- Original Platform: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
- Publisher: Sunsoft
- Release Date: 1991
The dark knight probably has the most successful track record out of all the comic book characters within the video game medium, although that is likely because he has had more games based on him than most of them put together. Regardless, it’s still significant to say that the character has experienced success compared to most, if not all.
Released in 1991 in North America by ‘Sunsoft’, Batman: The Video Game was a game based on the 1989 film by Tim Burton, and was one of many games attempting to capitalize on its success. Although now overshadowed by more modern depictions, at the time the movie’s dark and stylish interpretation of the character made a major impact on audiences, which unsurprisingly led to the inspiration of adapted video games.
You control Batman as you guide him through multiple stages based on key scenes based on the movie. He has a variety of moves at his disposal; he can punch, jump, crouch kick and throw batarangs to attack enemies. He can block certain projectiles by holding down the punch button, or can use his iconic grapple gun to reach high platforms. He can also do a somersault jump, which is probably the most useful move in the game being that it’s used for both traversing areas easier and being an improvised attack.
The game captures the style of the film remarkably well. From the black and gray shaded look of Michael Keaton’s batsuit, to the heavily shadowed streets of Gotham City, or the industrial complexes of Axis Chemicals to the Gothic architecture of the Gotham Cathedral stage; the designers and artists took apparent effort to be as faithful as possible to the source material, and took liberties only when needed for the sake of gameplay. Each key scene of the movie is appropriately re-created in the game, including fun side-scrolling driving stages that feature both the ‘Batmobile’ and the ‘Batwing’, which add nice variety to the already solid gameplay.
There are a variety of enemies to face, the majority of them exclusively designed for each stage. There are the street hoodlums from the first stage, Joker’s henchmen who carry handguns and bazookas in the following second and third stages, to the obnoxious clown enemies from stage 4 which jump-kick around or shoot fire at you. Then in the driving stages you face against an assortment of joker themed cars, vans and military-like vehicles (the Joker apparently got his hands on some serious firepower) which fire at you in different trajectories and patterns.
The challenge is pretty fair, appropriately becoming steadily difficult with each later stage. There are some tricky platforming sequences to overcome along with some initially tough bosses, with each containing their own distinct strategy to figure out, unless you managed to clear the stage without dying and stockpiled your batarangs, then they are usually pushovers. Although it doesn’t take much for Batman lose all his health, even with the granted invulnerability time after being hit. He can easily be overwhelmed if you neglect to thin out enemy numbers, but that can be easier said than done sometimes while you attempt to avoid projectiles and environmental hazards at the same time.
You will find yourself dying a lot at your initial attempts on stages, but fortunately the game is very forgiving as you will always restart on the immediate spot were you lost a life. If you do end up losing all your lives and resort to a continue, you are usually only forced to replay the last section of the level you died on. Continues are plentiful too, and if so desired you can increase the amount of lives to start with or even reduce the difficulty through the options menu. It can be frustrating, but not enough to discourage you from keep playing. It is certainly more forgiving than its older NES counterpart.
The game’s sound effects are pretty generic, just your typical bangs and booms without anything that really pops and makes much impact to gameplay. It’s pretty forgettable, but its powerful soundtrack more than makes up for what the rest of the sound lacks.
The soundtrack features nothing from the original film, so don’t expect to hear Prince or Danny Elfman’s recognizable theme, which is a little disappointing – at least about Danny Elfman’s theme – however the original music featured in the game is fantastic. It was composed by Naoki Kodaka, who has a considerable cult following for his work, which include: Batman on the NES, Journey to Silius, Fester’s quest, and Blaster Master.
It is definitely a pleasure to listen to, and makes the gameplay all the more engrossing. It really shows off the capability of the console’s sound-chip, with elaborate compositions comparable to genuine orchestral soundtracks. It may just be primitive synthesized music, but it’s guaranteed to get stuck in your head and make you hum along, even long after you stopped playing. Music can be a powerful influence, even in video games, which Naoki Kodaka evidently knew very well.
Batman may not be Sonic or Gunstar Heroes, but it’s definitely playable and enjoyable in its own right. If you like Batman games, or have a niche interest in powerful synthesized soundtracks than check this one out.