When it came to adapting Batman’s escapades from the big screen in video game format the first time around, Sunsoft more or less had the monopoly on the character, producing games on everything from the NES, Game Boy and Sega Genesis. For the sequel to Batman, aptly named Batman Returns, the video game licensing was shared around a bit more. Atari produced games on their Lynx handheld, Sega handled duties on their devices and Konami catered to the Nintendo fan base. By the time Batman Returns hit theaters in 1992, Nintendo’s second home console, the SNES was approaching one year of life on North American shores. As opposed to just catering to everyone who upgraded to a 16-bit platform, Konami also threw 8-bit gamers a bone when they gave them Batman Returns on the NES, which much like licensed games they produced in that era, especially Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the game this is easily compared most to,) is a really fun, but also pretty challenging game, and yet another great game starring Batman on the NES.
Batman Returns on the NES follows the plot of the film of the same name and puts the title character up against the forces of Catwoman as well as the Penguin and his Red Triangle Circus Gang, who make up the majority of the games opposition. Much like TMNT 2 and 3 on the NES, Batman Returns is a side-scrolling beat-em-up, a downgrade perhaps from what Sunsoft accomplished in both Batman: The Video Game and Batman: Return of the Joker, but although Returns’ gameplay is much more simplistic, it doesn’t mean it’s not as action packed as its siblings on the console.
Despite the lack of buttons on the at that time aging NES, Batman has a decent repertoire of moves that can be reliably pulled off. Outside of the basic jump and punch attacks, he can perform a jumping kick, a slide attack by hitting down and jump and a health devouring cape attack move by hitting both inputs together, all of which you’ll need to know and master in order to effectively take out the vast army that is the Red Triangle Circus Gang. Konami gave Batman some gadgets, just as Sunsoft did before them, but they’re nowhere near as useful here and very small in number. You get a batarang that you dare not use on anything other than a boss as it has a very low ammunition counter and a grappling hook that’s almost like it’s forced into the game as it’s only really used in a few instances: One where you have to ascend through a building or into a window and another where you need it to hit a rather annoying toy helicopter in the games second stage.
One of the stand out elements in both the Tim Burton films was Batman’s incredible vehicles and I’m glad to report they make an appearance here and add much-needed variety to the simplistic beat-em-up action. The Batmobile as well as the Batskiboat are each available for one part of a mission only and play more or less the same, that is to say like a 2-D scrolling shooter with the caveat being the piloted crafts are either on the road or in the water. Of the two, the Batmobile is the only one with offensive capabilities, firing bullets into enemies on the ground and missiles to foes in the air. The Batskiboat mission feels a lot like the “Sewer Surfin'” level in TMNT IV on the SNES where the goal is to collect as much trinkets as you can to raise your health meter and collect points, something you’ll desperately be in search of as enough points grant extra lives that help greatly in getting through this challenging game.
From the games onset you have one full life bar only and from the first group of basic goons you approach, you’d think that is enough as they don’t pose much threat; a notion that quickly changes the very second you meet the first boss, die, and then have to start over the first level from the beginning. You have no extra lives to speak of, save an extra “Box” you earn that fills up a part of your life when it reaches zero, and let me tell you, hearing that chime that tells informs you that you’ve earned one of these is of the greatest sounds you’ll hear in the world.
Getting through Batman Returns requires a lot of practice and skill, mastering what type of attack is best used against what enemy and racking up a high enough score to make sure that you can survive to the next checkpoint. Some enemies, like the flame-spitting devil clowns will defintly raise your blood pressure, test your patience, and eat away at your precious life, and though it can be gruelling at times, a saving grace is that there’s no real penalty for dying. There’s also plenty of passwords that are easy to copy down, most which give you more life then what you started with, should you need to take a break and recompose yourself. At a mere six stages, some with multiple parts, Returns isn’t a terribly long game and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
As this is a Konami game on the NES, one of the stand out features is the soundtrack that is a joy to listen to and accompanies the action really well. What makes or breaks these types of games at times is having to listening to repetitive music which adds to the already rudimentary game type. Losing all your lives and boxes will send you back pretty far back at times to the beginning of some fairly lengthy stages, so it’s good that at the very least the soundtrack won’t get on your nerves when you have to do this.
Back in the day of the NES, Konami, along with Capcom, were the kings of the licensed games market and Batman Returns on the NES is a prime example of that. Players who lived in the arcade and played the likes of X-Men or those who cut their teeth on the genre with the likes of Double Dragon, Battletoads and TMNT 2 will feel right at home picking up the controller and giving Batman Returns a go. Its difficulty can spike high at times, but with unlimited continues and a streamlined password system that lets you return to the game with very little lost progress gives Batman Returns a fair challenge as opposed to an unreasonable one like a lot of games of its type, some I’m sure you’ve seen me talk about on this very page. If you like beat-em-ups, Batman, or just a great NES game, this is a game that can be enjoyed anytime of year.