Fastest Bat-Gun in the West

Batman (1990 Game Boy)

With the license to make games based on (at least) 1989's Batman, Sunsoft followed up their sublime NES title with a Game Boy iteration. Although ostensibly based on the same movie (and all these games were released as the same time with Batman: The Video Game as their branding), this version for Nintendo's portable is a far less interesting title for the caped crusader. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that without specifically having a 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. sprite in the game, you'd be hard pressed to know this was even really a Batman game at all.


Okay, maybe that's a little over the top. This game does, sort of, follow the plot of the 1989 movie. Batman finds criminals on his streets so he goes out to clean them up. He goes through a warehouse and ends up fighting Jack Napier (who falls into a vat of chemicals). He then has to run through the museum, where the newly rechristened "Joker" has his goons hiding out. He flies through the skies in his Batwing, taking out Joker's dirigibles and other craft. Then, finally, the Dark Knight heads to Gotham Cathedral to battle the Joker one last time. All basic and what you'd expect for a movie-based game.

The problem comes in once you actually have to play the game. The NES title was a climbing platformer, one that made you acrobatically ascend the various warehouses and other structures Joker and his goons had taken over. You climbed, you lunged, you did the things a bat might do (if the bat was densely packed with muscle and the approximate size of a human). You fought with your fists, slapping down enemies, and then occasionally used your gadgets to get out of tight spots. You felt like Batman. The same can't be said for the hero in this Game Boy edition, and the comparison does this game no favors.

See, here Batman doesn't climb or ascend or whatever you might say. There is platforming, but it's very straight and linear, along the horizontal plane of the stages. You don't really ever feel like Batman because this version of the hero isn't an acrobatic wonder. He walks, he jumps, he shoots, and that's about it. The stylistic gusto for the stage design that was an iconic part of the NES title is absolutely missing here, replaced with bog standard basic stages. The magic is missing.

But you might have noticed one specific things I said above that seems very wrong: Batman shoots. Instead of using his fists to battle Joker's minions, Batman has his Batgun (I guess you'd call it) and he shoots projectiles at the enemies to eliminate them. For anyone that knows anything about Batman, that would seem weird. Batman doesn't use guns. His parents were killed by guns. Batman doesn't kill because that would violate the whole purpose of his being out there, avenging the night. He has a code, and guns aren't part of it.

Now, I recognize that's maybe a bit of a pedantic thing to harp on for this game, especially considering Batman does kill in the movie (at least once, and you know who I'm talking about) and his Batmobile does have guns on it (which he uses primarily to blow open some doors). With enough artistic liberty we could let Batman use guns in certain situations, maybe? Sure, in the vehicle stages, letting Batman use guns on the Batwing to take out unmanned dirigibles might be okay. I'd let that pass. But for the rest of this, having Batman use a gun feels wrong.

And it's not like he uses a gun a little, no. This whole game is a runner-shooter. He never uses his fists, and he doesn't really get gadgets. All he pics up are different trick shots for his gun, and his firing that gun all the time. Hidden in destructible bricks throughout the stages are power-ups that will change is gun. Short Shot, Long Shot, Power Shot, Wave Shot, Batarang Shot, etc. He can only have one of these on at a time, but he can increase their power with the right hidden bonus. Everything is based around his gun and it does feel weird.

Now, sure, he also threw projectiles in the NES game, but that does feel different. We've seen Batman throw batarangs at enemies through his time in comics and movies. But it's different when its thrown than when it's in a gun. There's intent in a gun. It's harder to say, "oh, the enemies just evaporated or disappeared when they fell over," when Batman is using a gun. A gun is meant for killing and Batman doesn't kill. It's hard to get past that when this is the whole game.

Mechanically the shooting is fine. It kind of reminded me of Fester's Quest, another Sunsoft game, just done from a side-scrolling perspective. You get the gun type you want, power it up, and watch as the bullets fly. The shots blast out, enemies fall over, and all you really have to worry about it aiming your jumps and not dying. It's not really all that bad, and much easier than the NES game largely because you have a gun and can take out a lot of stuff from a distance without needing to worry about ammo.

And it is a handsome looking little Game Boy game. The graphics are clear and clean, with stages that show a lot of detail. The cut-scenes, with Batman and Joker, are also really nice and detailed. The graphics present a solid version of the movie translated to the Game Boy screen with all but one compromise. The one big spot of ugliness is the main Batman sprite: he's tiny. All the enemies and vehicles and everything else tower over him, making the Dark Knight look like he's four feet tall. It's a weird look, to have the mighty, imposing hero be so short. I have no clue why the designers did that because, well, it looks laughable.

I really have to think Sunsoft had another game they were developing and then, when the NES edition of Batman because a huge success the company pivoted this game into a Batman title. I have no proof of this, of course, but it kind of makes sense. Why else would a game featuring a short dude with a gun be called "Batman". Could the company, who made such an awesome Batman title just a few years before, really not understand what was so essential about the character?

Whatever the case, this is a fine Game Boy game but a really bad Batman game. The changes they make to his character for this game just don't work. Let Batman be Batman and re-brand this game as something else.