Welcome, one and all, to another edition of Retro First Impressions. Now, growing up, there were a few movies that I asked Santa for on VHS. One of these is actually the subject of today’s game: Batman Returns.
Tim Burton’s second Bat-flick had game tie-ins on a ton of different systems, including the Amiga, Atari Lynx, MS-DOS, and the Sega Mega Drive. To top it all off, different companies did different versions of the game, leading to some very different experiences for players. Despite being a Sega kid, I never played the Mega Drive version of the game. Truth be told, I wasn’t aware of its existence. Looking at the play throughs that I’ve seen online, it was a side on action paltformer, and I suspect that I would have enjoyed it, at least at the time. Today though, we’re looking at a different beast all together: Konami’s SNES version of the game.
The reason that I went for this version is that when I started reading up on it, it was listed as being similar to Final Fight. So, while Sega went for an action based platformer, Nintendo had gone for a scrolling beat ‘em up. Being a fan of the genre, this had some instant appeal. That the game seems to have historically reviewed well is a bonus. But … does it live up to the promise?
The first thing to comment on here is the graphics. The sprites are big, bold, and easy to see. While perhaps a little more colourful than I remember the film being, the style in which they’re drawn does still fit the aesthetic of the source material. The animation is about as good as you’d expect on the console – so pretty good – and everything runs at a decent speed. There are no lazy single colour backdrops, and we’re instead treated to a nice variety of locations in which to do battle with the swarms of enemies.
So, in keeping with the aesthetics of the game, how does the sound measure up? In terms of the actual soundtrack, very well. We’re treated to SNES-ified versions of music from the actual film, which helps create that authenticity that the graphics were going for. Honestly, all the while you’re playing through, the background music actually helps make it feel like a really epic journey. The only let-down in this department is potentially the sound effects. They aren’t bad, per se. In fact, they’re pretty typical of the genre. The problem I have there is that it almost seems like a lot of effort was put in elsewhere, but Konami just went to the stock sounds cupboard for this little part of the puzzle.
Still, the important thing is the gameplay, right? Thankfully, Konami did a stellar job here. In essence, the core controls are fairly typical in their simplicity: the attack button can be mashed to pull off combos, you can jump, and there’s an unlimited batarang weapon that can be thrown out when needed. There’s even the ever-popular grab attack when you get close to enemies. What sets this apart are the other little touches in the gameplay though.
While it could be argued that some of the features are lifted from other staples of the genre – the energy sap of the special move is lifted straight from Streets of Rage 2, and the limited number test tubes that take out all the enemies on screen are very Golden Axe magic in nature – Konami have definitely tried to put their own stamp on the game. A big part of this was the grab for me. You see, as well as beating and throwing enemies from this position, you have two other options. One is to drag them to the top of the screen and slam them into the scenery. This was a really nice touch, as it made the environment feel a lot more interactive, and gave a little more depth than the usual trash can smashing that you find. The second thing here is that you can grab two enemies at once and slam their heads together in the classic pro wrestling double noggin knocker. It’s a small thing, but it gives another attack option, which I thought was really cool. On top of that, friendly fire is on. If an enemy throws a bomb, shoots a gun, or any other ranged attack, they are perfectly capable of taking out their companions. That’s something that I don’t remember being present in any of my old Sega favourites.
The downside to scrolling beat ‘em ups is that they are, by nature, repetitive. The most obvious way that a developer can try to counter this is by providing a large variety of foes for you to face, and Konami certainly did a good job of that here. From clowns of various sizes to fire blowers, sword wielders to machine gun organ grinders, there are plenty of foes for you to throw about here, along with the movie’s main villains, Cat Woman and The Penguin.
But varied sprites is not all that Konami did to ensure that boredom doesn’t come into it! While the brunt of the game s atypical in style for the genre, there are actually some very different levels thrown in too. There are a few sections where the game switches to a side-on action platformer style, where you attack by shooting off batarangs, and use a grappling hook to swing across obstacles. This level type is perhaps most effectively utilised during a battle on a construction site, which helped provide an interesting take on the genre staple ‘elevator level’. If that’s not enough for you though, one whole level is also dedicated to driving the batmobile. Here, you get a behind the car view while you speed through the streets, taking out biker clowns and a bomb throwing campaign van. Having these two changes of pace really helps keep the game feeling fresh throughout, so well-done Konami for that!
Cut scenes wise, the game is okay. We get some pixel style shots from the film and some set pieces with the in-game sprites, all accompanied by small amounts of text. Honestly, it’s about as much you need, given that we’re not dealing with an epic slog of an RPG here. No, this isn’t a long game. In the hour that I dedicated to it, I cleared all seven stages right up to the final battle with The Penguin. Okay, so I didn’t quite finish the game, but it really does show how short it is compared to some of the more modern pieces. I will say that it is quite difficult at times though. Boss fights seemed to range from far easier than expected to outright frustrating for me, and it’s in the latter that I found myself losing lives in quick succession.
So, all in all, Konami’s Batman Returns for the SNES is definitely worthy of the praise that it received. It has plenty to offer for fans of the genre – providing you aren’t looking for a multi-player experience, of course – and has stood the test of time with style.
But what about yourselves? Did you play this, or any other version of the game? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.