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Friday, January 23, 2009

Batman Returns

I recently picked up two new games for my Master System – MERCS and Batman Returns – and have decided to get the bad news out of the way first …

The Master System has many excellent platform games: a fact that drew me to the system in the first place, as they are my favourite genre, and the likes of Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sonic the Hedgehog, Asterix, and Master of Darkness were ideal fare to satisfy my cravings … which is just as well, as Batman Returns is well below their high standard.

Graphics:

I’ve seen worse, but there is nothing that really stands out. Especially given the 1992 copyright date. The sprites are small and lacking in character, though adequately animated. The backgrounds have a reasonable amount of detail, but the colours are garish, and the generic city settings do little to recreate the gothic atmosphere of the film. They feel more like levels from a mediocre Shinobi spin-off than Gotham City. There are a few nice effects, such as the animated waterfall in a later level, and the girders in the foreground that Batman can walk behind, but nothing to rival similar (and better) graphics in such games as 8-bit Sonic. Presentation is minimal: there are no comic book style panels (as in Spiderman for the Master System) or cut-scenes. There is a branching level selection screen, as in Asterix, but more on that later, as it’s really a gameplay issue (and a nasty one at that). Bosses are, on the whole, very so-so. Some of them are fought against a black backdrop, which I wouldn’t mind if they were as big and impressive as the bosses in Altered Beast and R-Type (but they aren’t). Possibly the worst aspect, though, is the Batarang weapon you use throughout the game: a plain, white, vaguely boomerang-shaped sprite with a mere two frames of animation. Compare that to the fully-animated boomerang in Master of Darkness … and that was only a bonus weapon.

50%

Sound:

Generic tunes that, again, would not sound out of place in a Shinobi game. On the plus side, they vary from level to level, and are not irritating (Not compared to the gameplay, anyway). Sound effects are undistinguished, but no worse than in most Master System games. Nothing terrible here (with the exception of the title screen music) but nothing to write home about.

65%

Gameplay:

The game works like a sort of poor man’s Bionic Commando, being a basic walk-and-kill platform game with the aim to reach the end of the level, and the ability to use an extendable grappling hook to reach high platforms, swing to otherwise unreachable ones, and swing over hazards and pitfalls. It is awkward to use, and the cause of many cheap deaths. Cheap deaths, in fact, are this game’s speciality, as it uses a one-hit-kill policy (which, incidentally, the SMS version of Shinobi very wisely removed in favour of an energy bar). Extra lives are fairly plentiful, and restart points are mercifully-arranged, but it remains a frustrating experience. Especially when the deaths occur for stupid reasons, such as a chandelier dropping from the ceiling and spreading lava everywhere (???), or when you walk into a static streetcar (which, for some mysterious reason, proves fatal to the touch). You can also glide (fall at a reduced rate) with your cape, although this is not advisable until you know the levels well, as you will tend to glide straight into some unseen pitfall or enemy. There are no weapons other than your Batarang, though it can be upgraded for speed and distance of throw. Forget about the Batmobile, the Batboat (which would come in very handy in the especially annoying pitfall-ridden sewer levels), or the hand-to-hand combat of the film. The levels make some effort to liven up the dull, repetitive gameplay, with such hazards as conveyor belts, opening doors (for enemies to ambush you), crumbling platforms, and descending platforms, but nothing that hasn’t been seen elsewhere, or done better. Sonic has all of those (and considerably more besides).

There is, as I mentioned, a branching level system that allows you to choose from an easy or hard route, with even more cheap deaths, if that is your thing …

35%

Overall:

40%

If you want a comic-book style game with multiple routes, pick Asterix. If you want a grim, gothic, atmospheric platform game, pick Master of Darkness. Just leave this one well alone …

4 comments:

gnome said...

Another excellent review Anthony. And I really can't thank you enough for keeping this place alive. It's a stellar job you're doing...

Hopefully, and while avoiding little black-ish SMS sprites, I'll soon contribute a little something to the Junkyard myself.

Anthony Burns said...

You're more than welcome. :) It's been a while since I bought new SMS games, so I was eager to express myself (and when I get round to MERCS, don't worry: I shall be in a positive mood again ;) ).

Little black sprites? Don't tell me you've fallen into the secret Tron-style dimension inside your SMS ...

gnome said...

NAh, not really. Possible a slight malfunction of my poorly maintained brain. Or something to do with caped crusading sprites. Who knows.

Oh, and I might be able to grab a copy of that Asterix game you mentioned...

Anthony Burns said...

I would recommend that game. There is a sequel (Asterix and the Secret Mission) which is notably inferior, except in graphics which are actually very good. The first one, just called "Asterix", plays a lot better, though, and has far more levels.

It's a very good, if somewhat generic example of SMS-style platforming: lots of rocks to break, a bit of underwater, one obligatory forced scrolling level. Not very closely tied into the actual Asterix stories, to be honest, but still very fun and well designed (and well presented, with proper intro, intermissions, and ending).