Thursday, July 22, 2010

At Random: Batman (1991)

Time once again to play something which has been gathering dust in my personal game stack for far too long -- a loose, unboxed copy of Sunsoft's Batman for the Sega Genesis, released in 1991, based on the 1989 movie, based in turn on the long-popular DC Comics superhero.

This game was a big deal back in the day, if memory serves -- Sunsoft had already released a solid NES cartridge, but this early 16-bit Mega Drive title was considerably more impressive-looking.  It was the subject of frequent gray-market importing, back when Japanese games were mysterious things, prior to the confirmed arrival of an official North American Genesis version.

It begins with a recap of the Joker's origins, which is slightly confusing as some of the events it refers to as historical actually happen while we're playing the game.  The intro might also have been improved upon by clarifying that Jack Napier fell/falls into a vat of liquid chemical waste:

The game certainly looks nice, with detailed, shaded sprites and backgrounds.  But it's also clearly a game on the cusp of the transition from 8-bit to 16-bit technology -- the sprites are small and NES-sized, with limited animation.  The level design -- or at least what I saw of it -- is also pretty flat, with minimal parallax scrolling, and rather sparse, featuring large but generally unpopulated environments.

The sound is similarly unspectacular, consisting of spot sound effects that too often sound clicky and staticky, and some solid instrument sounds wasted on generic 90's rock tracks; Danny Elfman's movie themes were apparently not part of the licensing deal.

The gameplay is, sorry to say, more limited than that of the NES version.  The 8-bit game featured Batman leaping hurdles and climbing walls Strider-style, fighting colorful enemies and bosses along the way.  The 16-bit edition starts out like a tepid version of Final Fight, with enemies running in from offscreen to be summarily dispatched by The Dark Knight.  There's no significant platforming action in the first level -- Batman just moseys along from left to right, ducking the occasional bullet and casually punching and kicking villains into submission, until he reaches the first boss.  This guy presents a fair challenge -- he has a longer reach than the Caped Crusader, so we must hit him with our stock of Batarangs, then jump over his head and try to give him a quick kick in the kidneys before he turns around:

Once Beefy McSunglasses has been dispatched, we move on into the Axis Chemical Factory.  This second level is more interesting -- we get something to do besides punching and kicking enemies, climbing with Batman's grappling hook and leaping from platform to platform.  But the difficulty ramps up rather dramatically as well, and after considerable struggle I decided to leave well enough alone.

It took me a while just to get Batman's extended jump move down (hit the jump button, then hit it again at precisely the right moment), which I needed to do in order to get over an inconvenient stack of boxes, while being harassed by a constant stream of enemies running in from the left and right.  The bazooka-wielding guards (rather an odd choice for a facility dedicated to the production of volatile compounds) weren't actually too hard to handle, as they don't fire often and they insist on firing just over the crouching Batman's head, but then I took our hero down a shaft and into a seriously unforgiving bit of NES-style platforming.

Pipes explode, difficult-to-jump chasms yawn if we miss a jump or arrive too late, and the fatal void lurks constantly at the bottom of the screen.  If we exhaust Batman's lives, we can continue a limited number of times, but we're sent back to the beginning of this level, that is, the entrance to the factory, and just getting to this tricky section was enough of a challenge for me.  So I never even got to see the Batmobile driving levels that were so talked about once upon a time.

Sigh.  Oh, well.  When I started this blog, I intended to write more about how aging affects us as gamers.  This is definitely one I should have played on arrival nineteen years ago; my reflexes, and moreover my patience, are just not up to tackling this kind of challenge anymore, at least not without some more interesting action to keep me plugging away.

But at least I've tried Batman out now.  That's why I bought it, right?

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