A decade after Superman’s theatrical debut in 1978 came Batman’s in 1989 and for a decade, Batman was the super hero all the kids wanted to be like. It was only a matter of time before the original Nintendo Entertainment System had its own movie tie in for the 1989 Batman movie.
I grew up playing Batman for the Nintendo. Its one of those games that people have dubbed NES tough. A game so tough that children beat the game back then that adults complain is too tough now a days. I went back and played this game for the first time in twenty-five years. Its still a gem of a Nintendo game and its not even from one of the big three publishers. There was Nintendo, Capcom, Konami and then there was Sunsoft.
The NES has known some awful movie tie ins, with only a hand full of good ones and Sunsoft hit a home run with this one. There are certain liberties taken with the franchise. Its not strictly scene for scene, but I’d rather have a good game than relive the movie. You’ll play as Batman in this 2D action platformer, first on the mean streets of Gotham City. Then to Axis Chemical plant, a sewer and all the way up a clock tower in the fifth area to face Joker. Each of these levels has two or three areas with the only exception being the clock tower.
Like other 2D platformers, Batman can move left, right, duck, jump and punch, but he does so much more than that. Batman is also one of the first games to offer a wall jump mechanic. Just push jump next to a wall and he’ll push off with another jump Its that simple and you’ll need to master that mechanic if you’re going to get through the game. A lot of points require you to fall off a platform, turn to the platform as you fall and then jump. This will ensure that you don’t get hurt on one of the game’s many hazards like water turbines. Batman packs more than a punch too. He’s got three other weapons, the batterang, a pistol with a rocket bullet and a dirk that goes out, comes back, splits into three and goes out again. These weapons all share the same ammunition with the dirk requiring the most ammo.
The game feels stiff and deliberate. Batman’s jump is slightly delayed, because he ducks before he jumps, but you’ll get used to it. When you get hit by an enemy, batman becomes temporarily invincible. In fact when Batman hits an enemy that enemy can’t hit him for a moment. So if you’re rapidly punching something it can pass right through you.
There is a wide variety of enemies not found in the movie of course. I’d rather have a fun game than one that’s one hundred percent faithful to the movie. There are enemies that shoot every few seconds, others that are slow but become faster when they see Batman. You’ll fight all sorts of machines, soldiers, grunts, thugs and bosses. Each boss has its own pattern, but honestly a lot of the bosses come down to spamming more projectiles than a true battle of skills. Go into a boss with full health and a maximum amount of ammo, you’re coming out a winner.
Each enemy has a chance to drop a random pickup. Either health, ammunition or a B icon that I assume is Batman or Bonus? You can see your score when you pause the game. I should also point out that to pause its select and to change weapons its start. It might seem odd, but I think it works since you can still dodge with your left hand. Batman has health and there are no instant death traps or even pits. Every hit takes away a single bar of health. Its a very fair game with three lives. Even fair with continues. Every continue starts you on the level and area you were on. If you lose all your lives on a boss, its back to the previous area.
Batman: The Video Game is fun yet challenging. I’d say they’re equal parts until the further levels have you balancing precision wall jumps over bone crushing gears and timed enemy attacks. Then come the enemies on narrow platforms. Jump on the enemies, you’ll get knocked right off. This forces you to use your weapons. unless you can precisely time it to jump in and punch so they don’t hurt you. That’s a little reckless though. The game also has enemies that respawn if you leave the screen. So if you kill something, fall off a platform, chances are, that foe will be there waiting for you again.
Between the areas are cut scenes from the Batman movie in all their 8-bit glory. You’ll see Jack jack Nicholson as the Joker and Kim Bassinger as Vickie Vail. The Batmobile will shoot down a door to get through he Axis Chemical plant. These cut scenes are some of the best in the in the system’s history. Michael Keaton is also Batman, but well you never see the man, only the costume.
The graphics in the game itself are great. Enemies look great. The environments are pretty detailed. Rock caverns, metal platforms, spinning gears, conveyer belts and beautiful electric coils. Its all here, there’s a lot of diversity and it seems like no expense was spared to make each area and level feel different from the previous. The color pallets also go a long way to make things feel different.
Since this is a Batman game, a lot of the environments have black, dark backgrounds with some details. To make Batman stand out, he’s purple and while I’ve heard minor complaints about that over the years, I prefer when I can see my character as a different color than everything else on the screen.
To top off a great game, there’s a fantastic soundtrack. One of the greatest soundtracks in the Nintendo library. Sunsoft was always know for their soundtracks and this is no different. The songs have stuck in my head for the past twenty-five years. There’s nothing from the actual movie at least from the sound of it.
After playing it for an hour and completing it again from start to finish, its a game still worth everyone’s time to play.