The Last Arcade #2: Sunsoft’s Batman, NES & Genesis

 

I would think most , if not all readers here are more than familiar with Tim Burtons 1989 Batman film, starring Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Yes I put Nicholson first deliberately. Like it or not, or maybe feel it hasn’t held up well after thirty years in comparison for todays superhero flicks, it did redefine how a superhero can be presented in cinema, and despite any criticisms then (and now) it was largely successful that summer as well.

Couple that with the tremendous success Nintendo had the past few years and naturally it would be brought to video game consoles at home and arcades as well. I remember the NES game very well, and there was also a Sega Genesis release not too long after, I believe it was delayed  because of lawsuits concerning Nintendo’s monopolistic hold on licensed products, needless to say Sega’s 16 bit version was released almost a year or so after the NES. I’ve recently discovered that Sunsoft delivered another version to NEC’s Turbografx 16 system but has less in common with the former with an overhead style gameplay.

My brother was the NES owner, I was the Sega guy, and I remember both versions very well. I don’t think either of us ever finished the NES version, but back in the day I managed the Sega version quite easily. At the 2017 Cradle of Aviation Retro Gaming Expo, I did manage to grab a copy of the Genesis version and even more recently, I managed to play the NES game on my err.. special classic . Again both games , while made by Sunsoft, take an entirely different approach to the side scrolling 2-d platformer probably mostly based on the computing power of both systems, but I also suspect various gameplay mechanisms were based on other platformers that were selling on each system. I will explain starting with the NES version first

 

 

The NES version was the first version to come out here, and even today it leaves an impression. I believe there’s even a purple batman collectible tribute to the Batman here’s purple sprite, that alone amazes me. Now the game itself plays very well, you go through several side and vertical climbing platform stages with some basic cinema interludes between the scenes. Aside some unrelated similarities in these scenes and the backdrops of the first and final stages, this bears little to no resemblance to Tim Burtons movie. Batman fights drones , robots flying things that shoot rockets, and that’s all well and good it’s still fun .Batman primarily uses his fist and has some projectile weapons as well.

The challenge and design in the game emphasizes timed platforming over brawling, utilizing clever design in the level layouts  to compensate the systems graphical limitations. The Batman sprite is small as are most enemies, and he also uses a wall jumping mechanic to advance in tight vertical spaces or for aforementioned timed jumps. And I must add the level designs are beautiful and intelligent forcing you to think and react fast, the connection between control and character movement is very smooth and intuitive which helps the experience seem more immersive. At least to a ten to twelve year old anyway.

The game is very difficult , far more difficult than the Genesis version, but you get a sense of fairness from it. It’s no fluke if you beat this game, you earn it and youre better than average if you can do it without cheating codes. You can compare its difficulty to a game it seems to have a lot in common with, Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden series. It seems very influenced by it in all aspects, from graphics, to sprite size, right down to the mini cut scenes between some levels. I’d even argue it smooths out some issues of fairness the Ninja Gaiden series is known for what us kids called “cheap deaths” back in the day. It being better or worse is a matter of opinion but I cannot help but note how many ques NES Batman takes from it, Ninja Gaiden was the premier ninja NES platformer. And as you’ll see I also cant help but notice that the Sega Genesis does the same thing, save some bonus stages

 

 

Above is the Sega Genesis version of the game. The first thing to note is in the side scrolling pic, the sprites are large more detailed, and faithful to what you saw in the movie. That scene is depicting Jack Nicholson falling into the vat of chemicals that bleached his hair and skin, becoming the Joker. And This game has side scrolling shooter levels , also straight from the movie depicting the batmobile and batwing in action. I must say , for us Sega players this was a treat. And obviously the 16 bit graphics of the Genesis allowed for larger more detailed sprites, animations and backdrops. The Genesis often billed itself at the time as a system that came closest to bringing the arcade experience home ( pre snes and neo geo mind you) So often times you found their side scrolling  2-d platformers attempting to replicate that, sometimes sacrificing complex level design for simplicity and this Batman reflects it.

The levels do follow the movie more closely even down to various bosses that resemble some movie counterparts. Batman himself has a punch, sweep and batarang attack, and can double jump into a flip which also can subdue enemies when timed right. Theres very more more an influence of brawler in how Batman goes through his stages, but he has the grappling gun to ascend or descend as needed, and the level design reflect it. Batman here is far more simplistic and ‘arcadey’ than its 8 bit cousin in its layout and slightly less responsive in the control department though it is still fairly good.

The Batmobile and Batwing sequences steal the show here, and the levels are sequenced the same as the order of the movie. Gotham streets, Axis Chemicals, the Art gallery cathedral all here and again , an effort was made to make this seem more like Burtons movie. There is a small cutscene or two, digitized clips from the movie , not necessary but pretty.

Now while I said batman has a brawler-esque element to his fighting, I definitely feel overall this game takes a lot of its design and layout from another ninja series, this time catering to the Sega audience.  This game in sprite size, general stage layout and difficulty bears a little resemblance to the shinobi series, especially in the double jump/flip mechanism, and how the grappling gun serves the same purpose as shinobis High platform jump.

If this was intentional on the part of Sunsoft to be influenced by both Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi to cater to each systems players , it was a good move for a movie based property and it worked well, all while being its own thing. The music in both games has zero Danny Elfman score which is unfortunate ( check out the SNES Batman Returns by Konami, outstanding brawler with Elfman’s score ) but the music they did create is great stuff and sets the mood well, balancing cinematic with platforming goodness. I didn’t get far replaying the NES game, only the third stage and I recall not doing much better when I was younger. What did surprise me, was that I couldn’t finish the Genesis game ( not done trying though) which I remember being far simpler. I did make it to the final stage , almost right up to the Joker but alas I failed…

Which game is superior? It mostly depends on what your expectations are but I think the NES version is a better designed and smoother platformer, so as a game I’d go there. For the experience of playing as Tim Burtons Batman, Genesis hands down . Both games do their systems well overall 8.5 for Nes and 7 for Genesis I think is how I would call it.

I’ve got a few ideas as to what’s next in the last arcade, we are a facebook group if anyone’s interested . I myself have been meaning to get back to the ps2 and ps1( in lieu of this plugn play that’s going to be released; not too interested to be honest) days, which were really my last days of gaming back then.

Until then citizen g signng off

WHAT IT IS!!

 

 

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