June 20th, 1997.
On that date twenty years ago, one of the worst reviewed comic book, nay FILMS, of all time was released in North American cinemas, a movie so bad that parent company Warner Bros. would not release another live-action Batman film for eight years. That film of course was the Joel Schumacher directed, George Clooney starring with ice puns galore, Batman and Robin. It’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come since then in the comic book film genre. While that summer brought us Men in Black, it also gave us Batman and Robin, Steel and Spawn. Contrast that with this summer where we’ve already gotten Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman with Spider-Man: Homecoming around the corner, not to mention Logan and The Lego Batman Movie which came out before the summer film season even started.
I had every intention to fully review Batman and Robin on the original PlayStation for the films twentieth anniversary, but by playing the game for a very short time, I came to a very hasty conclusion: this game is terrible. I try not to make quick conclusions about games based on what can only really be a brief demo, as that’s basically the equivalent of make a judgement on a film after seeing only ten minutes or an entire TV series after viewing only an episode or two. In the case of Batman and Robin, I’m not sure that even sticking with it until the very end would reveal that the game is a hidden master piece. The controls for one are horrendous with two entirely different control schemes that you have to keep straight in your head depending on whether your fighting or investigating. There’s also yet another control scheme for when your driving in a vehicle, which is hard enough in itself as the draw distance is very close to whatever vehicle you’re in which causes makes it difficult to know when to turn or move out of the way of a vehicle in front of you.
Needless to say you don’t really feel like Batman, the world’s greatest detective and Gotham’s most feared vigilante when you’re easily toppled by Mr. Freeze’s goons because you’re not in fight mode or crashing into pedestrian vehicles on the city streets.As easy as it is to see that Batman and Robin is not a very good game very early on, it’s conversely easy to see that buried within the game are a lot of great ideas that even Rocksteady hasn’t implemented in the Arkham games. Things like:
1) A TRUE OPEN WORLD
Batman and Robin is the second game on the PlayStation after Batman Forever: The Arcade Game and whereas the latter was a simple brawler with some flashy 3-D effects thrown in, the former features a fully open Gotham City in which you can explore either on foot or in a vehicle like the Batmobile. It’s not exactly a good looking Gotham City mind you, but at the same time it’s impressive for an early PlayStation movie tie-in game. Save Batman: Arkham Asylum that took place on Arkham Island, ever game in the main line series has been set within Gotham City, but there’s always been some plot element to remove citizens from the streets, like the quarantined portion of the city in Batman: Arkham City, the winter storm in Batman: Arkham Origins, even Batman: Arkham Knight on the current generation of consoles had plot reasons to keep both civilians and traffic off the streets. That’s not the case with Batman and Robin.
Though it’s primitive, Batman and Robin has a Gotham City where Batman can stop random street crime and must be weary of other cars on the road, which is something that as of this writing has never been featured in the most critically acclaimed Batman games of all time.
2) ACTUALLY HAVING TO BE A DETECTIVE
Video game have struggled with implementing Batman’s detective skills with even the Arkham series only really ever making you do glorified Easter Egg hunts before making you follow a virtual trail of bread crumbs. Very early on, as in one of the first things you do, in Batman and Robin is learn that being a detective is one of the most important parts of the game. You’re given a series of clues in the Bat-computer that you have to decipher to find out exactly when and where Mr. Freeze is going to strike. Once you figure out that information, you then have to get to the scene of the crime before Mr. Freeze does, so unlike for example a lot of open-world games today where things will wait for you if you want to hold off on the story to hunt for collectibles, Batman and Robin will not stand for that. If you don’t arrive at the museum when Mr. Freeze does, he will complete his heist and get away.Upon arriving at a crime scene, is is up to you to explore it to look for clues to find out where the next one will take place. It’s not easy to do that mind you with some of the worst controls ever in a 3-D video game, but it’s amazing that a tie-in game based on one of the worst Batman films has some of the cleverest ideas about how to do detective work in a Batman game.
3) IT WAS THE FIRST BATMAN GAME THAT ALLOWED YOU TO FREELY GET OUT OF VEHICLES
Before the release of Batman and Robin, the Batmobile and other vehicles were either something that broke up the pace from traditional side-scrolling action/brawling like in Batman Returns or The Adventures of Batman and Robin on SNES or you were either strapped into the vehicle for the entirety of the game like the Sega CD version of The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Not only could you freely transition in and out of vehicles in Batman and Robin, it was often a necessity to do so. In order to get to a crime scene in time, you need to drive there but along the way, you may find a citizen being assaulted on the street that you need to help or an alarm going off somewhere along the way that you need to investigate and to do either, you need to get out of your vehicle. It took four games across two console generations and developers to allow you to drive a vehicle in the Arkahm series, in Batman and Robin you could do so right out of the gate.
4) IT WAS THE FIRST APPEARANCE OF BATGIRL AS A PLAYABLE CHARACTER
Like how the film in which it was based on was the first time Batgirl was in a live-action film, Batman and Robin’s tie-in game similarly was the first game that allowed you to play as her as well. Not only that, but you could do so as early form the start. The character wasn’t someone to be unlocked like in the Lego Batman series nor were they divorced from the main game like in Batman: Arkham Knight; If you wanted to play through the game just as Batgirl, you could. About the only other game that has let you do that since was 2003’s Batman: The Rise of Sin Tzu. Robin as well was also fully playable from the start, however he could also be picked over Batman in Batman Forever as well making his game less important for him, but his inclusion, like Batgirls, is still pretty impressive.
Just like how most people wouldn’t recommend you go watch the Batman and Robin film, I won’t tell you that you need to play the game of the same name either. That being said, unlike the movie Batman and Robin, there are things in the game that could be better worked into future Batman video games, as this game did things like an open-world and dual character/vehicle gameplay long before Rocksteady was even formed as a studio.
The original PlayStation was not the only dedicated gaming device to receive a game based on Batman and Robin. Tiger Electronics, those who made single screen LCD games based on beloved franchises and video games, brought their own dedicated handheld to market in the late 90’s called the Game.Com and one of the few pieces of software released for the device was a Batman and Robin video game. I’ve never played the game myself, but it holds a special place in my heart as someone who loved listening to podcasts from the EGM/1up.com staff. Crispin Boyer, formerly of EGM, would use the sound effects from Game.Com’s Batman and Robin during promos for shows like EGM Live or would just randomly start playing the game during shows. I would always have a difficult time explaining to people exactly what I was laughing so hard at. Take a listen, at the very least until you hear Batman get punched: