By Michael Mygind
The 16-bit era of the early to mid-nineties was a hotbed for two things: side scrolling beat-em-ups and movie tie-ins. Most beat-em-ups were uninspired copy-cats of popular franchises at the time such as Final Fight and Streets of Rage, and most movie tie-ins were lackluster cash-ins on a popular license. However, 1993’s Batman Returns as released by Konami on the SNES not only stood out from other tie-ins of the time, but the various other Batman Returns releases on other consoles as a competent beat-em-up.
While not a perfect game, it certainly has a lot of charm and follows the source material quite well. From the level design to the story that unfolds, this is the movie in video game form with very little liberties taken.
At its core, it is a side-scrolling single player beat-em-up that plays a lot like Final Fight where you can move in any direction on various planes. You have a button for striking which can also be used to perform a combo after repeated presses. By pressing both the B & Y buttons, you’ll do a special attack that can deal damage to multiple enemies, but will deplete your own health. You can also throw a batarang, which can stun walking enemies and take out motorcycle enemies. You can switch this attack to use a grappling hook instead, but it does next to nothing in these sections. A gliding attack can also be used as well as a jumping kick. Several different close-up slams are at your disposal including slamming enemies into walls and into each other. A special weapon is available to you in the form of test tubes, which can clear all of the normal enemies on the screen. Overall, the beat-em-up sections play quite well and help put this game up there with the top beat-em-ups on the system.
Konami chose to mix up the gameplay a bit by also incorporating levels where you can only throw a batarang and can only move on one single plane. These play similar to games like Rolling Thunder and Codename Viper where most enemies can be taken out in one hit and will approach you from the left or right. While you can only move either left or right, you can also duck and jump to avoid projectiles. These levels make use of the grappling hook to get across areas such as gaps or fiery areas. Test tubes can also be used in these levels. These levels aren’t nearly as fun as the beat-em-up portions and often feature cheap enemies that rush at you too fast to take out with the number of required hits, but variety is certainly welcome in a genre that is based around repetition.
The fifth level is the only driving level in the stage. You’ll chase down the Penguin’s van while taking out motorcycle clowns with the Batmobile’s machine guns. This adds in a surprise element and helps add to the overall experience even more.
Stages include Gotham Plaza, the streets of Gotham City, a rooftop battle with Catwoman and the Penguin’s lair among various urban settings. Gotham Plaza in particular, has some interesting perspective details such as guard rails and street signs that appear in the foreground in front of the on-screen sprites.
What this game does best is staying faithful to the source material. The music is very much inspired by Danny Elfman’s original score and is recreated quite well. The enemies are pulled directly from the movie’s Red Triangle Circus including clowns that range from tall to skinny to large to fire-breathing clowns, clowns on stilts, sword swallowers, clowns with bazookas and even those creepy large-headed skull clowns on motorcycles. Even the bosses are pulled straight from the movie. The story itself unfolds through cut scenes between levels. This truly is Batman Returns in video game form.
While the Sega-published releases of Batman Returns on their consoles were mediocre platformers that took plenty of liberties with the story, Konami’s beat-em-up effort on the SNES is an example of a licensed game done right. It offers solid core gameplay, a little variety and a ton of fan service to anyone who was a fan of the movie. The whole game will last about 50 minutes and has various levels of difficulty to up the challenge on the next play through. At the time of this review, it can be found for about $15.