When it comes to beat em’ ups, Konami sits up around the top. Games such as the TMNT: The Arcade Game, TMNT IV: Turtles in Time, The Simpsons, and X-Men are regarded as some of the best beat em’ ups of all time and sometimes even the best arcade games ever made. One of their later games of the genre, Batman Returns, was released for the Super NES in 1993 in Japan, North America, and Europe. I first saw and heard about this game when I watched the AVGN (Angry Video Game Nerd) Batman review in 2008 and this is one of the games that was shown and reviewed. I was quite interested in this game so to speak. A year later, I came across this game at a store selling retro games. With the measly price of $4, I just couldn’t refuse.
Like many other licensed movie games, this game takes its plot from the movie. Basically, the Penguin plans to usurp the Mayor’s seat and take over Gotham City with the help of the Red Triangle Circus Gang. However, Batman is out to stop him and to bring peace back to the city. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure prowls around the city; Catwoman to be exact. Whether or not she would be an ally to Batman or the Penguin, I won’t spoil that.
The game plays like many other beat em’ ups of the time. Basically you go along the level beating up whatever bad guys come your way and after progressing far enough, you come across a boss that has to be defeated. However, it’s somewhat different from Konami’s other beat em’ ups. The game is one player only while other beat em’ ups allow two player or more simultaneous co-op. A bit of a disappointment, but then again, who would the second player character be? Another major difference is that certain parts of the game are played on a 2D plane. Basically, those segments pretty much resemble side-scrolling platformers somewhat. You can only move left and right. You can’t use melee attacks in these segments, but you have an unlimited supply of batarangs to use. The goal is the same as before, fight off any enemies you see and progress far enough to the boss. If there’s one complaint that I have about the 2D stages though, it’s that Batman is quite big and you have a small area to move around in, which can make avoiding attacks and hazards very difficult sometimes. Last, but not least, there is a stage in the game where you drive the Batmobile and shoot down enemies. The stage utilizes Mode-7 to give a behind-the-vehicle view to the player. This segment feels a bit tacked-on, but it’s still fun to play through.
As Batman himself, you have plenty of moves to use against the enemies in the game. You have a standard 4-hit combo attack that can be done just by pressing the Y button repeatedly. You have a standard jump kick that can be done by pressing B to jump and then Y. You can also attack from the air by pressing down and Y while in mid-air, but instead of doing a jump kick, you swoop down with the cape spread out. By pressing A, you can either use a batarang or the grappling hook. Batarangs don’t damage enemies at all unless you are on a 2D plane section, but they do stun them for a moment in the 3D plane sections, allowing you to get in some easy hits. The grappling hook is only useful for 2D plane segments. Basically, the grappling hook takes you in the direction that you pressed on the d-pad. The hook will stick to the ceiling or wall. Then, press the A again to retract it, which will pull you in whatever direction you choose. Press select to alternate between the batarang and the hook. You can also grab the opponent and from there, you can do a few different moves. You can punch him a few times by pressing Y repeatedly, slam him into the ground by pressing left or right on the d-pad and Y, or even throw him against a wall in some parts of the game by pressing up and Y. If you get close enough to multiple enemies, you can grab two of them and slam both of them against each other by pressing Y. You can also swing the cape around by pressing B and Y at the same time, which damages all enemies close to you at the cost of some of your health. Unusual for a beat em’ up, you have the ability to block, which can be done so by pressing L or R. Last, but not least, you can throw a test tube by pressing L or R and then X. The test tube acts like a smart bomb, destroying all enemies on screen as well as damaging bosses. However, you only have a few of them, so use them sparingly.
The graphics are very good. Batman himself is large, detailed, and is animated pretty well. The enemies and bosses don’t look too bad either. Both the bosses as well as the generic enemies are also large and detailed. The animation also seems very natural for the characters. The Penguin, for example, waddles around like a real penguin would while Catwoman jumps, flips, and rushes around, which keeps the player on their toes. Even though a lot of enemies you fight in this game are clowns, Konami does a good job with making sure that fighting them isn’t too boring. There are thin clowns which are weak, fat clowns which try to slam into you, clowns with rocket launchers, clowns with dynamite, and even fire clowns that try to burn you with their fire breath. While there are a few enemies which aren’t clowns, I kind of wish that there were more kinds of enemies besides them. The Mode-7 driving segment later on in the game is very well done and does a good job of creating a sense of speed. The segment should be seen in motion rather in screenshots to fully appreciate it. The backgrounds also look very good and give the game a gloomy and gothic feel which is very fitting for a Batman game. At the end of each stage, the player is treated with a cutscene and some text. What is cool about them is that the characters in them look like they were taken straight from the movie. Unfortunately, the characters in the cutscenes look pretty grainy, but it’s still a pretty cool thing to see.
The music in this game is done very well. Most of the music either has a gloomy feel to it (1st stage for example), or gives off a hectic feel and a sense of urgency (boss theme). The music was said to be adapted from Danny Elfman’s score of the movie. If that’s the case, then Konami did a very good job of adapting the music for a 16-bit console. Even though the sound and music capabilities of the Super NES are very outdated by today’s standards, the music still holds up very well. The sound effects are done wonderfully. They really do make it feel like you’re beating the tar out of somebody. If there’s one complaint that I have against the sound though, it’s that all the voice samples in this game either consist of grunts, screams, or evil laughter. A small complaint, though it would be nice to hear some talking in this game. After all, almost every Konami beat em’ up has voice acting, albeit a bit cheesy.
To sum things up, Batman Returns is a very good brawler. With a great adaptation of the film score, detailed graphics, and awesome beat em’ up gameplay, Batman Returns is without a doubt one of the top Super NES beat em’ ups right up there with TMNT IV: Turtles in Time.
5 Stars out of 5
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