Published on July 26th, 2012 | by Nichomaxwell1
A Review of Batman: The Dark Knight Indeed Rises…on the NES
Year: 1990 // System: NES // Publisher & Developer: Sunsoft // Genre: Platformer
>>> Drop your hideous deeds, evildoers, and behold your fate, for I…AM BATMAN! Well…I mean, I can at least PRETEND to be when I’m playing Sunsoft’s game starring the Caped Crusader on the Nintendo Entertainment System.
In all seriousness, very few licensed video games receive the red carpet treatment, but the Batman games in general have done rather well. I mean, sure, you had that god-awful Batman Forever on the Super Nintendo, as well as the Game Boy version of Return of the Joker, which follow the whole “this-game-was-rushed-through-the-development-phase-to-line-up-with-the-release-of-the-film” mentality. But Sunsoft’s Batman, on the other hand, wasn’t just a solid game…in fact, it is often considered by fans and critics alike to be one of the greatest games that ever came out for the Nintendo. And after finally bringing myself to give it a spin after deciding to put all of the hype aside, I decided that the game reviewers were drinking cool-aid.
The “truth” cool-aid, that is!
Batman grabs you from the get-go with his grappling hooks and holds on tight, because once you begin playing, you’re not going anywhere anytime soon! Very little dialogue is utilized save monologues by the Joker…but it can be inferred that the game uses the plot of the second half of Tim Burton’s Batman as the main story. Of course, as a fan of Batman, who really needs more out of a game than an epic showdown with the Joker? Therefore, the lack of plot is forgiven (and we all know how little I care for plot in games anyhow…). Batman sees his way through the darkest and grittiest confines of Gotham City to enter the looming castle that the Joker calls his home (kind of a stereotypical hideout and somewhat unfitting of the maniacal menace’s personality, but oh well). Once the Masked Manhunter reaches the tallest tower, the REAL fight begins.
Now, when you think of Batman, you think of him laying down the law. There is indeed a fair share of “brawling”, but much of the gameplay revolves around Batman’s wall-jumping ability. It can be inferred that Sunsoft borrowed this trademark move from Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, but Ninja Gaiden focuses mainly on combat and avoiding pitfalls. Batman has to use his technique in an exact pattern throughout most platforming puzzles in order to clear a series of obstacles without taking damage. Sometimes I haven’t been able to discover a way of seeing Batman through certain hurdles without his absorbing damage, simply because some of the spots where he had to wall-jump were so particular, that it could be taken those specific spaces were poorly programmed.
Aside from Batman’s punishing fists, the combat system also allows him access to three separate projectile weapons. Each weapon does the same amount of damage, and all three share the same ammo (which is done on purpose). The batarang uses one shot but has poor range, the pistol damages foes across the stage with a single, accurate bullet for two shots, and for three shots, the shuriken splits into three different projectiles and can potentially rip into multiple enemies. Although the gun and shuriken appear to be the better weapons because of their range, the batarang is in fact the best choice because most enemies that require distant attacks without the risk of harm can be taken out from a short to moderate range, as opposed to the wide-sweeping stretches that the other two weapons require. Also, the batarang passes through the enemy once, flips around, and returns to you while passing through the enemy again, exacting two hits and eliminating the weakest villains. The fact that you can do 2 DP with a weapon that costs 1 as opposed to 1 DP with a weapon that costs 2 implies that the combat system was a little broken. But it doesn’t mean the weapons weren’t fun to use!
As you can probably tell, I did think there were some issues with Sunsoft’s formula. For example, they made Select pause…while Start was your weapon select. I don’t know about you, for me, it’s become the courteous move to make Start the pause button. I can’t tell you how many times I hit that button thinking it was pause, and then suddenly screw myself over as the baddies kept attacking, and then I jumped back into the action only to waste ammo with the weapon I accidentally selected. But how can you fault the company for doing something that wasn’t the norm? Sure, sure, pausing by using the select button wasn’t intuitive, but then using start as the pause button has only become intuitive to me through heavy conditioning. So what if most games used the Start button as the pause feature? There wasn’t any rule laid out saying that using Start as a game-freezing button was mandatory, so this issue in Batman is more of a personal qualm.
Otherwise, the control scheme and mechanics were expertly handled. Movement in Batman is in fact the most controlled out of all games I’ve played on the NES so far. This may be because there are less movement frames for your main character, but the plotting of each spot where you can walk, jump, or ricochet off a wall is extremely supportive of the overall movement engine. This help convinced me that the crack team at Sunsoft were playing the perfectionist card in crafting this game. Except for those particular places where it seemed I had no choice but to take damage, there doesn’t appear to be a single tile of the playing field that you don’t end up utilizing. Glitches are reduced to the bare minimum with only two faulty hit boxes and one instance of slight flicker throughout the entire platformer.
The first two levels do an amazing job at teaching you how and when to make each jump and use each of your three different weapons. Once you learn the technique, the successive levels are dedicated to transforming you into a master of multi-tasking. For example, you’ll wall-jump, shoot a villain on your way, then land on the side of a block to wall-jump again and land on a surface JUST to punch a security drone into bits and pieces before Batman can take a scratch. This is a game that teaches you well and compounds upon itself rather naturally.
In spite of its issues, Batman for the NES is the epitome of the careful game. Every block serves a purpose. Each series of platforms or chain of enemies requires a high degree of thinking and problem-solving on your part before you pass through with your life intact. Kind of like how Batman deals with each situation. He takes something of a step back at first to assess the task at-hand before he unleashes the brute inside. True, there aren’t enough villains outside of Joker that do justice to the comic books, and the Joker himself is strangely bigger than Batman, but all-in-all, turning down a good game with Batman at the center is a crime in itself.
Challenge: 8/10: There are certain spots that seem impassable without Batman taking hits, and some bosses are frustrating for how many hit they take. For example, the first boss takes only five hits to kill. The three separate boss sensors at the end of the second level take five hits each. Then, suddenly, the third level boss (the Electrocutioner) refuses to go down until you pile on thirty or forty hits. In each boss’s case a health bar would have been appreciated…but you could tell when you doing damage. Enemies were fine as they posed a fair challenge with slight exception to the Bane lookalikes who jumped around…they were avoidable, but their sporadic jumping patterns were extremely hard to gauge. There was no rhythm to those types of baddies, which made them a little overpowered. The combat system also seemed strange for how much better the one-point batarang was in comparison to the other weapons that shared its ammo for more points…but then again, the pistol and shurikens helped alleviated the stress of having to time your distant attacks perfectly. In other words, the batarang was the master player’s weapon.
Handling: 10/10: Yeah, so it’s kind of strange how Start rotates your weapons without freezing the game while Select operates as your pause feature. That can certainly throw many players nowadays who are so used to Start being the pause button. But in weighing the execution of the control scheme, Sunsoft’s Batman takes the gold. Movements are extremely precise and you never feel like when you jump and miss a ledge that it’s the game’s fault. Figuring out the complex patterns is surprisingly easy to do because of the incredibly smooth mechanics. So far, out of all the games I’ve played on the Nintendo, Sunsoft’s Batman handled the best…and no, I have not played Super Mario Bros. 3 yet…
Innovation: 9/10: This was something of a basic platformer that rotated between close-quarters attacks and fire-arms, and utilized a form of jumping (a.k.a. “wall-jumping“) that had already been implemented. But there was something so precise about this format that it was hard to pass off Batman as “just another platformer.” Batman could have easily been another side-scrolling run and gun, but in the end this became the game that really took the wall-jumping technique and ran with it. Ninja Gaiden introduced it, but Batman perfected it. Heck, if it wasn’t for the licensing and Batman just being too awesome for any other title, this could have been called “Wall Jumping: The Game.”
Core Experiences: 8/10: Although intense in its challenge and chock-full of gripping scenarios, this is a short game. Yes, yes, the difficulty makes up for it, but five levels is something of a letdown. Heck, Battletoads had three times the difficulty that this grueling game had, and yet it was twice as long with twice as many new skills and tasks to master. There are two faulty hit boxes in the entire game, which is pretty good, speaking to the developer’s desire for perfection. The overall atmosphere speaks to the world of Gotham: dark, gritty, and, somehow, prominent and hauntingly beautiful. Also, the music in Batman simply…rocks! It’s not a large soundtrack, and it’s disappointing how some tracks repeat (specifically the track in Level 1 which also plays during Level 5), but each and every song in this game’s score is worth a hundred listens. All-in-all, while playing this on the NES, you believe it when you say “I AM BATMAAAN!”
OVERALL: 8.8/Great: It’s amazing how easy it was to nitpick for the handful of problems in this game…simply because of the rest of the engine was flawless. Batman from Sunsoft stood tall back in the day as that one good licensing game…like, that one really, REALLY good licensing game...and it appears that this was our first lesson in learning that great movie-licensed games can come about if they are carefully designed…and if the developers are indeed allowed to work in peace without extremely tight time constraints!