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Batman Returns (SNES) artwork

Batman Returns (SNES) review

"Dashing through the snow, with Batarangs in tow."

It's no big revelation that video games based on movies have an impressive track record for being terrible, but this was especially rampant during the 80s and 90s. Quality control was borderline non-existent, and it was obvious these were solely meant as promotional material. So whenever a movie game came out that appeared some effort was put into its development, it almost seemed like a freak accomplishment. Batman Returns feels like one such Christmas miracle the moment it begins, as players are greeted by the classic "purple-lasered" Konami logo, which is immediately sprinkled with snow flakes. It then goes into a cinematic cutscene using still images, retelling the film's opening sequences with a somber tune. By cutscene's end, the tune is now dramatically roused, hyping up the eventual confrontation with the film's two costumed antagonists.

The Bat. The Cat. The Penguin.

Batman Returns.

The intro actually made me want to watch the movie again. Game adaptations have that impact, but usually because they're so appalling that you want to wash out the bad taste. However, this beat 'em up's competency continues well into the first stage. It faithfully replicates the film's outlandish visuals during the attack on Gotham Plaza, from the ridiculously huge statues, the festivities and ginormous Christmas trees, to even the Red Triangle Circus Gang's distinctive array of fire breathers, clowns, and those silly, big-headed motorcyclists. Batman brings the pain with incredible strength and a slew of flexible moves, allowing for a pretty accessible experience. Aside from the typical list of punch combos, jump kicking, grabbing enemies, throwing, and using a special attack that drains your health, there's also some interesting inclusions to the arsenal.

As a secondary attack, Batman can use a limitless supply of Batarangs that temporarily stun most foes, but it can be switched over to a grappling hook that's used to swing into attackers. Though, the latter is less effective and feels more like a novelty in normal combat. Also, although a slight variation of the throw move, a very cool thing you can do is toss enemies against background objects; store windows shatter, fences break, and when you slam a goon against a street sign, a hearty "GONG" accompanies it. Additionally, if you successfully grab two enemies at once, you can slam both their heads into each other. It's a hilariously brief moment in the movie that's transformed into an awesome move for the game. Batman is just fun to control.

It's needed, too, because while taking control of an agile, brawling Batman is amusing, the game is as typical as it gets within the genre. If you've played any beat 'em up, you know what to expect: the normal, disposable creeps, the knife throwers, the big guys, motorcyclists going in circles, and enemies that throw hazardous materials. Before the end of stage two, you've pretty much seen every standard opponent this game has to offer, with boss encounters being the only fresh enemy types left to witness. Honestly, if it weren't for the recognizable brand name and the fun of controlling Batman, this probably would have been just another beat 'em up lost to history.

I think the devs were aware of this, because halfway through five of its six stages, the game breaks from the beat 'em up norm in favor of a "platforming" perspective. Here, your Batarang is the default attack move, allowing for rapid, one-hit take downs of opponents, and if you approach these segments with a beat 'em up mentality, you're gonna quickly lose lives. You have to do a bit of cautionary action, such as hopping over big, bouncing clowns, backing up to knock out torch-tossing clowns on stilts, and carefully stay on a building scaffold while enemies burst out of windows. There's even a bit of grappling hook action, but its usage is so awkward to do, that you'll likely think you're messing up when performing it for the first time.

While unusual, the platforming sections add a bit of diversity to a blueprint that's easily repetitive, though I wouldn't say they drastically improve the game's quality; they're just something different to go through. I do wish the devs had added more variety and length to some of these areas, since most conclude barely a minute or so after they begin. It seems too experimental. The second stage's burning building, for example, could have been a unique part of the game where you desperately try escaping before everything crumbles. Instead, Batman swings over a few flaming debris using the grappling hook and... back to a beat 'em up segment.

The only other real flaw of Batman Returns is its quarter-munching mentality, which is a weird thing to say considering it's a Super Nintendo exclusive. One such instance is the inclusion of limited continues, and this would have been fine if the game didn't have a few occurrences where it's intentionally draining away lives in rapid succession. There's a moment, midway through the game, where you have to fight Catwoman on a rooftop; she can easily dodge and phase through your moves on a whim, and on top of that, she has a dash attack that drains a huge chunk of your health. Doesn't help that you normally can't predicate when it's coming.

The real frustration comes when you play the subsequent stage, get to the boss fight, and... you fight Catwoman again in all her annoying glory. It's something where actually staying true to the movie actually really hurt the game. Worse, you have to fight the Penguin immediately after her, and he's just as irritating with his erratic flying movements and bombardment of umbrella attacks. Wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the fact that merely touching him causes damage, and considering his flying patterns take up a lot of the screen's real estate, that's infuriating.

Even after you gracefully learn to deal with the Red Triangle Circus Gang through memorization, sharp reflexes, and doing clever combos, those specific boss fights are always waiting for you, ready to drain away so many lives. It's the lowest point of the experience, and it does nothing but add a tint of cheapness to this Christmas-themed Batman game that was weirdly released outside the holidays. Thankfully, you can use a cheat code for more continues, but only if you have a second controller; odd, since it's a one-player title. The rest of the game, however, while a strictly normal beat 'em up journey, does an impressive job recreating the movie's atmosphere, visuals, and soundtrack into a gaming experience. Batman Returns is at least worth one complete playthrough just to see how much it respects the source material.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 24, 2016)

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