Thursday, 20 March 2014

Batman NES

I am the bat. Or, just the person controlling some blue pixels neatly arranged.

It depends on when you learned about Batman that will taint your view on what kind of hero he is or should be. Those that grew up reading of him in the comics will have their views of him being a poorly-dressed, sometimes extreme, detective. Those that watched Adam West running around in bad leggings will see a more campy version of Batman while there's those that saw the Tim Burton films, later becoming the crazy train of disaster in the Batman, Batman returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (and more people) films. Alternatively there's those that prefer the animated series of Batman and the various twists and turns that one takes or even the more recent Bateman (think about the spelling and reference... there you go) with the Nolan, Dark Knight trilogy.

Some will see him as the dark avenger that goes almost to extremes but not killing people. Others will remember him killing quite a few characters and such depending upon which film you watch. (The "Tim Burton" Batman has him bombing buildings filled with mooks, hurling a large ganger down a tower in the first film and attaching bombs to clowns in the second film, so much for the "never kills" approach). Others will see him as a prick in a bat outfit and cape pretending to act scary while chasing around a clown, a midget and an annoying rhyming twat dressed in green that has an affinity to specific syntax symbols. And some dick called Egghead.

Because if he went out in the sun he'd explode with that skin pigment

So in keeping with this in mind, the NES game of Batman runs with the idea and notion that we're sort of following the first Tim Burton film where Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson go toe-to-toe, or more appropriately, Keaton looks dark and moody in the background while Jack gets to go crazy apeshit nuts and steal all the limelight and lines. Which is the best part of the movie if I'm going to be honest there.

What wonders are we treated to in our little endeavour then? A roving plot of betrayal, revenge, development and love interest shoe-horned into 90mins told ... oh yeah, 8-Bit graphics... Could be a problem. Well how about an interactive movie... 8-Bit I know I know... fuck it let's make a platform game. Mario did it well so we should be able to too, right? Short answer "Yes... but" long answer "keep reading".

Wall jumping at its finest. Though seriously, you need to learn this skill, fast.

What we have is a fairly standard platformer without the ability to jump on people. In truth, most of the time you'll be punching things. All manner of villains and machines (yep, I do recall seeing jet packers and flame-throwing TANKS in caves, in the film. Remember that part where Batman was in a factory and had to punch out a computer that controlled laser cannons and spread shot fireballs? Me neither.

I do love the artist license...

He's got a jet pack and spread shots. I've got fists. This is no contest for me.

Batman, who does look rather much like Batman in this game, is a rather nimble little minx in that not only can he run, jump, punch and shoot an assortment of weapons such as the limited range but fairly damaging batarang, a rocket gun with long range and very precise, and a triple shot flaming disc set, but he can also manage to do what a lot of other platforms never implemented, wall jumping. Yes out caped-crusader can leap up against a wall and leap off the side of it to gain higher heights. You WILL need this skill through the game and stage 1: level 2 has a lovely moment to test this out or taking the harder route that doesn't require wall jumps, while the approach to the 3rd boss and almost all of the penultimate level, needs the player to be very well versed in the technique. Eventually it becomes second nature to the player once the timing is fully realised.

Destroying enemies will have them drop one of three things, health (unless you're on full health), bonus points, or ammo points. Each weapon uses ammo points and you're limited to 99 of them. Batarangs taking one point, gun taking two and flaming discs that go through things takes 3. I can honestly say I only ever needed the batarang as it does multiple damage to things the longer it stays in them and can stun-lock most enemies (and some bosses). Otherwise punch it.

Yes, I remember this in the film... no... wait, no I don't at ALL. But it's not too tough anyway.

The stages follow some... attempt at sticking to the film. There's your "cleaning up the streets" level, the chemical factory level, a series of caves... I don't know with that one, is it supposed to be the sewers under the bat-cave or something? Fucked if I know. The museum (which has more guns and weapons and the most aggressive and high-tech boss security system I've seen and I'm including next doors Doberman in that). Then finally the Bell(end) Tower which requires some of the most pixel-perfect timing I've witnessed in a game to just get to the top and then fight the bosses before Joker himself (who looks about 10 ft tall and casts lightning... the hell?) shows up to be punched out by midget Batman.

Interestingly, before each stage and after the final boss, there's a "replay" of scenes from the film, some looking impressively well drawn or photographed from the film, which gives the game a little more of a positive correlation with the movie, up to and including where Batman throws the Joker off the bell tower... Even though in the movie he died from being caught on a line between a gargoyle, his leg and a ladder he couldn't hold onto. Again, artist license I suppose.

Words cannot express how awesome this car is... and then the machineguns pop out!

Batman himself, responds fairly well to most commands by the player. It's just the wall-jumping that can lead to some fairly annoying moments of sustaining damage. While the levels themselves are fairly well designed and all look rather dark and gritty, in keeping with the original Burton film to be honest. It's another "Move to game" game that actually does fairly well as a game by itself but completely bollocks up the plot and structure, but then (and I have to be fair here) few films could be turned into relevant games that still keep people interested. (IDEA: Titanic The Game, where you find creative ways to kill Leonardo Di Caprio by dropping an Ocean Liner on him)

The weapons seem more like a drop-in feature rather than actually planning them, except for the batarang. The gun and shuriken's... likely added because there wasn't much range in the batarangs use and some people didn't want to punch out a tank. But let's face this idea for a moment. PUNCH a TANK to DEATH. I want to see MORE of this kind of thinking please. Though the addition of extra weapons seems all the more awkward when you have to use the "X" button to change your attack option from BATMAN to 'rangs, guns and shurikens, while the other pauses. Perhaps more a limitation of the controller in this particular regard but the actual use of weapons and their lack of requirement to BE used, leads me to believe it's not something in the original design of the game.

This is a ninja. I have no idea if he does anything as I've never seen him attack. You will never see him again after this point.

Unlike several platformers I've already reviewed on this site, Batman delivers hand-over-fist when it comes to the music. Each track is distinct from the others in the ensemble and each is recognisable and will soon have you mumbling along to the tune while playing the game. They add to the atmosphere of the game and the quick pace of play rather than detract from it and are a welcome positive element to the overall presentation of the game itself.

There is little in the game that makes me dislike it. Though the difficulty curve becomes a brick wall (literally) in the final levels and really tests the mettle of any player. Bosses are rather formulaic and working out the patter quickly allows for you to exploit and destroy with gusto, especially when you realise there are certain points and places that most bosses cannot hit you with their attacks. Even the 3rd boss, and he's a real shit if you can't work out the safe spots (hint: wall jump and batarangs, seriously).

First in line for punching out tanks? Me.

However, the game is cursed by the demon of repetition. Every enemy is at a key point in the level and going back slightly and returning will respawn that enemy. Which is nice if it's a gangster that runs at you, not so nice if it's a flame tank and disastrous if it's one of those leaping things you find in the sewers. (You will know what I'm talking about if you've seen it, which reminds me, when were THOSE in the first film?)

It's an interesting and fun game, which are the key things to remember in the making and design of any game. You could do far, FAR worse with many other games out there and should be able to get quite a bit of challenge and enjoyment from this one.