A Two-Faced Adventure

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game

We aren’t quite free of Acclaim in the 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. arena, but the end is in sight. I’ve ranted about the company in many past reviews as they’ve shoved out their third party-developed flotsam, so we won’t go over that here. I will just note that their licensed Batman Forever game for home consoles was terrible, a game that ignored all the weirdo colorful designs of the movie to make something boring and generic. And look, we have another Batman Forever game published by the company, and it’s also horribly generic. Colorful and over-the-top, yes, but it still somehow misses the point of the movie (as if the movie had much of a point, either).

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game

It’s easy to pick on Acclaim. They did it to themselves, licensing a bunch of properties and then having support studios crank out terrible games on tight deadlines all to goose the company’s profits. The company rose and fell on their brand name, and as gamers became more and more aware of just how terrible Acclaim games could be, eventually they did indeed fall. But their legacy lives on in all these terrible games many of us play, and suffer through, and review, and we can add another one onto the pile with Batman Forever: The Arcade Game. The best thing that can be said for this game is that it’s not as bad as the console edition but, really, that was such a low bar that I don’t think we should really start giving out awards. It’s bad just, maybe, marginally less so.

In Batman Forever: The Arcade Game, you play as Batman or Robin (or Batman and Robin, or two Batmen or two Robins) as you truck through the back allies, warehouses, and villain headquarters of Gotham City, all in pursuit of a pair of villain: Two-Face and the Riddler. As you move along the streets and buildings, hordes of goons will come for your hero(es). You’ll have to deliver vicious beat-down fury on all of these foes lest they beat you down instead. And this is all so you can reach the final villain layer where the two bosses await for a long, slow, slog of/ a final battle that might just make you smash the arcade machine before you finally get through it all. And this was somehow expected to be fun.

First, before we get deep into the review, we have to acknowledge that arcade games work on a different financial prospect to console games. Gamers pay for console games up front and companies (at least in previous eras) got that revenue once and that was it. Arcade games, though, were designed to be a steady, constant revenue stream. Arcade owners would buy the games, and then the quarters would come pouring in. If the game did well enough, arcade owners would buy more of those games, or upgrade boards, or whatever else the company had on offer for that product stream. It was a different market, with different expectations, and the needs of the arcade experience dictated that games should work differently. They were meant to be harder, to force players to shove more and more quarters into them. They were meant to suck the life from you as you played them.

On that front at least Acclaim, and developer Iguana Entertainment, nailed the base experience. If you know even the basics of the game, and can figure out movement and fighting, then you can likely get through the first stage (or so) on a single quarter. Then the challenge ramps up, more and more enemies start appearing on screen, and soon you’re fighting for your life, forced to pump in quarter after quarter just to maintain whatever amount of progress you’ve made into the game. The challenge ramp up is just about right for an arcade game played, of course, in the arcade experience. But it does really suck when you’re playing it now, decades later, after the fact.

The difficulty of the game is obnoxious, especially late in the game. At a certain point the developers ran out of fresh ideas to put into the game, new enemy types to create or more things for the heroes to do and battle, so they just started heavily recycling everything that the players had fought already. Halfway into the game you don’t just fight one boss but a boss rush of everything you’ve fought before. At the end of the game you do this again with every single boss you’ve seen. And then you have to fight Two-Face, who is the most powerful boss (read: has the most health) seen in the game. The final boss should be hard, but considering you have to fight him on a stage that rotates, after fighting all the previous bosses in a row, and then his fight alone can take minutes, it becomes less a challenge and more a tedious marathon. The difficulty might have been designed to suck out quarters but that in no way means it’s fun.

I will note that if you’re skilled at the game, and understand the deep mechanics at play, you could have an easier time of it. The game comes with a robust fighting game combo system at work for the heroes, with reported combos that could reach as high as 150 hits on some foes. I say that with the caveats of “reported” and “some foes” because not all the enemies are able to be caught in combos, and not all the fighting mechanics work as well as most players would expect. The hit detection in the game is wonky, the heroes a bit too floaty, and the enemies have an uncanny ability to dodge just out of reach of most of your attacks. So while the game does boast all these wonderful fighting mechanics, it’s good luck to the players to actually pull that off.

On top of that, most of the enemies are really good at catching the players in combos. You might struggle with it but the computer does not. Once you’re past the first stage or so, enemies have a knack for catching you, putting you into a combo juggle, and then draining an entire life’s worth of health away. Even while trying to dodge and get an attack in, I found myself caught by one combo after another until, within less than a minute, I’d gone from a full roster of three lives down to nothing, forced to shove another credit into the game so I could keep going. And this was every stage. Most enemy packs had at least one foe that could easily get you into their combos, and that would spell the end of that life.

You will note that I describe all the enemies as “foes” and not as some specific Batman villain or another. That’s because, like with the console edition of Batman Forever, this game doesn’t feature any other Batman villains other than Riddler and Two-Face. Rather than come up with a deep and colorful assortment of B-grade thugs for you to fight, the game features maybe four enemies total that it recycles over and over with only their colors changed. There’s masked thug, lady thug, Riddler-bot, and mohawk guy, over and over. Even the bosses are just the thugs with a different color scheme and more health. You’ll fight the same guys over and over and over until you get bored or finally beat the game. I bet it’ll be the former and not the latter.

In fairness, the developers did realize you could easily get drained (mentally, as well as in the game) so they dropped a lot of power-ups to aid you (and maybe help keep you interested in short bursts). There are plenty of random weapons to use, from the grappling gun to batarangs, tasers, and more. This also allows you to boost your power meter, which can be used to refill your life when you get downed, although don’t count on that always being in reserve. There’s just enough chance that you might get something useful, that you might be able to last a little longer, to keep a player pumping in their time (and quarters) on the hope that they might just get a little further. And then they’d die because life is cruel and so in Batman Forever: The Arcade Game.

Stylistically the game is fine. The game features large, scaling sprites for all the heroes and villains. The movements are crisp and smooth and the game flows really well with no noticeable slowdown. Colors are bright, and there’s a lot that can go on screen to grab your attention and keep your eyes moving. I wouldn’t say any of it was particularly attractive, and nothing in the game resembles the actual movie it was drawn from, Hell, if you swapped out the two heroes for anyone else I’m not even certain it would even look like a Batman game, but it is at least bright and colorful and, maybe, would have attracted some people over to play it. Possibly.

That said, it does sound like the movie. It features the main theme song, which plays over the opening titles. It has voice clips from all the actors in the movie so you can hear the villains say the same few things, over and over, at you in Jim Carrey’s and Tommy Lee Jones’s voices. Is this really a good thing? Well, I’d argue that while the voices are nice and crisp and do sound good, the fact that they’re repeated so often, and with such frequency, does make for a tedious experience. But then, just about everything in this game is tedious, so why shouldn’t the sound design match. And when you combine these repeated voice clips with only a couple of generic music tracks that run behind the rest of the game, you have sound design that’s meant more to be loud than interesting.

Frankly, playing Batman Forever: The Arcade Game is a wretched experience. Doing it now, in emulation, where I have all the quarters I could ever want drains the tension from it since no matter how poorly I played I could just insert more “money” to continue. But I think if I’d had to play this in an actual arcade I would have plopped my one quarter in, discovered how bad it was, and walked away after. This is the kind of game that might drain you mentally but barely would put a dent in your pocket. It’s a tedious, tiresome, poorly designed beat-em-up adventure that seriously lacks the “adventure” part of that equation. It might not be the worst thing I’ve played from Acclaim but that’s only because the company published titles that were even worse. If you have a chance to play this game, do yourself a favor: don’t.