The Game Based on the Movie (No, Not that One)

Batman (1989 PC Game)

I legitimately feel back for Ocean at this point. They had the license for BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. games on every console and PC system except the one that mattered, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sunsoft managed to sneak in and get the license to make a Batman game based on what suddenly became the blockbuster superhero hit of 1989, Tim Burton's Batman, and the biggest console in the land (and not even by a small margin) was the NES. Ocean, despite cranking out three Bat titles in quick succession, trying their darnedest to get gamers to pay attention, didn't even stand a chance.


The thing is, Ocean's games were very much from a different era than what Sunsoft was about to put out on the NES. Where Sunsoft crafted a finely tailored experience for the NES, one that played to that console's strengths, a tight and well-honed platformer than became an instant classic, Ocean's games went on PCs and other minor consoles, systems with varying levels of power, with different numbers of buttons, where the expectations for what would work could vary wildly. The fact that they made three playable (if average by comparison) games tailored to the PC is a marvel. That doesn't make them very interesting now, though, not with three decades between us and the original release date. And not with Batman on the NES standing there, ready to dominate the conversation in a matter of months.

Batman PC '89 is a fine enough game. In won a few Game of the Year awards, specifically for consoles that didn't tend to get great games (like the ZX Spectrum, sorry all you Spectrum fans). If you were a PC or PC-like gamer and you wanted to experience a version of the 1989 movie as a video game, Ocean's game was an acceptable solution. Not great, but acceptable. I struggle to think whether anyone really liked the game, not really. Not deep down, where it mattered.

The issue is that the game very much plays like a PC platforming title of the era. If you want to know what I mean by that, let me point you to another PC platforming game of the era: Mega Man for DOS. Have you played that game? Don't. It's absolute garbage. It's slow, it's tedious, it has maze-like levels that send your mind spinning. It is, in short, a terribly made, boring game. That was the kind of experience I was reminded of when I was playing through the first stage of Batman PC '89, and it frankly didn't get much better from there.

The game is broken up into five "stages". The first and last are platforming action stages where Batman first has to navigate through the Chemical Warehouse where, soon enough, the JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled. would be born. Late in the game the other platforming stage would find Batman chasing down Joker at the Gotham Cathedral. In between those stages there was a Batmobile stage (where you had to drive the vehicle, through a third person super-scaler style stage, back to the Bat Cave) and a Batwing stage (flying the plane around to cut the ropes of Joker's gas-filled balloons). And right, dead center in the middle was a short mini-game where Batman has to match chemicals (a la Mastermind) to find the cure for Joker's poison. It's a diverse selection of ideas, but unfortunately none of them are very good.

To start, the platforming stages are awful, and, unfortunately, they make up half of the game's run time. These stages are long and complex mazes without any indication of where you're actually supposed to go. The levels are absolutely teeming with enemies, not all of which you can kill (you'll really start hating rats by the time you complete the Cathedral). Note that while there are a ton of enemies in the game, they only come in two varieties: goons and rats. That's it. To take them out Batman can either hit them with a gas pellet or his grappling hook. The grappling hook also serves as his primary form of vertical locomotion, the required way to scale upwards through levels. Note, Batman can't jump in this game, so it's grappling hook or bust.

The driving stages at least look nice, but they don't play well. The vehicles are a tad to slippy, sliding around more than I'd like. They can also go very fast (which you'll need to do as you're working on time limits in these stages)but the faster you go the quicker obstacles come at you. Again, the vehicle stages are packed with obstacles because the best way to stretch out a short game is the kill the player over and over again. Artificial difficulty was the name of the game for the era.

Finally the chemical matching game is just... boring. It's Mastermind and if you've every played that game you know exactly what to do. Pick a few chemicals and the game will let you know which were right or wrong. DO this a few times and suddenly you have the solution. You can beat this mini game in 15 seconds or less. That's it, that's one of the five short stages of this game.

I can appreciate the mix of ideas and that Ocean tried to do, providing more than just a bunch of platforming levels. Considering their previous two games were exploration adventures, I also like that this game is solely focused on action. It's a nice change of pace and shows that Ocean was willing to do different things with the license. If you had one of the consoles or PC units that saw all three of Ocean's games (Batman '86 and Batman: The Caped Crusader being the other two) they you had a lovely mix of titles featuring the Dark Knight. I wouldn't say any of them were good by modern standards, but they were among the best those systems got.

And, in fairness, the presentation is nice. The music has got a solid, techno slap to it, and the game features a few different music tracks to entertain you (without becoming too repetitive). The graphics are nice enough too, in some ways better looking than what the NES could do (especially in he vehicle sections). There's still some weirdness to the graphics, especially in how Batman, the Joker, and the goons are drawn, but overall it is a nice looking (and sounding) package.

But that doesn't change the fact this game is woefully short and horribly made. Going through this game felt like torture. Even if we ignore the NES game that was soon to come, we still can't help but compare this title to all the action platformers gamers had access to on the NES. It was 1989 and the NES had been out for four years in North America. There was a glut of solid titles that players wanted to play. To look at those games and then make yet another ho-hum PC title that played like every other ho-hum PC title was a travesty. Ocean should have known better.

The best that can be said is that, for a PC platforming game, Batman is perfectly acceptable. This is a game that would leave players wanting and, within months, a much better Batman game would be out on the NES. That title would redefine expectations for the Dark Knight. Ocean's games at that point couldn't compete.