Take to the Streets to Beat Some Meats

Batman (1990 Genesis)

I have to wonder if Sunsoft realized how much the NES fans would love their take on Batman. To an outside observer, the easiest way to create a whole host of Batman games would have been to take the NES game and port it to everything else, as is, as that game is perfection. Instead we got a Game Boy game and then a Genesis game the next year, neither of which play like the NES edition even though they're from the same studio.


In the case of the Game Boy iteration, I can kind of understand why the games play different: an NES fan was likely to also have a Game Boy and, to sell more carts, two different iterations on the idea would be required. But in the days of the NES and the Genesis, you were a NintendoSince 1983 (with the release of the Famicom gaming system in Japan), Nintendo has proven to be a gaming company dedicated to finding what gamers want, even when the gamers don't know it themselves. From dual-screen systems, to motion controls, to convertible home console/portable consoles, Nintendo regularly proves that the weirdest innovation is exactly what the gaming community needs. fan or you were a Sega fan. You didn't tend to own both, so if Sunsoft has said, "do that NES game, but over on the Genesis," I'm sure that version would have sold really well. Instead we have a Genesis game that does a perfunctory job of adapting Tim Burton's film while losing all the zest and flavor that made the NES game special. Which is why people still actively play the NES game and the Genesis title is all but forgotten.

Where the NES title was a solid, action-packed platforming game, the Genesis version of Batman plays like an earlier precursor to the brawling beat-em-ups that the Dark Knight was soon to find himself rolling through, over and over, for years after. Despite a text scroll on the opening screen that recaps the whole of Batman '89, making you think you'll be playing a game centered around Batman scaling Gotham Cathedral to fight the Joker, instead the game goes back over the story of the movie (that was just told to you). From the streets of Gotham to the warehouse where Joe Chill becomes the Joker, and then through the late events of the film, Batman will do it all here, just slowly and without a lot of variation to his action.

The game is a beat-em-up, with Batman kicking and punching his way through hordes of enemies. The first stage is literally just a long belt-scroller, sending the Bat from left to right, punching his way through weak thugs before finally ending in a fight against a somewhat larger and harder thug. The next stage, the warehouse, adds in some platforming over perilous drops, but for the most part you'll continuing punching and kicking through the enemies, taking down scores of them that will constantly spawn in, all to get in Batman's way as he tries to reach the end of the game.

Like with the Batman PC game from Ocean, and Sunsoft's own Game Boy adventure, Batman's platforming antics are broken up by a couple of side-scrolling shooter sections. One takes place on the streets as the hero rides around in the Batmobile, and the other takes to the skies for a section in the Batwing. In both cases, the action is mindless but okay. They aren't the best scrolling shooters but they're find, and they do help the break up the space.

The fact is, though, that the game needs those shooting sections (despite how weird it is for Batman to be using guns) to break up the flow of the game as the rest of it is bad. Just plain bad. How a company that created the sublime platforming action of the NES title could crank out such a lackluster beat-em-up game is beyond me, but they did. My suspicion is that a different team was put on the Genesis game early in the NES title's development, and the two teams never talked, were both just tasked with making their own interpretation of Batman '89 leading to two wildly different games. The NES has great action, the Genesis title... doesn't.

For starters, Batman move so slowly. He's a plodding flatfoot who doesn't feel like the kind of action hero who has spent the better part of a decade honing his body into a weapon to fight bad guys. The NES version of the hero wasn't fast, but he moved through the space like he owned it. Genesis Batman is awkward and slow, a perfunctory hero just going through the motions as he weakly punches and kicks at things. You don't get a sense of power. You don't get a sense of anything, really.

It doesn't help that the enemies in the game are beyond lackluster. There's a thug, a thug that shoots, and a clown that spits fire. And that's about it. You'll see all of these enemies a lot as there are four platforming sections that you'll have to plod through and the enemies come pretty regularly through all these stages. Over and over, on and on, and if you have to back track, or if you fall down a section and have to climb back up, all the enemies will re-spawn. It's oppressive, and not in a fun way. The sense of Batman actually taking down Joker's organization of goons is lost when they all re-spawn. constantly with the same look and feel, over and over.

Meanwhile there are boss fights but they're absolutely forgettable. There are a couple of different dudes with swords, a strong man, a wrestler, and the Joker himself, and sure, they all have patterns you need to pay attention to, tells for moves you need to watch and dodge, and you can do all that as Batman limply bats at them. Or you can do what I did and save up your stock of Batarangs and then throw all of those at the bosses. These projectiles, which you find in plentiful numbers throughout the stages, not only melt the health of the bosses but also breaks their pattern, stopping them from doing any of their cool attacks. Batarangs are broken, and I don't know why anyone would bother actually fighting the bosses for real.

If nothing else the game at least manage to look nice. While the enemies sprites are repetitive, everything is done in crisp and clean pixel art. It's a smoothly animated, and very detailed, little game with lots of pretty graphics. I do think the NES edges it out as it was able to create its own ambiance and evocative style with less colors, but the Genesis game is pretty enough. It's music is also nice, with the standard caveat that Genesis music has to run through the wonky Genesis sound hardware, but for a Genesis game it does sound good. None of the musical tracks are toe-tappers, but they aren't irritating and they work within the confines of the game.

But, overall, this is just a lackluster title. I wouldn't rate it quite so poorly if all we had to go on were Ocean's games, which were uniformly boring, but this title came from Sunsoft and they absolutely nailed it with their first attempt. Batman on the NES is nothing short of sublime, and it's looking more and more like an anomaly from the studio. There's nothing truly bad about Batman on the Genesis, but there's nothing good about it either. It's a game that exists, and by 1990, for Batman, that already wasn't good enough.