Rise of the Dark Knight

Batman (1989 NES Game)

You have to feel bad for Ocean. They tried. Over the course of three games, the production company tried very hard to create a good 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. game. And for the time, and the consoles (and computers) they were targeting, the games were decent enough. They didn't have a template to go off of and they had to try and make a game (or three) that would tap into the Batman ideas that had come before and create something that would honor the World's Greatest Detective. Sometimes they got close, but in all three instances (Batman '86, Batman: The Caped Crusader, and Batman '89 for other consoles and computers, they never really hit the mark.


The difference between what Ocean was able to create and what Sunsoft managed with Batman for the Nintendo Entertainment System was night and day. Their designers crafted a game that really tapped into the core of Batman, the dark superhero who would stalk the night, kicking the asses of bad guys while hunting down 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.. They got the license to make a game based on Tim Burton's Batman and they absolutely nailed it. They hit it out of the park so hard it would be another two decades before anyone else even got close. That's just how good this NES game was.

When you boot it up you can almost instantly understand why this game became an instant classic. From the opening frames the game is moody and interesting. It does, of course, feature the bright colors of the NES, but they're controlled in a way to make you feel like you're stalking the night. It has style, it has atmosphere, it conveys that sense of you stalking through Gotham, beating the shit out of bad guys. And it's complimented by a soundtrack that absolutely pushes you forward. This game, from moment one, kicks ass.

Batman (aka Batman: The Video Game) is a side-scrolling action title. It's a platformer, although the emphasis is on scaling and positioning as you have to take out enemies as you go up and across levels. Batman is lithe and powerful, able to scale around and along the various stages, but the emphasis is certainly on the character himself and his fists and action items. There's no grappling hook, no way to quickly scaling vast vertical sections. This is a Batman that has to do it all on his own, up close and personal.

The key action move, what gives this game is signature platforming, is Batman's ability to cling to walls. The play can jump at walls and Batman will grab them, holding steady so the player can then have him jump off after. This comes into the play often, especially in the games many vertical sections, as the player is forced to navigate tight platforming, with limited health, to get through the games many difficult stages. Scaling the game is a feat, but it is a worthy challenge.

The game is hard, as many NES titles were, but it's not an unfair hard. This is a game all about memorization, learning the levels and enemy placement so you can inch Batman ever further through the game. Enemies will always appear in similar places, will always act the same way. There's very little randomness to the game, so with solid memorization, and tight platforming, you can get through the game. All it takes is skill and patience.

And the game controls really well. The platforming is tight and responsive. The build of the game expects a lot of you, demands that you keep up as it throws challenging section after challenging section, but if you can get through the game will open up and let you deeper and deeper. The tight controls are its blessing as you're never fighting the game, always working with it. Yes, it may be hard but that's only because you haven't learned it yet, and the game will never play dirty tricks on you.

Arguably the game is a batter adaptation of the Batman movie than is its an adaptation of the Batman character. Batman in the movie is willing to kill guys at times (he has guns on the Bat-mobile, which would be a no-no in any other version of the character), and killing foes is the way to get ahead in this game. Hell, they regularly drop a variety of power-ups and ammo that you will need to take on other foes, and the many bosses. Killing guys with batarangs or other ammo is much easier than just using your fists, and you're honestly encouraged not to hoard ammo. Use it, or you're liable to take too much damage.

Of course, some would argue that the game isn't really an adaptation of the movie, either. And that's true if we're being literal. It doesn't follow the exact beats of the film, instead acting as a loose adaptation of the last act, with Batman chasing the Joker through various warehouses and factories until their final fight atop the Gotham Cathedral. But in spirit this game nails it, hitting that dark and gritty feel that feels very in line with the movie. It's less Gothic and more video game-y, as you'd expect, but it still feels like it evokes the world on the NES.

And it's fun. The game is a lot of fun, presenting its own unique way to play and interesting challenges. If you can get into it, it'll give you a solid adventure where you get to feel like Batman. And once you've mastered the game and have its true skill, you can even get through the adventure in less than half an hour (although don't expect to get that good any time soon). It's a kind of pick up and master adventure that the NES was so very good at, and Sunsoft nailed it right out of the gate with their first Bat-adventure.

What's funny is that this game is so good and even Sunsoft couldn't nail this specific formula twice. They made a Game Boy adaptation, a Genesis title, and a PC-Engine game, and they all play differently and lack the unique feel of this NES game. And even spiritual sequels from the company lose this perfect spark that the NES game had. Somehow this game came out of nowhere and nailed the feel of Batman perfectly. And then never again, at least not until the Arkham games arrived on the scene in the late 2000s. This title has it, and it's a credit to Sunsoft that they even managed it once.