Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Batman (Game Boy, 1989)

This is another of those "could have been the first game I ever owned", like Terminator 2 or Mega Man III on the Game Boy. It's a surprisingly good game and I would have probably loved it if I'd gotten it back then. I was a little obsessed with it for a time thanks to the Game Boy Player's Guide, which made every game it covered look great.

Speaking of which...let's take a nostalgic gander at this thing. Tremendous cover. There's a reason this was the first Nintendo Power guide I ever bought (or chose for a subscription bonus, hard to remember).

The Batman coverage is your usual action game rundown: You've got some powerups, you've got some standard side-scrolling levels. The game borrows quite a bit from the original Metroid (weapons) and quite a bit from Super Mario Land (the overall look/controls).

The powerup section is particularly important here, because some of these things are downgrades and it can be difficult to tell some of them apart from each other without the assistance of this chart. I like that they don't even hide that the Wave Beam weapon is based on Metroid, calling it "Wave Weapon" like this is Mega Man GG.

Speaking of the weapons, this game has a few: There's the regular shot; the Short Beam (shotgun?) which is similar to Metroid's starting beam and generally useless; the Wave Weapon which is what it sounds like; the Batarang which boomerangs back to you and does a lot of damage at the cost of being helpless to fire again while it's in the air; the Power Weapon which is just a double-damage version of the standard shot; and finally the Tranquilizer which looks and functions like the Plasma Beam from Metroid II. That last one is the one you want to hang onto once you get it, as it's the only weapon to reliably go through walls to hit foes.

Yep, this is one of those games where once you get the best powerup, suddenly new powerups become your worst nemesis and something to be avoided.

This follows the Keaton/Nicholson movie's storyline. The first world is mostly at the chemical plant where you fight Joker in his original normal person form. The second world takes you to the museum.

Here's where things get interesting, as the game turns into a shooter for a couple of stages. There are multiple bosses here that are probably the most challenging part of the game. This coverage is surprisingly useful for such a basic side-scroller, telling you what to look out for and where to look out for it.

Especially world 4, the last one. It's crucial to get the Tranquilizer here and know where to get what powerups.

Sunsoft also did the NES Batman, of course. That one gets all of the press, but I have to say this one is also surprisingly good.

WHOA. The Axis??

...oh. He isn't Joker yet, remember. He's Jack Napier, small-time crook. Looks like his accomplice is Balrog.

The graphics...aren't much to write home about. This was 1989, and the Game Boy, and expectations need to be tempered. With such a tiny character you can be forgiven for thinking this is a Gnome Simulator, but at least they managed to make his sprite recognizable.

The game is full of blocks that you can destroy, which is some clear Super Mario Land inspiration. Dark blocks contain powerups...well, items. Some are power-downs. Once you get the weapon you want, you can power it up by finding more of it, or finding weapon level up items. That lets you have more shots in the air at a time, which is crucial. The powerup system is very similar to something like Gradius. This game is derivative to say the least but it's got good controls and it's fun so we'll give it a pass.

It gets very block-heavy very quickly (this is still level 1-1) and there isn't a lot of rhyme or reason to the level design.

Here's the Power Shot. Wait, who is Batman firing all of these bullets at?

Random criminals, who very clearly get blown off the screen by his gunfire. It seems very un-Batman-like to just walk down the street shooting people. Maybe at the end it'll turn out that they were all robots or something and everything worked out, like an episode of Disney's Doug.

The regular shot is comparatively a lot worse than any of its powerups. Here's the range of it if you get the "shot weapon" which seems to just be a power-down. Yes, this is as far as the shot travels. Weird how they tookthe original Metroid's worst idea and had it be a "powerup" that lurks everywhere rather than a default starting thing that you only need to use for a minute at the beginning.

The Batarang is stylish and high-damage, though as mentioned before it leaves you vulnerable.

Here's Jack, a very basic boss fight. He walks around and fires shots one at a time, sometimes ducking to fire, and occasionally two at a time. I basically just unleashed Batarangs and focused on dodging while they flew around the screen (usually hitting him twice).
Jack then proceeds to fall into a vat of acid and emerge as the Joker. The way these cutscenes only show a few words at a time makes me automatically fill in the blanks. Nobody can what? See what's happening on an original Game Boy screen?

The second stage has you back in "Gotham Streets" which seem to have worse potholes than Boston in 2020. And what's with all the damn blocks?

That gets us to Flugalheim Museum, which is probably based on the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

There it is, your first chance to get the best weapon, the Tranquilizer. Thanks to the guide, I knew to take the high path. At least this weapon has a name that somewhat makes sense for Batman's policy on killing, even though it resembles a Plasma Beam from Metroid II.

There it is in all of its four-block beam splendor. Like the Plasma Beam, it's a significant upgrade from its predecessors because it goes through walls. A bit of solid game design can be seen on this screen because it gives you the chance to blast the enemy on the top right through the walls right after you get the weapon, so you'll naturally want to test it and bam, it'll take out the nearby foe while showing you that it can go through walls.

The game starts getting a little too happy with the tiny platforms and long jumps around this point. They were probably running out of ideas. It still isn't a difficult game yet, and if I could beat Kirby's Dream Land as a kid I think I could have gotten through the first two worlds of this game.

Got freaked out for a moment here because I thought the game was forcing me to get a weapon and lose my beam. Nope, those blocks just have points in them. It's worth noting that the game doesn't allow backtracking, so no scrolling back to the left to avoid something.

With World 2 in the bag, it's time for the game to get somewhat difficult. World 3 puts you in the sky with the Batwing.

Most of the foes in this stage aren't too bad. It's standard shooter fare, and being able to clearly see enemies and their shots against the white background is super helpful. This world is probably the most fun, too bad you can't skip directly to it on replays.

Things get a bit more intense as fighters fly by and unleash hell.

This may look like a lot of shots, but everything flies in very clear patterns and straight lines. You can fire both forwards and backwards with your own shots and there isn't really any reason to not have both going at all times.

The boss of 3-1 is surprisingly challenging until you figure it out, and zips around the screen faster than you can move. The U.S. Navy caught it on video and still haven't figured out wtf it was.

Speaking of not knowing wtf things are...are these giant floating duck-balloons?

3-2 is a much shorter stage than 3-1, and culminates with two very difficult bosses back-to-back. This is likely where most players met their match back then. Losing either fight sends you back to the beginning of 3-2. The key is to do very well on this plane fight so you can go to the second boss with full or almost-full health.

The second boss flies in from the left, which is a dirty trick. When you're expecting it, you can hammer it with shots while it's flying in.

This is the hardest fight in the game, especially considering there's another boss right before it. The shots follow a clear pattern while also moving differently from any other shots in the game.

It's important to do as much damage as possible from the get-go, because the second phase of the fight is BRUTAL. It summons a bunch of non-attackable guns that all fire at you at once from the corners while the boss also does its routine, and it turns the screen into bullet hell quickly. Need to have the boss already on the ropes by the time this phase starts, then just blast away at close range and pray.

...oh. He gives us the old "join me and we'll divide the spoils".

I was expecting the fourth world to be much more difficult than the first two after how tough the flight stage was, and it is. Enemies everywhere. Now they know how to run and jump, as well, so hiding behind stairs and walls no longer makes you impervious to foes who don't know how to go around those things.

Also - and this might be a design oversight more than anything else - there are these parts of the ceiling poking down that do a really good job blocking and intercepting your jumps so that you fall into the nearest pit.

Finally, here we are. World 4 only has two stages, much like the end of Super Mario Land. Beyond this door is...

...the BIG DUEL.

He's much quicker and more dangerous than he was in the first fight, but he follows the same general pattern.

I unleash Tranquilizer shots and then leap out of the way. Stay in the air as much as possible, because Batman's jumps are easy to control and Joker's shots tend to fly low.

He also unleashes the Spazer beam from Metroid II, which is funny because it's the main beam missing from Batman's lineup.

Overall he's easier than any of the flight stage bosses. If I'd played this as a kid, I likely would have been able to beat the game if I got past the flight stages. Chances are I would have lucked into a win against the 3-2 boss sooner or later and then kept the game on until I got through the last world. That's what happened in Kirby's Dream Land, as it took me a while to get past the boss of world 2 in that game but once I did I got through the rest in the same day.

Joker falls off of the tower and...really destroys the pavement. ...How heavy was this dude? Did he have a hyperalloy T-800 skeleton?

That's it for this game. Always cool to look at something I wanted as a youth, especially when I still have the guide to refer to for info. I'm sure that in the future I can scrounge up more games from that guide that I was obsessed with briefly back then.


  1. Sunsoft really knew how to make a Batman game, huh?

    The rotating shield is interesting. Not uncommon for a game even then, but the idea of Batman being surrounded by them.

    Yeah, even as small as the sprite is you can still make out the bat ears.

    Good point about the game design with the tranquilizer gun. It's weird how the enemy sprites have heads that look like they're part of the background.

    Good job!

  2. Long time lurker , I love your playthrough/movie reviews because you are funny , today I want to suggets you some good good games

    tengai makyou zero (a SNES rpg where some events changes in real time)

    bloody roar : (the first 2 at least) this fighting game its interesting because you defeat your opponents transforming in a animal , word of warning though the first and four game if you lose against the final boos is game over

    1. That's cool. I'm looking into more obscure Japan-only RPGs like Super Famicom Wars and Energy Breaker for the future.

    2. Cool :D if you re interested you should check the rpg translated list of snes rpg in since they have so many obscure rpg in that , my personal favorite this year so far is G.O.D mezayebo to yobu a wacky but serious rpg with good gameplay (I love the chakra system even if you must grind it a bit towards the endgame)

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