Similar to the video game tie-ins of the Batman movie, there were several versions of Batman Returns released for different consoles. I’ll talk about the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System version of the game today.
Batman Returns is a single player beat ’em up game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Developed and published by Konami, I didn’t have the chance to experience this game back in the days of the NES/Famicom. Despite the popularity of that home console, I didn’t know anyone who had a copy of this.
Like most beat ’em up games, Batman Returns features stages that scroll to the right. Unlike platforming games, these stages are planes and not flat lines, so you can move away from or towards the foreground by pressing Up or Down respectively. In order to land your attacks, you need to be at the same level on the plane as your enemies. In a similar manner, enemies can’t hit you if you avoid being on the same level as they are.
You take on the role of Batman, following his victory against the Joker. True to the film that this game is based on, you will have to deal with new threats to Gotham City: Catwoman, the Penguin, and the Red Triangle Circus Gang.
Moves and Abilities
In Batman Returns, your standard attack is a punch. You can also jump. Pressing the attack button in midair does a flying kick. This is your most effective attack in this game. However, these won’t immediately send your enemies flying. They’ll remain standing if they’re not weak enough. Be ready for another attack immediately after you land from your flying kick. Otherwise, you’ll be vulnerable to counter attacks.
You can do a sliding kick by pressing Down and jump. This is as effective as a flying kick and even has a longer range. It can be used to evade attacks as well. However, it also doesn’t knock away enemies all the time. And you’re even more vulnerable if you miss.
I dislike how you execute the slide kick. You’ll find yourself weaving up and down often in this game, as you try to land your attacks without getting hit. I often found myself pressing Down to attack an enemy, but instead of punching, I end up with a slide kick instead.
Pressing A and B at the same time does a cape sweep. A powerful short range attack that hits enemies around him, this move drains your health. Essentially, you sacrifice a little health to avoid a lot of damage. This move felt a little underpowered, primarily because its range is so short and it doesn’t do as much damage as I’d like. Health can be hard to come by in this game, so I opted to save as much of it as possible.
Strangely, Batman doesn’t have a throw in this game. I’ve come to expect that from beat ’em up games. You’ll just have to make do with his strikes.
Even though Batman Returns is a beat ’em up game, Konami managed to fit in Batman’s Batarangs and grappling hook. Pressing Select toggles between the two, or unequips both of them. On the bottom left, you’ll see which gadget you have equipped. Pressing Up and attack uses your equipped gadget.
The grappling hook allows you to move up stages, but there are only a few sections where you need to do this. There are a few flying enemies that you can attack with it. Finally, there are some power ups hidden in some background objects. Some of them are placed high, so you’ll need to hit them with the grappling hook. To be honest, the inclusion of the grappling hook feels forced and unnecessary.
Batarangs are what you’d expect them to be – thrown projectiles. In this game, Batarangs fly straight forward and don’t return back to you. You can only carry a maximum of nine. These do huge damage and are a big help in boss fights.
There’s a reason why you have the ability to unequip both gadgets in this game. Similar to the sliding kick, it’s easy to find yourself moving up and intending to punch. But instead, you’ll either fire the grappling hook or waste a Batarang. You need to consciously unequip these gadgets so that you won’t trigger them by mistake.
The Baddest Bad Guys
The Batman Returns movie is a great movie to adapt into a video game. Aside from having two major villains (more end level bosses), the Red Triangle Circus Gang allowed for a lot of different kinds of regular enemies. Not counting palette swaps, you’ve got regular clowns, fat clowns, clowns on stilts, and midget clowns. There are stilt walkers, acrobats, knife throwers, and fire eaters. One end level boss is a strong man, and another is an organ grinder.
I’m a big fan of the beat ’em up genre, and I consider myself to be good at these kinds of games. But Batman Returns really kicked my ass. This game is quite hard, and it’s not because the enemies are hard to kill. What makes the Red Triangle Circus Gang really hard to fight are their special attacks. Of all the regular enemies, the only one that doesn’t have an attack that doesn’t charge at you is the weakest version of the regular clown. Every other regular enemy can kill you easily if you’re not careful.
Stilt walkers have this weird looking stutter step that damages you on contact. The fat clowns have rolling and leaping attacks that can even hit you in the middle of a flying kick. The knife wielders can throw knives or use their dash attack on you. I had the hardest time with the bazooka-wielding midgets and the fire eaters. Whenever these enemies come in pairs, they have the tendency to surround you from both sides and fire their projectiles at you. It’s really hard to beat these enemies without taking a few hits.
Obligatory Bat-Vehicle Stages
Batman Returns also have vehicle driving stages too. The first one involves the Batmobile and is a straightforward side scrolling stage that auto-scrolls to the right. The Batmobile can fire guns and shoot special discs, which replace the Batarangs in this stage. You fight more of Penguin’s motorcycle goons, and some of them even have their own cars.
I would accuse Konami of throwing a Batmobile stage in here for the sake of adding variety, but this was actually a scene in the movie. It’s just one stage, and is fairly short. If you don’t like driving games, don’t worry, because you won’t have to put up with this for very long.
The other vehicle stage in this game involves the Batskiboat. That’s really it’s official name. There are no enemies in this stage. Instead, this stage is littered with power ups. This scene is also in the actual film. Do your best to get as much health refills and Batarangs as you can in this section.
Big Bad Bosses
If you know the Batman Returns movie, then you know that Catwoman and Penguin are bosses in this game. The fight with Catwoman is a little unremarkable for me, but that’s probably because I keep unloading every Batarang I have at her whenever I get to her boss fight. She leaps around a lot and does whip attacks. I personally wouldn’t try to engage her in hand to hand combat if I could avoid it.
The Penguin battles are a lot more interesting. You fight him in his duck vehicle first, and then him one on one. The battles with him are challenging, but fair. Unlike the battle with the dreaded organ grinder.
The organ grinder is the most annoying part of Batman Returns for me. He’s only got three attacks, but two of them are really devastating. One is a two way shot that isn’t homing, but he always aims it at the right direction. It’s very hard to avoid getting hit by this.
His other move is a lunging attack that outranges anything that Batman has and seems to make him invincible. I’ve never been able to cancel him out of this lunge. And he doesn’t have lag frames after the move. Sometimes, he does it five times in succession. If I had played Batman Returns as a kid, I’d probably get stuck here and never be able to progress. Thankfully, Batman Returns has a password system, so anyone with patience can eventually beat this game.
Visuals, Sound, and Presentation
Batman Returns looks great for an 8-bit game. It makes great use of the limited color palette of the NES. All the sprites have good detail and are easy to recognize. Batman and Catwoman look a little plain, but that’s because Konami was staying true to the film’s costumes. Stages have a good amount of detail too. I don’t remember Batman Returns as well as I remember the first Batman movie, but seeing this game’s stages jogged my memory somewhat.
The game has excellent music, as can be expected from a Konami game. My only complaint is that some of the tracks are really short, so they can sound a bit repetitive especially in the longer stages. I wish these tracks had an extra bar or two. But they made for a good listening experience while playing the game.
And I love this game’s introduction and in-game cutscenes. The game tries to recreate as many scenes from the movie as it can. It still falls short, but that’s also because Batman Returns has a more complicated plot than the first Batman movie. Still, I think a few more cutscenes explaining Catwoman’s role in the story, and what Shreck and Penguin were really planning to do, would have helped with the game experience.
Classic Batman games are usually action platformers, so it was refreshing to play a beat ’em up game this time around. Batman Returns is a good attempt at a beat ’em up set in the world of Batman. It’s got a good variety of enemies that require different strategies. Sure, the game has a few issues, but none of them is bad enough to ruin the gameplay experience. If this had two player co-op (which I know isn’t staying true with the source material), I think this would have become more popular when it was released.
The worst thing that I can say about Batman Returns is it’s cheesy way of handling the ending. If you want to see the best ending, you have to be godlike in this game – no deaths, take very minimal damage. That’s almost impossible. Thankfully, they built in invincibility cheats so you can see the best ending if you want.
Batman Returns on the NES is a game that’s worth revisiting. The NES version also suffers from being overshadowed by it’s SNES big brother, but it’s not a bad game at all. This game is definitely worth owning for NES game collectors.