Two Games Grafted Together
Batman Returns (1992 Sega CD)
To my great surprise I really liked Sega's Master System Batman Returns adventure. I was surprised because Konami did such a stellar job with their NES and SNES adaptations that I didn't see how anyone else could come close. Konami came second, they had time to see what others did, and then did it right. But Sega knocked it out of the park first with a Gothic platforming adventure that felt very much like 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 (even if it had only a loose connection to Tim Burton's sequel). Exiting that game, I had high hopes for Sega's other adaptation over on their 16-bit console.
I shouldn't have. Clearly developed by a different team, the 16-bit iteration of Batman Returns stumbles where the 8-bit version soared. Tedious, repetitive, and unfair in its platforming, the version published on the Genesis fail to live up to the standard of the "lesser" Master System. Worse, the Sega CD edition adds in a ton of unnecessary driving sections that, while adding to the over all length of the game, doesn't really add anything of merit to the experience. It's two poorly made games grafted together making for a very unenjoyable experience.
We're focusing on the Sega CD edition here because it's the most "complete" version of the game. With that said, if you take out the CD audio, and all the driving sections, you have the Genesis game. That version is just the platforming parts, and frankly, of the two halves, the platforming is worse. While I didn't enjoy the Sega CD edition all that much, if you simply have to have one of these two versions I would point you towards the CD edition. It at least has all the content, and the options in the menus to experience it any way you choose (just platforming, just driving, or both).
Batman Returns on the Sega CD alternates its games modes between the two halves of the game. You start in a driving section, speeding the Batmobile through the streets of Gotham (and the outskirts as well), shooting at clown gang members as they try to take you out on bikes, in jeeps, vans, cars, and other much larger vehicles. These sections are broken into six timed "stages", and you have to complete each section (generally by eliminating all the enemies) before time runs out. You see it as two smaller enemy sections, and then a sub boss section, followed by two more enemy sections, and then a boss to cap the full act.
These driving sections are then followed by the platforming sections taken from the Genesis game, with the same graphics but improved CD audio. As Batman you then punch, jump, throw items, and use your grappling hook to scale the various parts of the city and find the bosses lurking with in. It's fairly generic platforming action, with enemies littered everywhere, followed by a sub-boss fight against CatwomanOnce a thief (but a pretty damn good one) and rogue of the Bat-man, Catwoman went from villain to anti-hero as she found love with the man that once pursued her. and then a final fight against the Penguin. And then you move on to the next driving section, the next platforming section, and so on.
In fairness to the game, I do appreciate that the driving and platforming alternate. This helps break up the time between the two modes and alleviates some feeling that your just doing the same things over and over again. With that said, the driving sections are far too long, taking up a few minutes at a time, and they only get longer by the end of the game. You'll spend a lot of time shooting at enemies, trying to complete things within a tight time limit, wishing there was less driving and more lame punching to do.
A big issue is that the driving sections feel oddly weightless. The Batmobile skids and swerves easily enough, but there isn't much sense of impact from the car, or the guns on it, to give you feedback as you fight the enemies. This is combined with them regularly firing at you, the streets twisting and turning with a lot of textured, scaled graphics on them, and so much going on that it's, at times, hard to even see who you should be shooting at and what they're shooting at you. It's a mess, from start to finish, for sure.
The one section that is different is the last driving section of the game which, instead of being in the Batmobile, takes place in the Batboat. Here you're piloting through the sewers of Gotham, dodging obstacles in a kind of BattletoadsRare's mutants with attitude came out in a massive popular, and very difficult, first game, which also marked the high point for the series. "Turbo Tunnel" affair. On one hand, I liked that this was a different take on the driving and that it added a new twist to the action. On the flip side, these sections are stupidly long. The whole act can take ten minutes, and that's if you don't die and time out and have to do any part of it over again. In all cases, what the driving sections needed was less driving to make it easier to manage.
However, taken in the context of the whole package the driving sections are the highlight of the experience, bad as they are. That's because the platforming is so much worse. It's just bad. Batman himself is slow, which wouldn't be terrible on its own, but he also is weak and doesn't really have much to do. The stages themselves are very basic, generally consisting of a passage to navigate with some enemies, that then loops back above (or below) that you then walk back down fighting more of those enemies. You'll then do this three times or so, back and forth, until the stage reaches a sub-boss or end-boss, and you fight. Then you do it all again in the next section. It's just tedious.
The platforming needs more variety. It needs varied stage layouts with more to do. It needs to not recycle its ideas over and over, putting you into this kind of dulled-out trance. It needs to have fun, in essence, and these stages are not fun. If there was more things to do, more traps that made you think, anything that helped to break up the platforming stages in interesting ways, that would help. One late stage has a Ferris wheel section, and you jump onto and off of two wheels... and then that's it. Back to standard platforming for the rest of the game.
The other major complaint I have is that, frankly, it doesn't feel like a very good Batman game. Just about any generic hero with a whip or hook could be slapped into this one and, with only a few sprite substitutions, it would work in any context. I thought of this during a driving section, when I realized it would be more interesting, and less out of character for Batman, if this game were an Indiana JonesTapping into the classic serial adventures of the 1940s, this franchise has gone on to spawn five films, multiple video games, a TV series, and so many novels and books. adventure. Indy shooting at enemy vehicles across the streets of various locales. Indy fighting enemies while whipping and jumping his way through stages. If all it takes is a simple sprite swap to make the game for a different hero, you know you've failed to capture the essence of the character in question.
About the only part of the game I truly liked was the music, which is excellent. I've noted before I'm not a fan of the sound board built into the Genesis, but the Sega CD could do full CD audio, and the composers for this game let loose and had fun, creating some really rocking tracks that, while not really meshing with the film the game is based on, still were enjoyable to listen to again and again. The one down side here is that there aren't a lot of tracks in the game, so you will hear them a few times, but at least they're good.
While I'm sure there are Sega stans that will come to defend this game, telling me I just didn't "get it", I have to be honest in my review. The best you can say for Batman Returns on the Sega CD (and, thus, the Genesis as well) is that its competent. It's not completely unplayable and does, for very short bursts, reveal a better game somewhere in its depths. But I would never play this game again because it's too long, to repetitive, and too tedious. There wasn't enough good stuff to ever make me come back to this adventure.