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Batman: The Video Game – NES

Batman: The Video Game – NES

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System

Developer: Sunsoft

Publisher: Sunsoft

Release Date (NA): February 13th, 1990

Genre: Platformer

Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Reviewed By ZB

Wooooooo! Just beat Batman: The Video Game.

Phew.

And to celebrate, I think I’m gonna review this son of a bitch.

Shit.

Just realized I’ll have to play it again for screenshots. Welp, better write this thing while the review is still tingling in my fingers.

Batman. You know him. You love him. Hell, your grandparents – maybe even your great grandparents – knew Batman. He’s one of our oldest, most revered superheroes. And of course, in 1989 (1990 for those of us in the States), Sunsoft took it upon themselves to put out a game based on the legendary DC hero for the original Nintendo.

Though I’ve been something of a Batman fan at various stages of my life, I’ll admit I’m not a big comic guy. Does that disqualify me from putting out a proper review of a superhero game, or does it qualify me as a more objective critic?

You decide.

I never had much interest in this game for whatever reason, so I went many years without adding it to my stash. But my curious ears picked up numerous whispers of the game’s merits, and thus I gave in to the hype and grabbed a copy. After popping it in once or twice, I found it to be a decent platformer…nothing too special. But then I decided to put forward a sincere effort, and from there my opinion changed forever.

After a committed attempt to make it through the game, what I thought to be just another platformer turned out to be a real gem of an NES title – the pinnacle of its genre. And it has earned a highly prestigious spot in my library of favorite NES games.

“That’s quite a bold statement, innit?”

Well, allow me to explain…

In review form!

I’m going to start with the two most impressive aspects of Batman: The graphics and the controls.

This is an absolutely beautiful game for the system. Even for a late-release title this would look pretty damn gorgeous, but for 1989? God damn!

Beautifully rendered, though with so much going on and a layout of similar colors, it can be a lot to take in at times

Working within the 8-bit palette, the developers at Sunsoft created highly detailed imagery with characters and backgrounds that are equally immersive. Enshrouded in dark pixels, the player experiences a shadowy world full of danger and mystique. While it creates a fantastic visual appeal, I’ll admit in some instances it can be difficult to distinguish between foreground and background elements. This might pose a problem if you don’t have the sharpest vision, but even so, you’ll be quick to pick up what’s going on.

The animation is quite fluid for its time as well. From a smooth run cycle to the gentle wafting of his cape, and even the ninja guard (smoking a cigarette?) waiting for you in the first stage, the development team spared no detail when creating this game.

Whether or not he’s smoking, the casual pose of this enemy is more than you’d expect from an NES game

There are a few cutscenes throughout that are just as appealing to look at, maintaining the dark atmosphere of Gotham City as portrayed in the 1989 Tim Burton film.

These interludes are brief and only kind of resemble events in the movie. Aside from giving us an accurate quote or two, the cutscenes are pretty much only here to remind us we’re playing a game somewhat based on the Batman movie.

Yes. The Joker did, in fact, say this. Good work Sunsoft

Speaking of which…

Killer Moth is featured as the first boss

I have to address the elephant in the room here; this game barely meets the minimum requirements to uphold the Batman name. It contains the titular character, his arch-nemesis The Joker, features the Batarang as a weapon, and of course offers cutscenes to buy itself just a little more credibility. Wikipedia tells me that some other DC baddies make appearances as well. Other than these few ingredients, the assets are so random they could belong in pretty much any title.

And though this game has about as much to do with Batman as Mike Love has to do with The Beach Boys, it definitely has the right feel and tone. The way he moves and fights, his assortment of weapons, and his agility make him larger than life. And as already stated, the protagonist certainly seems at home in the dark and brooding atmosphere.

This without a doubt has the right look for Gotham City

Alright, I think that sufficiently covers the graphics. Now on to the controls.

What does Batman: The Video Game have in common with funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chong?

Why, expert timing, of course.

The key factors that make Batman such a great game are the unique, complex platforming/level mechanics and how you are able to respond to them.

For some reason our hero has a wall-jump ability that is expertly and frequently implemented, serving an essential function to progress through stages. This stunt is a lot of fun, creating a nuanced gameplay experience. It challenges you to be as precise as possible with your movements – at times requiring pixel-perfect contact and quick maneuvering to proceed without taking damage. As such, tight controls are necessary to make this all work.

Any higher or any lower and our Caped Crusader would have taken damage

You have a healthy influence over his movements, with variations resulting from how quickly and how hard you press a button. Punching is fast and responsive, and you have an ample amount of control when jumping – for the most part, depending on how it’s performed. If you are running and press the jump button, Batman is more or less committed to that direction, much like in Castlevania and Ghosts ‘N Goblins. Unlike those games, however, you can at least ease the intensity of your forward motion and have some leverage over your arc, making an accidental hop less fatal than in those aforementioned titles. If you jump from a stationary point, you will maintain complete and total maneuverability through the air, lending an additional layer of complexity to your approach. Batman: The Video Game dishes it, but believe me, you’ll feel like you’re in good hands with the Dark Knight at your command.

As Batman, you have a melee attack and three ranged weapons. You are, of course, equipped with the Batarang, but also found on your utility belt are a spear gun and a dirk. While weapon variety is not necessarily the focus of this game, your weapons are highly utilized throughout. Aside from punching, each attack uses ammo, with the Batarang costing you one, the spear gun two, and the dirk three.

You can carry up to 99 rounds of ammunition. Fortunately, both health and ammo are in ample supply. If the game was easier, this could be a mark against it, but the difficulty is such that the frequency of loot balances everything out.

What’s nice about this game is after you die you’ll continue with the same amount of firepower (unlimited continues, baby!), but do conserve your ammo whenever possible. If you run out in the later levels it can put you in a tricky spot, though it’s not impossible. Use those unlimited continues to your advantage and stock up. You’ll find Batman: The Video Game can be punishing at times, but it’s also merciful.

The difficulty of this game is on point; a nice challenge without being unfair. This is one of those classic NES games where practice makes perfect. Learning patterns and mastering control of the Caped Crusader will result in solid progress. Trust me, persistence will mold you into an expert. And with highly elaborate level design demanding the player exercise the utmost skill to succeed, Batman demonstrates what master game designers can really do.

The bosses may appear relentless, but if you break down and look up their patterns on the internet (like I did), you’ll find they are laughably easy. It’s the stages themselves that pose the most difficulty to the player. And let me tell you, the last level will really put your balls to the test. It certainly elicited some R-rated language from my strained lips. But all the more incentive to mark this game complete.

I wouldn’t say your abilities as a gamer are tested here quite as much as they are in classics such as Ninja Gaiden, Battletoads, or Castlevania, though it’s definitely no walk in the park. It’s a great pick-up-and-play title with a steady and even difficulty curve that keeps you engaged the entire time. Every bit of progress feels earned, and the overall length and lack of passwords or save function make it perfect for an afternoon of fun.

One of the most iconic rivalries. Say, why is The Joker so much bigger than Batman??

Now to cover the awesome soundtrack of this game.

Though it resembles nothing from the movie, the music is very appropriate for the tone and setting, with each track fitting the occasion perfectly. The intro and cutscene scores are intense and mysterious, and the levels have very memorable high-octane driving rhythms. You can’t help but feel the adrenaline rushing through your veins as these tunes blast out of your speakers. The distinct, classic track of the first level that combines the mystery of the cutscenes with the action of the stages is so good, it’s revisited in the final act, and the Axis chemical theme, with its awesome drum fills and dynamic composition, will easily become one of your favorite NES tunes.

The sound effects are also highly satisfying. Batman packs a powerful punch and you can hear it, making the Dark Knight feel every bit as imposing as he looks. Jumping produces a strong, severe sound, and you’ll encounter a strange laser noise more than once that is both bizarre and eerie – another element establishing the overall feel of Batman’s dangerous adventures.

So that’s Batman: The Video Game. It is without a doubt as good as they say. And with strong replayability, you can count on me popping this bad boy in again in the future.

Written by ZB

ZB

Since the tender age of four, I have been playing video games to occupy my free time. Raised on Nintendo and Sega Genesis, I have an extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for the classics. Also an avid collector, I have accrued such consoles as the Atari Jaguar, Super Famicom, Odyssey 2, Sega Nomad, just to name a few.

Got any questions, comments, concerns, or threats? Feel free to email me at zb@nerdbacon.com. I am happy to hear your feedback!

 
 

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