astounding given that it was one of the earlier titles to be released on the SNES. There is also some decent use of parallax scrolling within the levels, coupled with lush backgrounds and lighting effects (check out the Christmas tree for instance) to really turn heads.
The baddies are refreshingly original if a bit weird in places (giant skulls riding motorbikes anyone?), the mixture of clowns, jugglers and American Indians (nope, I have no idea either) makes a nice change from the stock street punks seen in the likes of Double Dragon and Undercover Cops. The end of level bosses; Catwoman in particular are sights to behold, and I actually found myself a couple of lives down from admiring them too much.
|Parents queueing outside Toys r Us?!|
In the world of the scrolling beat-em-up, soundtracks are often left dripping in uninspiring or horribly cheesy background music. Happily Batman Returns brings to the table an epic rendition of Danny Elfman’s original movie score which not only belies the age of the game, but brings with it a real sense of that comic book atmosphere and this fits in perfectly with the gritty charm of Christmas in Gotham. Fans of the movie will instantly recognise signature melodies, and Konami’s use of the SNES’ quality sound chip set up is impressive to say the least.
The game is heavily loaded with some very satisfying sound effects; there are lots of hefty sounding thuds and cracks to let you know that bones are being crunched and heads are being cracked, these effects add a great deal to the game and are genuinely (and perhaps worryingly) realistic!
|Or more likely squeal, as you punch her face in!|
This where Konami really have pulled out the stops, Batman Returns plays like a dream. The brawling is right out of the top drawer and even gives the mighty Streets of Rage II a run for its money. Along with regular punches and kicks, the Dark Knight can also play a bit dirty by grabbing two enemies and cracking their heads together (rewarding) or even by throwing them at the wall or through windows...which is a wonderful touch (and immensely rewarding!).
The mandatory energy sapping special attack is also present and correct; a nice looking swing of the cape will take out all nearby enemies when things get a bit lairy. And of course, this being Batman there are a few elaborate gadgets to be called upon: the batarang, which stuns the crims for a couple of seconds allowing you to get the drop on them, and the batrope, which is ace for getting out of tight (and sometimes on fire!) spots. The last of these toys are the ‘test tubes’, loosing one of these bad boys unleashes a smart bomb effect and obliterates everything (normal) on screen...he’s nothing if not tooled up.
The two bones of contention I have with the gameplay are the slightly cheap boss fights, which can take up a good deal of your ‘test tubes’ and lives without you making much of a dent in their health bars, and the Batmobile section. It’s not that it’s terrible, the roads of Gotham look acceptable and the whole thing moves along at an ample pace, but it does just lack the polish that rest of the game displays so readily...to be honest, it’s a relief when it’s over and you get back to stoving heads in!
|Insert Batfink joke here...|
Unlike many scrolling beat-em-ups of the day, Batman Returns is actually pretty tough to beat, and should keep most players busy for a while...especially if you play it on the ‘mania’ setting which is completely mental! The boss fights alone can easily cost you a few lives, and while they can be a bit cheap, it’s nothing that’ll drive you to smashing the controller. The pick up and play appeal of this kind of game give serious relay value and I found myself playing it right the way through a couple of times.
The only thing that does slightly hamper the life of the game is the lack of two player mode. I know this is a bit harsh because the source material doesn’t really allow for one, but as any brawler fan can attest, stalking the streets and dishing out vigilante style justice is always more fun with a friend.
|Christmas cheer...Gotham style|
The bottom line is that Batman Returns is an absolute gem of a video game. For my money it is the best example of the scrolling beat-em-up genre on the SNES (outside of Japan at any rate), and probably the best Batman game I’ve ever played. It boasts glorious graphics, a wonderful soundtrack and has the charm and panache to rival even some of Nintendo’s own first party offerings. For anyone who is bored of Final Fight and Rival Turf or just wants a better SNES alternative to the Streets of Rage series then Batman Returns could and probably should be the game for you.
With this title Konami showed early on that their reputation as one of the Super Nintendo’s top developers was very much justified. And although a myriad of alternative ports of the game were released on a variety of other formats (Mega Drive, Amiga NES etc), it is the SNES title that remains the seminal instalment, and as such it would make a worthy addition to any retro collection.
8.5 out of 10