Ducks of a Feather

Batman Returns (1993 SNES)

When it comes to making 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. game, Konami absolutely nailed it right out of the gate with their interpretation of Batman Returns on the NES. That game combined all the great elements of superhero action with a smooth, tight, beat-em-up style that showed Konami's own prowess in the genre (perfected, of course, on TMNT: The Arcade Game. Playing through the title, I questioned just what Konami could do to improve on this NES game with their SNES edition.

Batman Returns

The answer is, in short, nothing. And that's actually a quite literal statement. The SNES game mirrors the NES title in just about every way -- similar enemies, similar stages, all based (likely) on similar design documents -- creating two games that are clearly not ports of each other but still feel so eerily similar that you figure that you could get them mixed up in your head. Konami had to get these games cranked out, and quick, and so they used the same ideas for both games, for better and worse. And when it comes to the SNES edition, it's slightly worse.

Like the NES game, the SNES edition follows the plot of the movie, more or less. Batman hits the streets of Gotham, after a gang of clowns who are terrorizing citizens. The clown kidnap the Ice Princess (a minor celebrity in town for the holiday season), so Batman has to give chase. He battles Catwoman, and then Penguin, all before chasing Penguin to his secret fortress at the Gotham Zoo where, finally, the Batman defeats the fowl fiend once and for all. Throw in one Batmobile stage to break things up and you have yourself a game based on the movie.

There are parts of the game that are pretty good. For starters, the fighting is solid. Batman is big and chunky but he hits with speed and grace. The character is given power here, feeling like a solid mass of superhero muscle, barreling his way through enemies from end to end of the stages. He can do this with kicks, punches, a jump kick, and flying dive, and his batarangs. He also has grabs, throws, and smash attacks he can perform, giving him a solid combo of moves to use. That's solid, and gets him up to par with the Turtles themselves (maybe even counting Turtles in Time).

With that said, the brawling genre was in a different place on the SNES than it was over on the NES. While the best we could compare Batman Returns to on the NES was the other Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesOriginally dreamed up as a parody of Marvel's Daredevil comics (going so far as to basically reproduce to opening shots of that comic's hero gaining his powers), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles not only launched a sudden boom of anthropomorphic fighting animal comics but have, themselves, starred in multiple comics series, TV shows, and movies. and, like, the decent Double Dragon games and, eventually, Mighty Final Fight, the SNES had both Final Fight 1 & 2, plus Street Fighter II and more. Plus, adding in the Genesis there was the Streets of Rage series and its ilk. In comparison to the fighting on offer on 16-bit consoles, Batman Returns, with its single-player combat and no special movies, felt pretty paltry.

There's also the fact that the game lacks variety. This isn't just in comparison to other 16-bit games, but also in comparison to the NES title of the same name. The stages are similar on paper, but there's little details missing from the SNES game that make it feel inferior. The rooftop section that was in the NES game, where you had to control Batman to prevent him to sliding off is missing here. There's a water section of that game that's missing here as well. Worst is the Batboat mini-game stage that has no equivalent here. And while we do get the Batmobile stage, it's done with harder to parse Mode 7 and the enemies feel tankier, meaning it's less fun to play.

I would actually argue that all the enemies are tankier in this game than in the NES edition. That might be to try and make the enemies feel as substantial as in other 16-bit brawling games, but mostly it draws out the play experience. Even low-level goons, who you could kill in one hit on the NES, take multiple fisticuff combos to finish off here. And considering they can swarm and mob you, and that your health bar isn't as substantial here as it was on the NES, this game weirdly feels harder in a few key ways. Annoying might be a better way of putting it. The combat in the game can be annoying and drawn out at times.

Also making the combat harder to work with is the fact that everyone here is much chunkier. Again, I look at other 16-bit games with their big, substantial enemies, and they are cool visually. They also take up more space on the screen, though, and by default the SNES has the same resolution as the NES (yes, certain game modes could change that, but we're talking default resolution here). As such, you have bigger sprites with less overall real estate to maneuver. I think I liked the NES way of handling it better.

Now, a point in the game's favor is the fact that it is lovely to look at. While I like the design of the NES game, where the creators were able to translate the feel of Burton's films down while still working in the NES's limited capacity, the SNES version can mirror the visuals of the films. This is a lushly designed game with really pretty graphics that makes you love the power of well designed sprites. Konami knew what they were doing visually on the SNES and it shows here.

That said, the sound mix isn't as good as I'd like it to be. There's something charming about the NES's tracks, with their chunky guitar riffs and propulsive arrangements. The SNES's soundtrack is more directly based on the soundtrack of the film, and while it feels more in line with Elfman's compositions it also feels like original, less interesting. Plus, the Batman Theme shows up somewhere in every composition here, and I got tired of that fast. Couple that with some lackluster sound effects and the game feels like a step down aurally in some ways despite being on better hardware.

Overall there this sense of tedium that pervades the game. It was fine to play but somehow less interesting, less charming than the NES version. I think if this was the only version you ever played you'd think it was a solid little game. Maybe you'd play through it once or twice and then set it aside, going on to some other, better brawler eventually. But if you set this against the NES game it does, in fact, feel inferior. Not that much worse but just not as good in certain key ways that hold it back. If I had a choice, I'd go with the NES title over this game every time.