Approximate Release Month: April 1993
Batman Returns is at its best when it isn’t trying anything new.
Most of the game is a standard brawler. If you have played Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time you know most of what Batman Returns has to offer. The combat feels good and responsive, and I liked the inclusion of some of Batman’s gadgets. His grappling hook is a power move that is useful for escaping enemies when surrounded but it uses a chunk of health every time. The Batarang is a ranged weapon that doesn’t do any damage but can stun enemies and disrupt attacks. It can also blow up projectiles in mid-air, so it’s handy to have at the ready.
I appreciate how the fodder enemies seem well-balanced. They are a little cheap sometimes, but they don’t do a ton of damage and they don’t have an annoyingly large pool of health. The bosses are a whole other story, which seems like a feature of the beat-‘em-up genre. The bosses I fought were absolute slogs that took too much time to defeat and were constantly attacking with powerful, hard-to-dodge moves. More skilled players will have an easier time than I did in this regard, I’m sure.
Up to this point, Batman Returns is an above-average brawler. But then it turns into a platformer.
Fortunately, these side-scrolling jaunts are short sections of each stage. You move Batman left-to-right, tossing Batarangs at baddies and using the grappling hook to get over pits. Controls are stiff and enemies die in one hit. It’s the perfect amalgamation of tedious and uninteresting, and it belongs in a much worse game than Batman Returns.
There is also a short Mode 7 Batmobile level toward the end of the game. It is Hyper Zone meets Rad Racer, but the Super Nintendo just isn’t capable of rendering these realistically stylized graphics in a way that doesn’t feel like the game is barfing pixels into your eyes. It’s hard to see what is happening, but it’s easy enough that it doesn’t matter. I think you chase a van?
The Batmobile level excepted, Batman Returns is a great looking game. I would have liked to see more enemy variety (it’s almost all clowns, seriously), but I liked that you can grab enemies and throw them into walls to shatter windows. There are also stills from the film in the story sequences, which use chyron-style text for dialog and narration. It’s weird to see this approach in the context of storytelling in today’s video games but it is cute and worth checking out.
Ultimately, Batman Returns is a decent beat-‘em-up which tries to integrate other genres in a slapdash way. It’s worth checking out if you have run out of brawlers to play, but be ready to hold your nose and eat the bad platforming vegetables.
Next time: I’ve never played a MechWarrior game before, so hopefully the SNES port of a PC classic holds up!