The Sunsoft produced Batman NES games in my opinion were two of the best games on the system: They have great graphics, tight play control, a phenomenal soundtrack, and just the right amount of difficulty to get your pulse pounding, but not quite enough to make you throw your controller at the floor. Upon finishing both Batman: The Video Game and Batman: Return of the Joker, it was to my delight to learn that Sunsoft also produced a Batman game for the Sega Genesis based on the first Tim Burton film. As I learned with Batman: Return of the Joker on the Game Boy, Sunsoft plus the Batman license doesn’t always lead to a great game one hundred percent of the time.
Whereas Batman: The Video Game on the NES was a movie tie-in game in only the most basic sense of the term, Batman on Sega Genesis is a complete retelling of the ground breaking film. You start off the short adventure in the streets of Gotham, onto Axis Chemicals where Jack Napier undergoes his transformation to the villainous Joker, the art gallery where the Joker’s men trash the place whilst listening to Prince (heck, the guy carrying the Boom Box is a boss at one point,) to the final confrontation with the Joker on top of the bell tower. The greatest success in this version of Batman is how well Sunsoft captured the look of the film in this game. They announce where you are with a simple title card before each level, but if you’ve seen the film this detail comes across as redundant as each area is immediately recognizable to the point where you’ll say “ah, I remember that part, neat.”
Unfortunately one detail the developer near perfectly duplicated is how stiff Michael Keaton moved in that film. In the NES Batman film game, the Dark Knight is an incredibly nimble character who can leap from wall-to-wall with the greatest of ease; Here Batman moves and attacks at a snail’s pace. Watching Batman plod across the street is near painfully to watch, even more so when you fight the games unfairly active bosses. Your only attacks are a punch and a kick when you’re crouching, as well as a batarang projectile that you run out of after five uses unless you come across more within a level. As it takes forever to physically walk towards a boss to hit them, your best bet is to use your batarangs, however when you run out, you obviously have no choice but to resort to fisticuffs. One boss in particular will jump away from you before you move Batman in position to attack him and it’s hilarious to watch yourself even try to reach him. The best tactic to use is to exhaust your batarang ammunition, die, then come back reloaded to finish the job off. This even works on the incredibly easy last fight the with the Joker, but it does come with a caveat. You do have a limited number of continues to finish the game (4 on normal, 2 on hard,) even though the game takes a page out of the Silver Surfer book and doesn’t communicate to the player this fact. Seriously guys, is it so hard put in a continue counter?
Fighting the bosses with your handicapped movement speed is one thing, but it makes getting through the levels a pain as well. The first level holds little in the way of difficulty with no pit falls and enemies that succumb to one hit from a crouching kick attack, but as the game progresses the odds quickly and unfairly stack against your favor. Enemies constantly respawn no matter how much you take them out, and in the games third stage you have to carefully walk, as that’s the only way this Batman knows how, between chandeliers that rise and fall while dodging bullets from bad guys that just keep coming. Eventually you come across clown themed thugs that effortless back-flip away from your measly punch attack and come back faster than your rapidly depleting batarang stock. The best tactic here is trying to ignore them as best as possible, but in doing so leave yourself open to be attacked and then cheaply pushed into a bottomless pit. What made Batman so much fun on the NES is how you learned each enemies pattern and how to defeat them with the developer placing your opposition in clever spots that tested what you had learned throughout the game. None of that is anywhere to be found here.
The side-scrolling action is nowhere near as good as on the NES despite running on superior hardware, though one area this game does trump the 8-bit version is with the inclusion of vehicles. The Batmobile and Batwing only made brief appearances during a few cut-scenes in the NES Batman, but here both are playable in their own special level. Each of the vehicles control like a 2-D side scrolling shooter where you can fast-fire bullets or use a missile attack from a limited supply. The stages are nothing spectacular, but controlling the vehicles feels great and it’s a nice break from the sup-par action stages.
Perhaps the best part of any Sunsoft game is the soundtrack and I’m happy to say that Batman on the Sega Genesis doesn’t fail in that area. Some of the tunes, like the boss music, are remixed from the NES game but a lot of the music is unique to this particular outing. One downside is that the Sega Genesis sound processor makes everything sound worse than the NES, so while the music is good, you won’t catch yourself humming it afterwards.
If you’re looking for a fun Batman game based around the Tim Burton film, do yourself a favor and stick to Batman: The Video Game on the NES. Being able to pilot the Batmobile and Batwing is a fun distraction, but controlling the Caped Crusader himself, the thing that perhaps matters most in a game called “Batman,” is a chore. For a game that you can beat in about one to two sittings in a little over an hour with no prior experience with it (like I did,) it’s not worth the asking price.