For more than 60 years Batman has been one of the top-selling comic books, and in 1989 the first Batman movie hit the silver screen and was a monster hit. So naturally a video game based on the film quickly followed, but Sunsoft actually took a different route than most other movie-based carts. Instead of making every scene into an action sequence, Sunsoft instead took the Batman movie license and turned it into an original action game. Batman: The Video Game borrows little from the film, but it's still a game that does its license proud.
The game's story comes from the first Batman flick. The citizens of Gotham City are preparing to celebrate the 200th anniversary of their city. However the dastardly Joker is planning to ruin the celebration by dousing the citizens with his deadly DDID nerve gas. Batman is out to stop the Joker's plan and bring him to justice, but he also has a personal grudge with the Clown Prince of Crime. Years before, when was just a boy, the Joker murdered Batman's parents in front of his eyes when, and now he has a chance for revenge as well. As a sidenote the intro scene does mention news reporter Vicky Vale, but that's her only appearence in this game. It's just Batman and The Joker who take center stage here.
As I mentioned this game is only loosely based on the flick. Batman must make his way through five multi-level stages each in a different area of Gotham City: the streets, the Axis Chemical Factory, the sewers, the Joker's Labratory, and finally the Gotham City Cathedral. The Joker has sent an army of henchman in each level to clip Batman's wing, but the Dark Knight is far from defenseless. Batman's main weapons are his fists, which can dispatch most of the foes he comes across, but Batman also has his utility belt with three types of weapons, each of which uses a different ammount of ammunition. The Batarang has a limited distance but can be thrown rapidly, the Spear Gun has a longer range but is slow, and the Dirk sends a powerful three-way shot at the bad guys but costs the most ammo. Each of the foes Batman defeats leaves behind power-ups to replenesh his health and weapons. Batman also had the ability to jump onto walls and bounce off them to reach high ledges and out-of-reach places. At the end of each level Batman must do battle with one of fives bosses, some of whom are based ont he comic books. If Batman can get past the bosses and make it to the top of the cathedral, he squares off against the Joker himself in a one-on-one showdown to the finish.
The graphics and sounds both do an excellent job bringing the Gotham City atmosphere to the NES screen. The backgrounds are well done and really reflect the dark atmosphere of Gotham City well, plus some of the stages (like Stage 4) look great as well. The characters have some good animation, especially Batman, who moves well and has some cool details, like the way his cape moves in the wind when he walks and jumps. There is a bit of flicker and slowdown here and there, but not too much. The short cinema scenes shown between levels are well done too. The background tunes fit the setting and mood of each level very well and are just fun to listen to. The sound effects are decent as well but nothing special.
Batman controls pretty well for the most part, even though there are some quirks. Moving around and punching is a breeze, and doing the Wall Jump is no problem after a bit of practice. However there is a slight delay when you push the A button and Batman actually jumps, which could throw off your precise movements, but it's not too bad. Unfortunately the biggest problem with the controls is that the START button cycles through your weapons and the SELECT button pauses the game. This can be a big problem when you're trying to pause; you may find yourself taking hits because you're picking the weapons instead of stopping the action.
Challengewise, Batman is a little on the difficult side but not totally impossible. The first few stages are pretty easy, and the difficulty progresses nicely as you go through each level. Things start to get really tough around Stage 4-3, and the final stage will definetly take more than a few tries to get through. There are a few frustrating parts in the game, like the jumping mutants in the beginning of Stage 3 which are very tough to kill without weapons. There are a number of cheap hits, plus getting hit in mid-jump sends you crashing to the ground, ususally in a pit of acid. On the other hand power-ups are plentiful which should keep you going and when you die you start back at the beginning of the substage you were defeated in, even in the boss stages. You also get unlimited continues, which also starts you in the substage you lost in.
Basically all you get from the original movie is the storyline and several cinema scenes which do little to advance the plot. That's not necesarily a bad thing, though; Sunsoft still managed to put together an excellent NES game that does justice to the Batman franchise. The atmosphere is first rate and the game is a blast to play through, even with the control issues. The Batman video game may not follow the movie exaclty, but it's still a game Bat-fans can't miss.
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