Riddle Me This, Robin...

Batman Forever (1995 Video Game)

There are moments where, when you’re playing a game, you just have to wonder to yourself, “why am I doing this?” We’ve tracked, over the last few months, the various 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. and SpidermanSure, DC Comics has Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but among the most popular superheroes stands a guy from Marvel Comics, a younger hero dressed in red and blue who shoots webs and sticks to walls. Introduced in the 1960s, Spider-Man has been a constant presence in comics and more, featured in movies regularly since his big screen debut in 2002. games based on those characters and their movies, shows, and comics. All of that comes together here with Batman Forever, a game developed by Probe Entertainment and released by Acclaim Entertainment. If the name Acclaim sends a spike of fear down your spine, well, it should. They’re the ones that (through their development studios) have released a string of mediocre Spider-man titles, including the two SNES and Sega Genesis Spider-man/Venom team-up games, and now here they are, with the Batman Forever license, shoving out their half-formed crap on unsuspecting players again. It’s a tragedy, really.

Batman Forever

The thing about Acclaim games is that they weren’t meant to be good. Oh, players wanted them to be good, for sure, but that wasn’t the goal from Acclaim. They would grab a license, trust that the name alone would sell the title, and then they’d farm development out to this or that team just to get it done. Now, Probe wasn’t necessarily a bad studio to bring on. They handled ports of Mortal Kombat for home consoles, and those games were generally received well. But the thing about Mortal Kombat is that it’s a one-on-one fighter. You know what mechanics aren’t generally featured in one-on-one fighters? Platforming. Hell, a few years later we’d have Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which specifically illustrated why trying to graft platforming onto fighting game mechanics was a bad idea. And before that, showing that same lesson, was Batman Forever.

The core of Batman Forever revolves around Batman (and Robin) going from one locale to the next, taking on various goons until, finally, they work their way to the end of the game to battle Riddler and Two-Face. Those are, of course, the bosses of the game, and were also the bad guys in the movie of the same name. But that movie didn’t really feature Batman (and/or Robin) taking on wave after wave of nameless goons. Not that it matters as a game like this has to be padded out, and so when you’re in Arkham Asylum at the start of the game you fight prisoners. When you’re at the bank you fight thugs and money men. It goes on and on like this, with one type of generic enemy after another being thrown in for you to fight, and you absolutely don’t get to move on until you’ve taken out all the goofballs on the stage.

This game absolutely screams the fact that it’s a padded mess. Like the Spider-man titles that Acclaim published around this same time, the game liberally dilutes its run time by making you fight generic goons over and over again. Plot and story don’t really matter in Batman Forever (although if we want to critique the film, maybe it didn’t matter much there, either). All you really have to do is go to a stage, kill everyone. Go to another stage, kill everyone. Lather, rinse, and repeat without much to break things up in the process. It feels horribly paced by the second stage. It’s absolutely obnoxious forty minutes later.

With that said, there are moments where the game tries to add something new (at least if you’re playing the SNES, Genesis, or PC versions of the title – sorry Game Boy and Game Gear fans). Sometimes the game will throw in switch puzzles and the like, forcing you to hit pads or blocks or whatever in a certain order, or perform other simple tasks the right way, before you can progress. Is this fun? Absolutely not, but again it doesn’t really feel like fun was taken into account when this game was developed. Instead all that was really desired was the ability to stretch the game out for an hour and then shove it out the door. And, well, Probe and Acclaim did manage that.

While the game isn’t really fun to play, it at least doesn’t look that bad. The game uses the same kind of motion-capture graphics that were used for Mortal Kombat. There’s a certain slick quality to the graphics, smooth movement from the semi-realistic figures. I dunno that anyone really looks like their movie counterparts, per se, but why are at least recognizably Batman, Robin, Riddler, and Two-Face (even before you see some of those names above the bad guys as you fight them). The backgrounds are detailed enough, if recycled maybe a little too much, and they’re certainly bright and colorful. It’s not bad, I just don’t know if I’d say it all looks good. Somehow, despite the baseline effort, the game still looks kind of generic. Like a Batman title as seen through a thick filter.

I will admit that maybe someone could have fun playing the game just for the mechanics. Probe tried to put some fighting game depth into the combat, with moves and combos to test and explore. Perhaps that works, except most of it is unnecessary. By and large all you need to do is find one power move, like Batman’s headbutt attack, and then spam that to instantly kill most basic enemies. Do that over and over (because there’s no energy meter for moves, or anything to otherwise stop you) and you can clear most packs instantly. At that point, why bother learning anything else at all. Repeat one solid move over and over until everything is dead.

Perhaps if the enemies were more engaging the combos would be more interesting. But for the most part they’ll either trudge towards you, and then die, or they’ll get up close and block constantly until you’re finally able to get a hit in. This is not breathtaking A.I. intelligence here. It’s simple command loops programmed in to create the bare minimum of engagement. Surprising, really, when this game is built on the Mortal Kombat console engine (of course), so you’d assume some of that programming would be able to come into play here. But either Probe didn’t bother, or they did and it didn’t amount to much that felt worthy of note. Either way, the enemies suck.

And while we’re at it, the music is pretty terrible as well. It’s a series of generic tracks played in an ambient style. I know we have to classify it as music but I’d hardly call it anything worth of note. It just kind of plays in the background to fill space so that you aren’t listening to silence and the occasional biff and bop noise from the fighting. As someone that doesn’t much enjoy the Sega Genesis sound board, I do feel like that console's ambient music sounds worse. More plinky and harder in tone. But even the SNES version’s music is nothing to write home about. I frankly feel like you’d be better off turning the volume down entirely and putting on the Batman Forever soundtrack instead. That’s a collection of music actually worth hearing.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t note there’s also a fighting game “training” mode. Here you can play as either hero, or the various enemies in the game, and battle against other foes in one-on-one (or two-on-two) combat. It does give you a chance to experience more of the variety of the combat, I suppose, but this isn’t a mode with anything near. The depth of actual fighting games. I would liken it to the bonus mode of Double Dragon on the NES, which was one of the first true fighting game modes in video games. But that was novel and inventive and interesting while this mode in Batman Forever feels weak and tacked on. It’s like this mode is here to check another box for the back of the packaging, and not something that was meant to be played and enjoyed for any length of time.

If you can’t already tell, I hated my time with the video game Batman Forever. I didn’t expect to find something I actually enjoyed less than the film (or even Batman & Robin) and yet Acclaim managed to give me the thing I never wanted. Their licensed games from this era were bad, and everytime I see their log I suddenly dread what’s about to come. I have to play them, and review them fairly and with an open mind, and yet it’s always like Lucy with the football, yanking it away the second I get close. This game sucks and I’m glad I never have to touch it again.