BATMAN RETURNS’ VIDEO GAME LEGACY IS PERHAPS MORE INTERESTING THAN THAT OF THE FILMS

Batman Returns, released twenty-five years ago today on June 19th, 1992 was the last Tim Burton directed, Micheal Keaton starring movie before the franchise was torpedoed by Joel Schumacher and eventually rebooted by Christopher Nolan in 2005 with Batman Begins. Though perhaps not remembered as fondly as Burton’s first outing with DC’s iconic character in 1989, it’s still an important milestone in Batman’s film history, and maybe not even because of the movie itself. In a film that has Michelle Pfeiffer’s take on Catwoman that’s still what many people think about today when they think of that character, penguins with missile launchers strapped to their back and Christopher Walken as an evil department store owner who’s trying to suck the electricity out of Gotham City, what dwarfs all of that is how interesting the video game tie-ins surrounding Batman Returns are.

How movie games traditionally work is that a publisher will buy the license to make games related to a film and they are the only ones allowed to do so. Activision for example were the only ones allowed to make Spider-Man movie games from 2002 to 2014 at least on consoles and handhelds, and the same went for Sega who locked down all the Phase One Marvel Cinematic Universe games save the Avengers (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger). Generally speaking there’s one major SKU, more than likely released on a console, PC, or in some cases like the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, exclusively on a handheld. In the case that a console game is the primary title, there’s sometimes an accompanying handheld game that’s reworked to fit on the constraints of lesser hardware, which is what happened a lot in the GC/PS2/Xbox era where there would be a Game Boy Advance game that would maybe share the same plot as its console counterpart but little else. Things got a lot murkier in the PS3/Xbox 360/Wii/DS/PSP/PS2 days with some movie titles like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Spider-Man 3 getting at least three unique games, but they were all still controlled by Activision.

In 2007, there were eight consoles in which you could play a Spider-Man 3 game on: PS2/PS3/PSP/PC/Xbox 360/Wii/DS and Game Boy Advance. Of those games, there’s two groups of three that are the same: PS3/Xbox 360/PC as well as PS2/PSP/Wii while the DS and Game Boy Advance handheld titles are as different were from one another as they are to the console games. Every single one of those games was published by Activision. Batman Returns on the other hand received eight different games from four different publishers. With the exception of two titles where one was on a console and the other was a handheld port of that game, there were seven different games that carried the title Batman Returns. 

The most well-known versions of Batman Returns are perhaps those that were released on the SNES by Konami and the Sega Genesis by Sega. Konami’s title was a single-player brawler likened to games like Capcom’s Final Fight or Konami’s own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games that featured some stages that resembled a traditional 2-D side-scroller as well as driving stages for variety. Sega’s Batman Returns was a very difficult 2-D action platformer from the same people who developed Ex-Mutants and Tom Mason’s Dinosaurs for HireBoth Sega and Konami also continued to support the 8-bit platforms with Konami releasing at Returns game on the NES that also was a 2-D brawler title but completely different from their SNES game while Sega put out a game on both the Sega Master System and Game Gear, which are the only two Batman Returns games that are the same of the eight SKU’s that exist.

Unlike Nintendo, Sega also had a CD based add-on to support in the Sega CD and it too got its own Batman Returns game. The Sega CD title is more or less that same game as Returns on the Genesis, however Batmobile driving levels were added as well as higher quality CD caliber music. If you want to experiment with the source code for the Sega CD game, you can do so as Chris Shrigley, a programmer who worked on the game, put the game’s source code online in 2015. Though different from one another in a lot of ways, both Konami and Sega’s games were still 2-D action titles, just simply played from different perspectives. A lesser known Konami game that couldn’t be more different from all the Batman Returns games is the one produced for DOS. Instead of being an action game, it was a point-and-click adventure title which caused some controversy. Gametek, who did a Batman Returns game for Amiga, supposedly released marketing material for their game that simply used screen shots from Konami’s DOS game, however the game that was eventually released by them turned out be yet another 2-D side-scroller, and a not a well regarded one at that.

Image via Batman-Online

What’s strange is that arguably the most popular handheld at the time, the Gamy Boy, didn’t ever get a Batman Returns game, and bizarrely a handheld that did get a tie-in game, the Atari Lynx, is home to a very important Batman game historically speaking. Batman Returns on the Lynx was not only the first Returns game released, but it was also the only to release in the same year as the film of the same name in 1992. As Chris Baker discovered while writing an article for Glixel about the video game debut of all the playable fighters in Injustice 2, it was also the first game to ever feature Catwoman in any capacity. Baker in his article points out that Catwoman doesn’t even resemble anything remotely similar to Pfeiffer’s iconic costume from the film, that is unless you can’t maybe towards the end when her suit is torn up, but even then Catwoman’s sprite in the Lynx game has red hair instead of blonde.

Image via Glixel

When it was released all the way back in 1992, Batman Returns was a very big deal in that it was the both the first time a DC Comics based film had received a sequel since Superman II, but also the first ever Batman film sequel. Since then of course we’ve seen five more live-action Batman films, a film in which Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman shared the screen for the first time and later on this year audiences can see the debut Justice League film in which Batman once again will stand with some of the mightiest heroes in the DC Universe. Even with disasters like Batman and Robin and audience dividing films like Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Batman will continue to have to exist in one form or another in the realm of cinema, but what none of those movies will ever have such a unique and interesting relationship with video games as Batman Returns does.

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