Friday, August 27, 2010

Oddities Of Import: Batman (PC Engine)

A few weeks back, we took a look at Sunsoft's Mega Drive/Genesis version of Batman, a side-scrolling affair similar to the 8-bit NES version.  But Sunsoft took a completely different tack with this version for the Japanese PC Engine:

The NES and Mega Drive titles sent the Dark Knight into side-scrolling platform action territory, kicking and punching his way through a collection of street thugs to reach the Joker.  But for the PC Engine, Sunsoft produced... um... a maze game featuring enemy mimes:

It's not exactly a clone of Pac-Man or Lock'n'Chase, but the collect-'em-up gameplay is noticeably similar.  Batman must pick up a fixed number of objects in each level, a task which requires traversing most of the territory.  Along the way he encounters various enemies who can be stunned with his Batarang, then dispatched by running into them.  Eventually the white-faced thugs rematerialize in their original locations, rather than in a centrally-located mime pen, but the inspiration seems obvious.

There are various icons that change the way Batman's weaponry works, and several different types of mimes to battle or avoid -- standard wanderers, cyborg mimes that rush toward Batman whenever they see him, and armed mimes firing those pecular videogame bullets that travel so slowly they can be outrun.  Batman's usual transportation options are nowhere to be seen here -- he has to rely on crosswalks to get across the city streets, dodging the trucks that zoom by in flagrant disregard of Gotham's traffic signal; Batman is best advised to ignore the useless Walk/Don't Walk signage.

There's also a bomb icon that temporarily blows all the mimes away when Batman touches it; the respite is temporary, but it's always good for a laugh:

Batman on the PC Engine isn't a terrible game, it's just undeniably odd.  The background tiles are nicely drawn, the sprites decently animated, and the gameplay challenging enough.  The title tune makes excellent use of the PC Engine's sound chip, with sampled orchestra hits of a quality rarely heard on the console, and the in-game music features some nice percussion effects.  But Batman just doesn't feel much like a Batman game, with the Dark Knight spending his time running from mimes and being hit by passing trucks.  I played through ten levels, but eventually making a choice on this screen became a matter of some debate:

At least, even if we haven't gotten anywhere near his lair, we can get a glimpse of the Joker in sprite form on the password screen:

The Batman games debuted around the time that Japanese imports were becoming of interest to US gamers, and I remember ads in Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine offering this PC Engine version at exorbitant prices, accompanied by murky screenshots that in retrospect seem designed to obscure the nature of the actual gameplay.  This version never came to the US, and if Sunsoft had to choose between releasing a Genesis cartridge or a TurboGrafx-16 HuCard, I believe they made the right choice.

This one should be easier to find than it is, but it occasionally turns up for sale here or here:

Bat Man PC-Engine Hu

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