Sunday, 12 April 2015

Batman: Return of the Joker (NES)

Developer:Sunsoft|Release Date:1991|Systems:NES, Genesis

Today on Super Adventures I'm taking a look at Batman: Return of the Joker, the sort-of sequel to Sunsoft's Batman: The Video Game, which was released for the NES two years earlier.

Batman: The Video Game was a tie-in with Tim Burton's 1989 'Batman' movie (thoughtfully given a subtitle so that people wouldn't get them confused and end up shoving the cartridge into their VCR), and this also shares the movie's shiny golden 'BATMAN' text so I'm presuming they're part of the same continuity. But ~SPOILERS~ The Joker didn't just get locked away in Arkham or go into hiding at the end of the movie, he got dropped off a giant gothic church tower to his very definite pavement-assisted demise. In fact in the end of the NES game Batman punches him off the church roof, which is kind of hardcore for a man that never kills, but the end result is much the same. So if The Joker really has returned here, then he's come back from the dead.

Incidentally this has nothing to do with the 'Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker' animated movie, as that came out about a decade later and has its own set of games. Though it's still about The Joker coming back from the dead.

The guy is like... weeds or something.



I left the title screen on for a while, just in case, and this attract mode came showing Joker impressing no one with how many 'HA's he can fit onto a wall. Doesn't look like Jack Nicholson's getting any money from this one, as that's definitely the comic book Joker we're looking at. And very well illustrated he looks too.

Cut to the Bat-signal, flickering like crazy to fake a transparency effect. It was driving me mad though so I fixed it, giving it real transparency for this GIF. Could this be the most interesting video game GIF you'll see this week? Perhaps not! Because if you scroll down a little you'll see Batman caught in a potato storm.

Is he posing next to a volcano maybe? Are people throwing tomatoes at him? Perhaps he's in space in the middle of a meteor shower, I honestly don't know.

The Sega Genesis version of the intro offers no clues; in fact it has different art entirely. And it really is just a Genesis game this time, as it was never released in Europe or Japan.

Genesis Batman is a cowardly and superstitious type.

It's just the Bat-signal mate, calm down. You see it at least once a week, it's not a big deal, quit cowering behind your cape and go see what Commissioner Gordon wants already! He'll be standing on the Gotham PD roof freezing his ass off waiting for you.


STAGE 1-3.


Okay well I'm definitely on the rooftops, so I guess I keep walking right until I reach Gotham PD then?

Oh damn, this song is amazing. I don't remember playing the game before, but I feel like I've heard this tune a thousand times before because it's so instantly catchy. Here have a link to enrich your article reading experience: Stage 1 theme.

The graphics aren't bad either, with the roof tiles and all those levels of parallax scrolling going on across the top. The NES shouldn't be doing that! They've used that flickering trick again to make the L and B letters up there look transparent, so I've cheated again to replicate the effect. I'm going to stop doing that now though, as a guy could drive himself mad trying to fix all the flickering in a NES game.

You know what else had fantastic music and graphics on Stage 1 though? Sunsoft's other Batman platformer on the NES.

But this came out two years later, and the developers had apparently learned a bit in the meantime, as this features a giant-sized Batman sprite by comparison. Well, giant sized for a NES hero anyway. He doesn't actually look all that different, except for being blue instead of purple and having a bit of orange here and there, but now he's more the size of the bosses that mini-Batman would fight.

Uh, why does Batman have a gun on his arm? In the earlier game he at least pretended he was throwing batarangs, but now this is going full-Contra. Or Mega Man I suppose. Doesn't the guy remember what happened the last time a Batman went around shooting people with his belt-fed wrist-mounted blade launcher? Oh hang on, that famous 'Knightfall' arc was published in 1993, so grittier darker Azrael Batman hadn't actually turned up yet.

I guess 'S' stands for 'shurikens' then, or maybe 'spread shot'. It said 'N' there for a moment, but my stray plasma bolts switched it, so it seems I've got other weapon types to look forward to as well!

Holy shit Batman, you just blew that guy up! It took a few shots, but that last one apparently ripped him apart on a cellular level, without leaving so much as a scorch mark. I guess Batman's not all that bothered about killing as long as he doesn't have to deal with a body afterwards.

Though he did drop a flashing orb so I suppose it's possible he just fainted and went back into his pok├ęball. Picking it doesn't seem to have done anything, but I'll keep collecting the things anyway. With his crappy jump it'll be more effort to avoid them.


MEANWHILE, ON THE SEGA GENESIS.


Batman... what the fuck are you doing? You're the Dark Knight, not Bela Lugosi, knock it off.

Well the Sega version seems to have the same level layout and gameplay (more or less), but aside from that fantastic looking gargoyle statue on the left, the art isn't as impressive to me. The Genesis isn't as limited as the NES, but the developers haven't done as much to overcome their limitations.

There are two big changes I've noticed though: I have a kick button now, making me 50% more 'Batman' in a fight, and the game has a different title!

It's now Revenge of the Joker instead of Return of the Joker. A little bit darker and grittier for Sega's darker and grittier console. Or maybe they just didn't want it to be confused with 'Batman Returns'.

So which one's more accurate to the original Japanese title, the NES game or the Genesis game? Out of curiosity I ran the original katakana through Google Translate and it turns out that it's none of them. In Japan the game is actually called... Dynamite Batman. I could've just looked that fact up on Wikipedia like anyone else would've, but sometimes I like to fool myself into believing that all the trivia I'm coming up with isn't trivially easy to search for.

Sunsoft did actually end up making a game called Batman: Return of the Joker the following year, for the Game Boy...

Batman: Return of the Joker (Game Boy)
...and it's entirely different!

This one brings back the Ninja Gaiden-style wall jumping from the original NES Batman, throws in a grappling hook like in Adventures of Batman & Robin (I love grappling hooks I do), and is absolutely shit as far as I can tell. I didn't play it long though, so pay no attention to my opinion.

Well there's some bullshit game design for you: only the most paranoid player could've seen that tiny spike and figured it was part of a trap, and that second one was entirely hidden. I managed to dodge it anyway, because I knew what was up at that point, but it's still bullshit.

Nice Mega Man transition at the end there though. Seems that I'll be scrolling upwards for the next bit.


LATER.


Uh?

Well it's nice of the developers to bring back lesser-known Batman villain 'Invulnerable Psychic Stone Gargoyle Man', but he's kind of in my way and he's kicking my ass. Fortunately fellow superhero The Atom was passing by at the time and was able to rush over at the last minute to shrink Batman down and get him to safety! Or maybe our hero just imploded. Yeah, I'm thinking it was probably implosion.

Back to the start of the stage then.


LATER, AFTER REPLAYING THE WHOLE LEVEL.


Oh, the statue's only vulnerable in the mouth when he's firing! Well that makes sense I guess.

I can't switch weapons on the fly like I could in the first Batman, but this gun I've got now seems to do the job against gargoyles, and there's more weapon pick ups around than there are enemies. All this infinite ammo is nice to have too.


STAGE 1-2.


Damn, they are not fucking around on Stage 1-2. I've got knife throwing goons to shoot, artillery to dodge, bottomless pits to jump, and autoscrolling all at the same time. Plus if an enemy gets behind me and disappears off screen I get throwing knives in my back to deal with as well, and you can see how much luck I'm having jumping over the ones I can see coming. This homicidal Batman cosplayer I'm controlling isn't all that fun to move around as.

At least this weapon I've got now kills enemies in one shot, which makes it roughly 100% more likely I'll ever see the end of the level.

Though 100% of zero is still zero, and that just so happens to be the number of lives I have left as well.

Passwords are cool though, as they basically give me infinite continues. Wait, the game gives me infinite continues anyway! I'm stuck replaying this forever!

You know what would be cool though? If enemies dropped health occasionally like they did in the first game, instead of useless orbs that do nothing but add an extra point to my 'B' meter... which itself does nothing. I don't know, maybe if I max it out my character will turn into Batman or something.


STAGE 1-3. 


Holy shit, Batman just started this level by calling down a bolt of lightning to supercharge his health meter to 80,000 hit points! I know he's prepared for everything, but I did not see that coming.

It doesn't seem to have done his structural integrity any good though as he's phasing in and out of existence worse than Marty McFly right now. The poor NES can't actually display these two huge characters in a row at once as they're built from multiple sprites, so whenever they're on the floor together parts of them have to flicker as they share the limited number of sprites between them (and the bullets). It's less noticeable at the proper frame rate though.

I'm not sure I'm meant to defeat this boss by standing in one place and tapping the button, but I don't much like boss fights so I'm mostly just relieved it's working. This could have just as easily dragged on forever and I kind of want to see Stage 2 before I turn this off.


MEANWHILE, ON THE GENESIS.


Batman: Revenge of the Joker (Genesis)
JUST. FUCKING. DIE. ALREADY. I. CAN'T. KEEP. TAPPING. THIS. BUTTON. MUCH. LONGER. AGH!

I was attacking him with homing batarangs at first, which was working well except for the fact that they took off just 200 HP each. It took 25 seconds of squatting in one place and firing non-stop to get him down to 27,200.

A minute later my hands were aching, but he had under 9000 health, so I decided to switch tactics to finish him off with a series of sliding kicks which hit him for a devastating 400 HP each time. So the fucker started bouncing on me, jumping up and down until all my health was gone. I was just 9 more hits away from beating him! 9 hits.

9 hits.

Next time around I spawned without my weapon power up, so my half-strength batarang launcher was hitting for only 100 HP each time. So that didn't work out.

Who even is this guy anyway? He doesn't look like any Batman villain I've ever heard of, and I know some of the real obscure ones like Louis the Lilac, the Sewer King and the KGBeast. I couldn't actually describe any story they've been in, but I could likely pick them out of line up (providing they were standing next to Catwoman, Killer Croc and The Penguin.)

He kind looks like Mario on the run from Nintendo because they tried to stick him in Mario Xtreme Skateboarding or something. A spin-off too far. Damn, now I'm thinking about Batman going up against Mario in a Smash Bros. sequel and I'm sad because it'll never happen.

The NES version is so quick and effortless compared to the Genesis game. I'm not sure I even used the jump button once during that whole fight. I definitely didn't have to use my brain.

STAGE CLEAR!! The game's so shocked I managed it that it's brought out two exclamation marks.

Hang on, is that Val Kilmer? 'Batman Forever' is still four years away mate, wait your turn.


STAGE 2-1.


Whoa, collecting all the Bs turns him into Super Batman! It only lasts like 8 seconds, making it basically pointless, but it's always nice to obliterate your enemies with a flamethrower thing. Really makes me feel like Batman.

I'm not sure I like the way some of these moving platforms follow their wavy rails right down into a bottomless pit though. I mean they seem like a sensible enough thing to put in a platformer, but Batman freezes when he's hit, and by the time he shakes it off he's dropped too low to be able to jump to safety. The guy seriously needs one of those grapnel guns or something.

This is actually turning out to be more of a traditional platforming stage though and that makes a nice change from shooting gargoyles and getting shelled by an airship. I was struggling to understand how the game could have any fans, but this place is way better than those last few levels. Well slightly better anyway. It's basic, but it works.


STAGE 2-2.


Uh, I guess we're done with the platforming then? Man, that ended before it even began.

There's no cutscene to explain where Batman whips out a jetpack and a rifle from, but then I don't know where this sci-fi tunnel came from either, so that figures. In fact I don't know anything about what's going on in this, except that presumably The Joker was the one who set it up.

By the way, check out how the 'C' power up gives me exploding shots that shoot out extra bullets diagonally when they hit a target. That's kind of interesting, right? I can charge the weapon up as well by holding the button, but in regular levels I only see one enemy at a time and it kills them in one hit anyway, so I never have much reason to bother.

Always nice to see the Tim Burton Batmobile! That's still my favourite of the set. I suppose this really is meant to take place in the Batman '89 universe then. Or the 'Official Comic Adaptation of the Warner Bros. Motion Picture' universe at least.


STAGE 3-1.


Stage 3-1 brings back all the fun of walking from left to right while jumping over pits, only this time I've got missiles raining down on me that I barely have a chance to dodge, presumably fired by evil penguins somewhere. Oh wait, 'Batman Returns' hasn't happened yet.

I've also got these sorcerers flinging magic whirlwinds at me from the very moment they appear on screen, so I either have to keep firing all the time or slowly edge forwards. Though it's a bit tricky to edge forwards when I have to leap across a broken bridge. Seriously, I don't think it's even possible to get across here without taking damage. It's slippery slidey ice world too, so if they hit me there's a chance I'll go sliding backwards down a hole and have to replay the stage. There's a fair chance I'll do that anyway though because I suck at this.

It'd be helpful if the screen would give me a little more space up front to see what's coming. The scrolling airship stage at least let me hang out at the back so I had time to react to things. I do get a very nice view of Gotham's mountains in the background though, which is cool... I didn't even know Gotham had mountains! Plus this place is all so snowy that it's like I'm playing the Return of the Joker: Christmas Demo.

Bloody missiles! I figured I'd avoid them with a sliding kick for a change instead of creeping forward a bit at a time, but I neglected to factor in the fact that I was standing on ice.

It's funny, Sunsoft could've held onto the game for six months or so and then slapped the 'Batman Returns' licence on it instead to tie in with the movie. They've got snow, inexplicable missiles, generic goons in generic levels, all the 'stage clear' screens match... just swap out the Joker art for Penguin and it's ready to go!

And I'm about ready to stop.


STAGE 3-2.


Crap, I thought I was being so clever as well. I figured out that the grey rock was going to fall the second I crept under it, but I had no idea it'd shatter as well! The game's an asshole!

Okay that really is total bullshit. There's no way any player would be able to react to that throwing knife the first time around, and to be honest I don't know how to deal with it the second time either! If the knife hits me I go flying off the platform, but I can't jump until I've landed and I can't shoot the goon because he doesn't appear on screen until I'm over the pit. I can barely see the guy even when he is on screen; magenta against red is a terrible idea.

Oh I see, I don't slide off if I'm crouching when the knife hits me. I still end up losing health, but I don't fall down the pit so now it's only mostly bullshit.

Shit. I thought I'd outsmarted this rock by pulling off a sliding kick right over the gap to land on the next column, but of course the Caper Crusader dropped like a brick the second he reached the edge. Back to the start again.


A FEW RETRIES LATER.


Man, even the power ups have turned against me! I can't shoot through it to hit the henchman on the other side, but he can throw knives through it just fine.

Yeah I know the solution is to move a step back and wait for the power up to disappear before I fight him, but... okay that actually seems kind of fair now that I think about it for a bit, even if the developers are being tricksy fucks. But every enemy on this stage has been a trap and I'm starting to wonder if they were just compensating for the fact that the gameplay on its own isn't much fun.

Okay I have to admit something here... I'm actually enjoying this stage more than the rest of them, because at least the bad game design feels deliberate here. I feel like I'm solving things rather than suffering through them. Though I'm also grateful that the stages are really short so I'll been done with this sooner rather than later.


SOON.


Yes! I've finally made it to the next... oh for fuck's sake.

You know what really sucks about this? The Gotham lava caves apparently count as Stage 3-2 Part 2, so I've been kicked right back to the start of the mine stage! I don't want to do the mine stage again.


LATER, ON STAGE 3-3.


But then I get to the next boss fight, and he's even easier than the first one! Seriously, when I'm saying that a boss is too easy, then there is something very seriously wrong with it, and it's especially jarring coming after the Stage 3 difficulty spike.

Still, I got a nice picture for turning up and tapping the button, so I can't complain.


STAGE 4-1.


Then the next regular stage is an absolute pushover that I basically just walked through, taking all kinds of damage along the way and giving no fucks. The game doesn't have a difficulty curve, it has a difficulty 'row of upturned knives', and this is one of the gaps in between the spikes.


STAGE 4-2.


And now it's kicking my ass again. Oh well, look at the time, I should be turning it off now anyway.

KHCN is the code though if you want to continue without me.


CONCLUSION

I've played far worse games than Batman: Return of the Joker on the NES, but don't mistake that for a stamp of approval. I found it kind of awkward and simple, and not all that engaging. Though there's definitely challenge there if that's your thing. It's a 'memorise the level' trial and error kind of challenge, but thankfully the stages are short and you can retry them as often as you like. Those infinite continues are a strong encouragement to stick with it.

It looks like you'd want a NES game to look and sounds like you'd want it to sound, but you could tell me the game was originally called Killblaster Z and I'd believe you. There's been nothing 'Batman' about it so far except for the player sprite and the art between stages, and I don't expect that's going to change until The Joker shows up as the last boss. Probably in some kind of mech.

If you're being forced to play one of them, I'd say go with the original NES version, as it it has some of the most impressive sound and visuals on the system, and the Genesis port doesn't, but I wouldn't really recommend it either way. Arkham Asylum though, now there's a Batman game that manages to look fantastic and play well at the same time, and I'm not just saying that because it's shiny and (relatively) new. I'm saying it because I'm trying to pad this conclusion out so it looks like I've given Return of the Joker more thought that I have.

Nope, can't think of anything else to say about it.


Hello person who is reading this now, your opinions and reactions are always welcome, so if you've got something on your mind relating to the this game or my humble website then feel free to write it in that box below. All comments will be read by someone somewhere, presumably.

6 comments:

  1. Ray, good review. I love Tim Burton's vision of Batman. The 1989 movie was great, I agree and yeah this game is not really 100% Batman.

    I just got done reading Dark Victory (2002, Loeb and Sale) and saw this review afterward.

    Also you did what AVGN on YouTube could.not do... Beat the gargoyle, lol.

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    1. Tim Burton's Batman might have been a murderous lunatic who couldn't turn his head, but the guy had style. That whole film looked incredible.

      Also the AVGN had Mike Matei laughing down his ear the whole time, and that's enough to throw anyone off their game.

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  2. What I seem to understand from this review, is that some Japanese developers made a typical Japanese scrolling/shooter game, and then replaced the protagonist with Batman so they could pretend it was a Batman videogame?
    Either this, or they made a Batman videogame without watching a single Batman comic, movie or anything. :P

    Hey by the way, Ray, this week I saw for the first time the two movies of the "Bill & Ted Excellent/Bogus Adventure" (which I never saw nor heard about before, because they never arrived in my country, apparently). And after a quick Google search I found out someone made a videogame about one of those two movies: so I'd love to see how it's like!

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    Replies
    1. I actually played a Bill & Ted game way back in the first year of the site, though likely not the one you'd want to read about. I looked at the Atari Lynx version, but there's also a NES game, a Game Boy game and a home computer game, and I wouldn't mind giving one a go sometime.

      Though I'm not getting my hopes up.

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    2. I thought it was weird that I'd miss a review of an old school game here, so I went and checked: yep, I had read the review of Bill & Ted's Atari game, quite some time ago! The game with the crazy perspective!
      I just had no idea what movie it was from so I didn't make the connection with it now that I've seen the movies. As Bill or Ted would say - woah!

      Delete

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