Review: Batman: The Video Game (GB)

Holy platforming joy!

Gotham City is not a safe place to live. Goons and robotic drones roam the streets shooting anything in sight, gun turrets fire on people and heavy objects randomly fall from the sky. If the citizens of Gotham somehow manage to survive all that, they have to contend with the fact that the city was designed and built by prats, resulting in large chasms all over the place that force people to jump across platforms if they need to buy a newspaper or stock up on groceries. The inside of the buildings are no better: work at the chemical factory and you have to leap across moving platforms to get from one part to another, whilst a look around the local museum could easily end with you plummeting to your death. Figuring improvements could be made if it weren't for all the hoodlums hanging about, one concerned Gotham resident (Mr B. W. Batman) sets out to rid the city of its crime problem.

Loosely based on the 1989 Tim Burton film, Batman: The Video Game sees you take control of the rubber-suited crime fighter across 12 levels as you battle against the Joker and his law-breaking chums. The game has a simple appearance that doesn't exactly push the Game Boy to its limits but the action remains clear on the original handheld's blurry screen. Foreground and background scenery varies between locations to keep things from looking the same, and each platforming level has many blocks scattered around for you to jump on or blast away, some of which contain powerups. Sprites are small but Batman is recognisable, although comically dumpy and possessing a funny walk. Before each level begins the screen spins which is a simple but good effect and between some levels there are brief scenes to give a little (but not much) sense to the story that's going on. The artwork for these scenes is more detailed and a bit closer to the look of the film, which doesn't really fit with the rest of the game but works quite well otherwise.

Controls are responsive and straightforward (A to jump, B to shoot). You can duck to avoid hostile fire or to amusingly shuffle along. There are a few types of enemies that move in different ways and there are a number of weapons you can pick up to blast them with. The weapons vary with their range and some can pass through walls. The most useful are the Batarangs which return when fired, potentially taking out would-be assassins on the way back. Not every weapon you collect is an upgrade so sometimes it is best to just leave it.

Sound effects are basic but effective whereas the music is a bit more impressive. Though on occasion a little whiny, the tracks have an adventurous feeling perfectly suited for a spot of crime fighting. The short, pitiful-sounding tune that plays upon losing a life also fits well.

The difficulty curve in the game is well judged. You have a health meter that initially you will not pay much attention to as the only risk of losing a life would seem to be a mistimed jump, but gradually the gun-toting thugs become more of a threat. Jumps also become trickier and you'll soon have moving platforms to deal with and smaller spots to land on. In some situations you have to think before jumping as you may need to use that block you were about to blast as a ledge. On the other hand it may obstruct your jump and lead to a fatal fall.

Much like that other early 12-level Game Boy platformer, Super Mario Land, the game does not just feature jumping about as a couple of levels see you hop into the Batwing and take to the sky for some shooter action. Like the streets below, the sky above Gotham is full of trouble and you will have to battle an assortment of craft as well as dealing with missiles firing at you. The Batwing can shoot in both directions, a feature you'll soon take advantage of once you find yourself surrounded. These levels will see you weaving about the screen and can be quite tricky but they are a lot of fun.

Should you lose all of your lives you can continue at the price of a score reset, which adds some replay value if you attempt to see how many points you can get with one set of lives. There is no save feature but with only 12 levels (two of which are boss fights) it‘s a game that can be beaten quickly once you‘ve got the hang of each stage. However, later parts of the game are tough so it may be a while before you're ready to blast through as quickly as possible.

Conclusion

The game may have a fairly basic appearance as a result of being released in the early years of the handheld's life, but the developers managed to add some variety to the locations and the Batman sprite is amusing to watch. The game gets tough later on but the difficulty curve is well judged so it doesn't feel overwhelming, and the Batwing levels are a great addition to the excellent platforming action found in the rest of the game. Overall Batman: The Video Game is a lot of fun to play through and should entertain for quite sometime.