Batman (NES) Review

Developer/Publisher:

Sunsoft

Console:

NES

Players:

1

Rating:

N/A

Release Date:

1990

Genre:

Action Platformer

-Greg Livingston

Seems like it happened a lifetime ago, but I remember it like it was last year. Thing is, it happened last week. Sometimes I wish I didn’t remember it at all.

It was a late Friday afternoon—I was about to close the venetian blinds behind me and get out of the office for the weekend—when Mr. Lewis walked up to my desk. “Next Friday is Batman Day,” he said.

“So?” I asked. Maybe I should have kept my trap shut.

He placed a Nintendo cartridge on my desk. “So,” he said, “I need you to find out what this Batman is all about.”

After getting home and washing the day out with some hooch, I found out all too quickly what this Batman was all about. See, the comics draw some influence from film noir. I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, that this game’s Batman is like every sap that tries to play sleuth in noir. He gets into scraps way over his head. He’s none too powerful or fast, but he’s not afraid to fight dirty.

Right off the bat, Batman didn’t impress me with his moves. His walk is fine, but he does take a moment to jump, and he won’t give you much control over his momentum after he’s left the ground. (That’s not to say he doesn’t give you any control in that regard, though.) As for offense, he mostly works with his hands—specifically, in the form of punches. This was a problem as early as the first stage, when the Bat encountered some wise guys wearing jetpacks and carrying tommy guns.

Don’t get me wrong, though; the average goons move fast and hit hard, so you’ll need to be keen on the punch button if you want to survive so much as the first half of stage 1. It’s just that I didn’t comprehend what a weakling he was at first.

Luckily, Batman’s a bit of a wise guy himself. Plenty of enemies drop ammo for his gadgets, which are all pretty handy. The boomerang costs one shot each time he uses it, the gun costs two, and the disc-throwing spread shot will set you back three ammo. Considering that hoods drop ammunition in large quantities on a regular basis, you’ll have enough to play with. Not enough to abuse, sadly.

You can see how Batman would have trouble landing his fists on bad guys wearing jetpacks, and these toys gave him enough range to handle those guys. It became a waiting game; he had to carefully duck under their gunfire, watch how they move, and find the perfect time to strike with a few blunt objects of a crescent shape. Since he wasn’t agile, chasing them down was out of the question. I decided that watching and waiting were Batman’s super powers.

This only became more apparent when I reached the second stage. Batman had to pull off quite a bit of precision platforming here, whether it was over large vats of acid or masses of electrically charged wires. To make matters worse, I had to get very comfortable with his wall jump. It’s the dope’s most impressive move, yet it goes about as fast as a slug. And I don’t mean the kind that comes out of a gun.

As you may recall, I mentioned not too long ago that Batman’s not the kind of guy to change his momentum in midair. So, once you jump off of a wall, you better have a good landing spot in mind. The second stage made me very familiar with identifying three things: A) where I stood at that moment,  where I would like to stand in the immediate future, and C) what kind of wall jump would get me from point A to point B. In fact, platforming went like this for the rest of the game.

To his credit, you can control how high Batman’s wall jump goes. Hold down the jump button longer, and he’ll go higher. Don’t be too grateful, though; by the end of the game, mastery of this technique will become a requirement rather than a convenience.

From the conclusion of the second stage, it was easy to see how the game would play out. I’d study enemy patterns and strike only when the perfect moment arose, I’d look before I leaped, and in general, it’d be a good time for fellows who enjoy studying things and slowly, carefully paced gameplay. But I couldn’t stop now; I was already in too deep, and there were three stages ahead of me.

As enemies became faster and stronger in the third stage, I learned that Batman also knew how to fight dirty.

He soon faced guys that jumped around the screen at lightning speed. While it was possible to outwit them and beat them fair and square, things were a lot easier if I only let them enter the screen halfway. If you stop moving right before they fully appear onscreen, they’ll stay locked on the border of the screen, and you can take them out with a few zillion gunshots without any hassle.

Just like this.

In addition, as you might expect from an NES action game, there were a select few enemies I could despawn. What a way to go.

On the topic of fighting dirty, Batman could also run right through enemies if I did it right. He still took damage, but at least he could get past particularly tough cronies. Interestingly enough, an enemy can’t hurt Batman if he is damaging that enemy. A favorite tactic of mine was standing inside a tank enemy and punching it until it went up in flames.

There are folks who advocate this method for the third boss. That is to say, just taking all of the boss’ hits on the chin and hoping Batman kills him before he kills Batman. I found this strategy too unreliable, but I can understand why someone would take that approach; genuinely outwitting him can be rough going, and pulling off the solution involves some precise wall jumps.

In fact, I only beat the third boss because Batman’s loaded with infinite continues. This is the one of only a few Sunsoft NES games with more continues than you could ever spend. Batman got lucky on that account. Most of the later Sunsoft NES games don’t need infinite continues, but Batman certainly does. It does well to complement the study-centric gameplay, since you’ve got all the opportunities in the world to figure out how enemies work.

Plus, even if I had to turn the console off and start from scratch later, I didn’t have any trouble getting back to where I left off. Once I figured out how to deal with a certain situation, it was easy to pull off again.

The game’s next two stages continued to up the ante until the end of the fifth and final stage, where Batman took on boobs with flamethrowers while he was wall jumping.

The combination of wall jumps and combat made a fittingly difficult end, outdone only by the final two bosses, who tested my skills of analysis and unfair fighting tactics.

In the end, though, I made it through. And what do you know—Joker wasn’t the one laughing, I was.

When I walked into the office Monday morning, Mr. Lewis saw the smile on my mug. “What’s gotten into you?” he asked.

“Guess you’ll have to wait and see,” I said, sitting down to this typewriter.

Pros:

  • Fun to review.
  • It’s fun to figure out how to navigate levels with Batman’s wall jumps.
  • If you like the careful fighting of Castlevania and the interesting enemy AI of the Mega Man games, look this one up.
  • With the use of wall jumps, platforming becomes just as careful and thoughtful as the combat. It’s a great match.
  • If you’re worried about it being too hard, infinite continues make it a cinch—assuming you’re willing to put in the time.
  • Another stellar Sunsoft soundtrack. Their gritty style and sampled bass really fit the Batman atmosphere.

Cons:

  • If you need full control over your game character, this won’t do it for you. Batman is by no means unpredictable, but there are definitely many limitations on how he moves; for instance, he can’t reverse direction in midair.
  • While the infinite continues do help, this game can be pretty hard. Get ready to replay stages over and over as you try to figure them out.
  • No save feature.

Verdict: 75%

Batman (NES) - Part 1 of 2