Batman has been featured in an animated series, whether his own or part of an ensemble, since Batman: The Animated Series debuted in the early 90’s. Where there’s a cartoon, there’s inevitably a video game or two to capitalize on its popularity and Batman had them in spades, however the well had seemingly dried up after the lukewarm at best reception of 2003’s Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu from Ubisoft. WB Games and developer WayForward returned to the Batman animated world in a big way in 2010 with the release of Batman: The Brave and the Bold on both the Nintendo Wii and DS, offering two unique experiences on a similar premise. Though on inferior technology, the DS version of TBATB trumps the stunning looking game on the superior Wii hardware and is a game that Batman and classic 16-bit action game fans should not miss.
I can’t think of a better developer working today to work on a video game based on an animated series than WayForward. Their work on 2-D games has been eye-catching since they caught everyone’s attention with their break-out hit Shantae on the Game Boy Color in 2002 and they’ve only gotten better over the years. WayForward captures the look of the show perfectly, from the phenomenal sprite work on Batman, his partners, and the outrageous villains he comes across to the bizarre locals you’ll visit like Science Island and the underwater world of Atlantis. The animation reminds me in a lot of ways of another Batman animated game, The Adventures of Batman and Robin on the SNES, fitting as WayForward also worked on Contra 4 for Konami, also on the DS. Playing this game will make you feel like your playing a SNES game you somehow missed and are glad you came across.
Another way TBATB reminds me of The Adventures of Batman and Robin is how its structured. There’s no overarching story, just a series of levels that are self-contained episodes. This also mimics the template set by the animated series it’s based on, and thus it fits extremely well within the structure of the license. The player is also given the choice to complete the stages in whatever order they feel like, much like another 16-bit fan favorite series, MegaMan.
Whereas the Wii game based on the same name was a basic, but rather fun, 2-D co-op brawler with one player taking the reins of Batman and the other playing as whatever comrade the Caped Crusader teams up with, again taking a page from the show, TBATB on the DS is strictly for one player only. While this seems like a downgrade, it actually makes the game better in a number of ways. No matter who you played with in the Wii game, everyone played exactly the same and the same stands here somewhat: Each character has a light and heavy attack, jump, block and dodge roll, but WayForward got much more creative with the partner characters in the handheld game.
The goal in the Wii game was to move from left to right in traditional brawler fashion, punching bad guys, etc, but on the DS you have to use every characters abilities to solve environmental puzzles by swapping between Batman and his partner with a quick tap on the touch screen. Batman, for example, can wall jump (again like in The Adventures of Batman and Robin) and use his grappling hook to climb on high ledges and shimmy across them. Green Arrow can double jump and trick arrows to create additional platforms, similar to how Green Lantern can stack green construct blocks to reach high up ledges and dash across extended gaps. Red Tornado can use his tornado’s to cool lava pillars to use as platforms while Aquaman, you guessed it, can manoeuver underwater and summon fish to use as projectiles.
Not to be outdone by the heroic types, the bosses get a chance to shine as well. You do encounter some of the traditional Batman rogues, like Catwoman, Scarecrow, and the Joker in the opening tutorial, but most of the bad guys are comprised of obscure villains you may or may not have heard of unless you’re the hardest of hardcore DC fanatic. Whether you know the back-story of the bosses is irrelevant though as they’re all a blast to fight. Some will have a pattern you have to remember to defeat them, while others will arrive on beautiful looking screen filling death machines like Black Manta’s giant crab-bot. The above mentioned Scarecrow feels like WayForward was aping a page from the Death playbook in another Konami series, Castlevania.
Seeing what hero you’ll be paired up with and what bosses you’ll encounter is a lot of the appeal in TBATB, making you want to play just one more level to see who’s around the corner. Upon beating a level you’ll be given three bonus challenges: a boss rush where you have to fight the bosses in any given level without dying, a stage that’s designed to test your ability with all of the games characters, and finally a combat arena where you’re assigned a random character and have to beat a few small waves of enemies. Successfully completing these stages will award you additional currency that you can then use to upgrade Batman and gives you the opportunity to experiment with the characters in new ways as well as experience the great boss fights over again.
Between stages you visit the Bat-Cave where you can replay levels you’ve beaten, try out the additional challenges, look at the character gallery you’ve collected by finding hidden orbs within the main stages and upgrade Batman by spending currency. You’re given a lot of options on how you want to upgrade Batman: You can add additional batarangs, screen clearing explosives, additional health and the ability to shoot lighting from your punches among others. Beating the levels also grants you additional upgrades, again like MegaMan, like an item radar to help in the discovery of hidden items. You need not worry about not getting everything, as you’ll easily be able to afford everything with more than enough currency left over.
What may hold back TBATB from being a classic in a lot of minds of a lot of people is its length and difficulty. Completing all of the levels, upgrading Batman and mastering all of the extra bonus challenges shouldn’t take any experienced player any more than a couple of hours. The only thing left to go back for is a few character orbs which you may be able to find in your first play through. As the animated series is one skewed towards a younger audience, the older crowed won’t find much of a challenge with no penalty for death other than being put back at the start of a boss, or a few screens back within a level.
Length and difficulty aside, Batman: The Brave and the Bold is a game that should not be missed by fans who can’t get enough of games that remind them of SNES games and DC comics fans. WayForward has created a game that pays a great deal of respect to not only the license their using, but to some of your all time favorite classic 2-D gaming franchises as well. Batman only made one appearance on the DS outside of the Lego games pretty late into the system’s life cycle, luckily for fans its one of the best Batman games on a handheld, and in the pantheon of games featuring the character as well.