I am vengeance! I am the night! I am Chris’s review of “The Batman” video game! And I am 90,000 words long!
Despite – or more likely due to – having worked with computers for the last 763 years, I don’t play many computer games outside of those I play at work, on the company’s dime. As a matter of fact, outside of the office, I rarely touch a computer of any kind except the one in my microwave that knows how long to nuke a TV dinner. Seriously, my job has afforded me access to a wide array of unscrupulous people with incredible technological skills; people who have absolutely no qualms about pirating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of any and every kind of software you can imagine, just for my asking. But I don’t ask. I don’t ask because I just don’t care.
I don’t care because I’ve found that, when it comes to most games for PCs or high end consoles, there’s almost always an inverse ratio of technological wizardry to fun. The more complex the game is technologically, the more game designers seem to think its alright to pretty much skip the parts that make games enjoyable. So every individual hair on the guy’s head you’re about to snipe is independently rendered and effected realistically by algorithmic wind; if the game is boring, then so the fuck what? I don’t give a shit about how lifelike your characters are. I don’t care how awesome your polygonal geometry is, or how many particle schmarticle system whatnots your game makes my hardware deal with. If your game bores me for one little instant, or is so complex that gameplay ceases to be fun because pushing all the appropriate button combos makes my hand ache like a fucking arthritic before the big twister hits, then you have failed. There is no game so good that I should have to use a controller with more fucking buttons than I have fingers. I’d rather play BurgerTime, baby.
To that end, I have fallen completely and wholly in love with Jakks Pacific, Inc. Jakks Pacific is the company behind most of the retro “Plug It In & Play” TV games that are filling up toy stores and making me REALLY sorry that I passed up on snatching up all that Duracell stock when it was nice and low.
These things are fucking phenomenal; first of all, they just look fantastic. I own the Pac-Man, Pac-Man’s old lady, and Mortal Kombat units. Imagine someone took the arcade versions of those games, shrunk them down to about half the size of a brick, threw four other games on each, then wired them up so you could plug them into the RCA jacks on the front of your TV where your home porn cam usually goes. Too fantastic for words, people. Jakks was even kind enough to come out with an exceptionally useful and totally-recommended-by-me power adapter so I will no longer be forced to cut on my eyelids with rusty razor blades out of the white-hot fury and insane berserker madness that can only be achieved when the batteries run out FOR THE NINETY-SEVENTH GOD DAMN TIME IN A GOD DAMN ROW JUST AS I UNLOCK THE GOD DAMN LEVEL WHERE I GET TO FIGHT GOD DAMN REPTILE!!! GOD DAMN FUCK!!!!!!!!!
2021 Update: Okay, I have to come clean: these are not mine. The Pac-Man related units in particular look nothing like the ones I had. In the 15ish years since I wrote this article, the CDs onto which I burned my backups have disappeared, the Wayback Machine archived very few of my old photos, and a basement flood wiped out most of my retro video games and consoles. So I stole this photo from here. Expect more pilfered imagery as you continue.
Just look at ‘em! Sweet buttery nipples of Christ, I LOVE these things! I love the beautiful, gaudy, candy plastic colors. I love the chunky 80s shapes and the big round joystick knobs. I love the old school graphics and the way Jakks Pacific unashamedly inserts its corporate logo directly into the games. I love them so much that I can forgive Mortal Kombat for not keepin’ it real by giving me four other games like the Pac-Family was courteous enough to do. ‘S okay, MK; I ain’t mad atcha.
Minor electrical complaints aside, these are my favorite video games since a very young me accompanied by an even younger Frog Boy kicked the ass out of those invading alien bastards in Contra on the old NES. Hells, yeah, little brutha.
Predicting how often Frog Boy and I would play this game, and fearful of our wrath if we were not paid proper tribute, Konami wisely chose to display our likenesses in the main title screen. My parents lived near Three Mile Island for most of the 1970s. That’s why I have such beautiful mint blue hair.
However, it was with some trepidation that I purchased The Batman. You see, I received Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man quite unexpectedly as Christmas gifts from the folks, and I can say that, once again, Ma and Pa Sci-Fi Guy hit the ball out of the park by giving me a Christmas present that I didn’t even know I couldn’t possibly have gone on living without. On the strength of those two games, and on the further strength of finding it marked down to 50% off after Christmas last year, I grabbed up the Mortal Kombat unit, and was not disappointed. But then Dan purchased Jakk’s Folly, the Star Wars game.
I don’t remember what its really called, and I don’t really care, because its not worth bothering with. Its not that it’s a bad little collection of games, its just that the Star Wars inspired games seem like they would be better suited to Flash internet play. They just don’t stand up to the repeat play that warrants buying anything. I want to spend years fireballing Goro’s ass and making Mappy snatch up shitty copies of the Mona Lisa before those little rat bastards (that there’s a pun, Chester) can make off with them. But there’s only so many times you can make Obi Wan deflect a slow-ass blaster bolt before you realize that all you’re doing is playing the crap Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders with a bunch of Star Wars graphics tacked onto it. Besides the pure awesomeness of the Darth Vader headed controller, on the merits of which the Jakks Pacific sculptors have been placed in my will, I can’t really think of a reason to own this game. Star Wars, once again, has found a way to disappoint.
That said, it should be understood that I love Batman. He’s my favorite superhero, bar none. I long ago limited my toy/novelty purchases to a very few lines, of which Batman was not one. However, you could slap a Batman logo on a cat turd, and I’d probably break my own rules and buy one just to sit it on my desk and look at it. I REALLY like Batman. But there are a number of reasons I avoided buying this game as long as I did.
First, having played the sadly disappointing Star Wars game, I was hesitant to shell out cash for any game without the weight of years and nostalgia behind it that my other, more proven Jakks Pacific treasures have – strike one. The Batman is a completely new game, based on The Batman cartoon, which I have not seen; I have not been too eager to watch it since all the characters have been made all wacky and powerful and Kevin Conroy is not the voice of Batman/Bruce Wayne – FUCK THAT. The fact that its based on a franchise which I have yet to experience is strike two. Strike three is that its called THE Batman. This is a stupid little fanboy nitpick, and its just called that because the cartoon is called that, I know, but calling this dude The Batman is like calling me The Chris. You don’t go to The Metropolis and look for The Superman. You don’t call The my house and ask for The me. If I was Batman, the first fucker that called me “The” Batman would get a Batarang through The fucking eye. ‘Cause I’m hard, and that’s how I roll. Bitch.
Three strikes; but we ain’t playin’ baseball. Besides, before I started typing this article, Frog Boy told me the secret controller combination that gave me 30 strikes instead of just three, so I’m in it for the long haul. Thanks again, little bro.
Another strike against this, and all of Jakk’s other games, is the price. These things hover around $25 each. That’s not too bad for the controllers that come with five to ten proven classics in one unit, but when you’re looking at shelling out that much cash for a game with so many strikes against it, you tend to hesitate. At least I do. You go do whatever you want to do. My point is, Mr. and Mrs. P were gifts, so those don’t count, and I found Mortal Kombat marked down to around $14 if I remember correctly. So I’ve never paid full price for one of these things. Guess what; I still haven’t – I happened into The Batman at Big Lots for $12.99. Being the cheap-ass but completely addicted toy junkie that I am, it seemed like a good time to finally break down and just try the damn thing.
This is what I saw when I got it out of the 9½ tons of completely unnecessary packaging. So far, it wasn’t giving me a good vibe. As you can see, it isn’t nearly as colorful as its brothers up above. Since its Batman, I can understand the need for pointy bat-shaped blackness, but nevertheless my initial reaction was a marked decrease in enthusiasm. Those transparent blue plastic pieces around the buttons give a promise of lighting up with wicked neon blue goodness, and I would have been so completely sold on this thing without even playing it if that had been the case. Unfortunately, those plastic pieces are like pole dancers in a strip club; there to tease, not to please. No dice. The only thing lighting up on this bad boy is the red power LED. Bummer, man. That’s a… that’s a bummer.
After plugging in and powering up, it was time to get down to business. I like playing on the highest skill level, mostly because its just more interesting when a game is harder, but also because you sometimes face opponents/obstacles in harder levels that you don’t even see in the other levels. After choosing your skill level you are treated to a picture and text intro which somehow involved Bane and escaping Arkham Asylum psychopaths. I forget what it was exactly, but it seemed very much like the beginning of the Knightfall books where big, bad Bane broke Batman’s back. I heart alliteration.
2021 Update: With all the other crap I talked about, I somehow forgot to mention the music in this article. Like the NES Batman, this game has unusually excellent music. Click play above to listen to the soundtrack.
I must make an aside at this point to mention that the text intro was the first of MANY deliciously retro moments in this game that just floored me with their similarity to the old Batman game for the Nintendo. Not necessarily visually, but in execution. The 1989 Batman movie was fantastic, and the Nintendo game KICKED ASS. I still have a Nintendo NES, and I still play that game. It’s fucking great. When Frog Boy and I weren’t playing Contra or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or Road Blasters or Super Mario Brothers or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out), we were investing hours of our youth laying the smackdown on the Joker’s minions. Our Batman Nintendo cartridge was, and still remains, a particularly treasured piece of childhood fantasticosity for me, and I would not believe anyone in the universe who told me that the guys who designed The Batman did not feel the same. We’ll get to that in a bit.
After the text intro, you are treated to a view of the Batcomputer down in the Batcave, which looks strangely like what I would have imagined Mr. Freeze’s hideout to look like. Its all softly glowing light blue, which, if I recall my extensive cave experience correctly, is pretty abnormal for a natural tunnel through solid rock 500’ under the surface of the Earth. That’s strike five.
The Batcomputer shows you four of (The) Batman’s escaped villains: The Joker, Firefly, Mr. Freeze, and Bane. The Joker has very long, very non-frightening wavy 80’s metal hair [strike six] and Bane looks like some malformed halfwit from the Sonic The Hedgehog cartoon [strike seven]. But Firefly… its about time! Gotham’s resident schizophrenic arsonist FINALLY gets his time in the spotlight, and its way overdue if you ask me. I know almost nothing about Firefly except that he dresses like the Rocketeer and flies around Gotham City setting all manner of shit on fire. Fuckin’ a! That’s all I need to know about him, because that is EXACTLY what I’ve always wanted to do with my life. I just worship this guy! I like him even more because of the one other thing I just learned about him; he thinks fire is alive and he talks to it. Suddenly, I just don’t feel so alone anymore. As a matter of fact, I like the fact that the game has Firefly in it so much, that I’m not counting strikes anymore. Now where did I put those matches?
Let me stop to say that I’m writing this in Word, and I’ve realized that I’ve written very nearly three whole pages so far. If you’ve stayed with me up to this point, you’re clearly in it for the long haul, which is impressive since I’ve told you virtually nothing about the game that this article was supposed to be about. I feel I should just go ahead and tell you that the game is surprisingly good, completely enjoyable, and I recommend it, flaws and all. I’m telling you this because I’m torn; do I reveal to you all of the awesomeness awaiting you and spoil the fun of the surprise, allowing myself to review each and every detail, including the special fifth villain that you get to face? Or do I end it here, gracelessly, unceremoniously, leaving you perhaps unsatisfied and feeling kind of dirty about the whole thing, just as if you were any woman who has ever made the mistake of sleeping with me? How about I just compromise and half-ass it so I can end this damn article, already? N’est-ce pas?
I pause to mention that this is where Page 4 starts, words words words…
For each villain, you must work your way through four levels designed to kill you before you can reach the fifth level, where you face the villain himself. The best thing about the setup of the game is that its not linear; if you get tired of getting your ass handed to you by the Joker’s henchman in the clock tower, you can go chase Bane for a while. An onboard battery runs a RAM chip that stores your level – or maybe there’s some flash memory in there, what the hell do I know? In either case, once you’ve completed a level, you won’t lose it even if you take the batteries out. Ultimately that’s not only pretty cool, but also very necessary, because this game would have taken a sharp turn from ‘awesome’ deep into ‘suck-ass’ if you had to start all over and re-defeat all 22 levels every time you pulled the power adapter to use in one of your other games.
Some of these levels are simple side-scrollers, where you pilot the Batmobile, Batboat, Batcycle, Batpack, or other Batdevice through obstacles while dodging bullets and shooting stuff. These were my least favorite levels, but I was glad to see the Batcycle again. I’ve wanted to own one ever since Bats jumped it into that giant World’s Fair turbine in Mask Of The Phantasm, which is probably the best Batman movie ever made. Gunplay and Batman don’t mix; for a (The) Batman game there is an awful lot of shooting, but without it these levels would have gone from somewhat okay to completely dull.
Other levels are detective levels in which you must find clues and objects to help work your way through a building to get to the next level. I can’t remember if the first one I played was on the Firefly or Mr. Freeze level, but it was dull. I was afraid they would all be like that, but each one turned out to be more enjoyable than the last. There are a few easily dispatchable henchmen throughout these levels, but nothing to be concerned with. No, the real challenge is the level where you have to make your way through the building gathering info and items that will allow you to defuse six hidden time bombs before they detonate and bring the building down on top of you.
Then there are the combat levels. For players of the old Nintendo Batman game, this is the one that will make you long for Easter egg hunts and Saturday mornings in front of the tube. Honestly, there are so many similarities that comparisons between the two games is unavoidable. The Batarang, for example, follows you through jumps of any distance, and even speeds up on its return, exactly like the old game. The graphics are different, but at times it just has the same feel, which is pretty much the best compliment I can give a game that is, in many other ways, so different. There are more fight levels than any other kind, so you definitely get your fill. I could walk you through them all, but the one you’ll really want to play over and over again until your fingers start to bleed is the Joker at the clock tower.
Here’s my first proof that the game designers dig the old Nintendo game just as much as me: the Joker is in a clock tower. Sure in the old game it was bell tower, but there is so much stuff from that game going on in here, that you’d swear this level is a remake of that entire cartridge. There are even moving cogs that damage you if you touch them. It just goes to prove my old theory that nothing brings back the good times like seeing a nocturnal vigilante maimed and mutilated by unshielded clockwork. Even Weird Al agrees: those were the good old days.
The coolest thing about the old Batman game was the ability to wall-jump, which the designers did not include in this game, presumably because they are not fans of getting their asses sued back to the Pleistocene. So they included something the old game didn’t have, which is the coolest thing in this game: the Batgrapnel. The Batgrapnel allows you to fire a swingline and grapnel toward any solid object, which latches on and reels you to that object. You can’t use it to actually swing, but when you’re falling and can’t save your ass with a wall-jump, the Batgrapnel runs a very tight second. Jakks Pacific makes a Spider-Man game, and after playing with the Batgrapnel for about ten seconds I realized that I was probably going to eventually throw away some good money on that game, just so I can sling some webs. Play it and see; the Batgrapnel is just too fun.
The only real complaint I have with this game is the bosses. Bosses should be tough enough to give me a sense of accomplishment when I take them down. I want to get my ass kicked a couple of times before I figure out how to beat them. The old NES game had this in spades, and Frog Boy and I spent many a day trying to get to the Joker, just to have him bitch slap us around for ten seconds and kill us. It was frustrating, but fun, because every time we got a little better and a little faster, and we came that much closer to tossing his ass off the roof. It made you want more. The bosses in this game are, for the most part, ridiculously easy to defeat. Bane was the crappiest of all; he’s bizarrely simian, and just moves back and forth on a Jabba platform over Batman’s head until you hit him enough to kill him. It really sucked. I honestly don’t think he took a swing at me or did damage to me of any kind. Evil guys are so lazy nowadays.
As anticlimactic as Bane was, defeating him did unlock the hidden villain. The other villains have five levels to their credit, but the hidden guy only has two. Looking at the silhouette on the instruction sheet, I honestly thought the hidden guy was going to be Cat-Man, which I think would have been pretty sweet. It wasn’t Cat-Man, and it wasn’t Catwoman, either. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a classic Batman foe, and his two levels are right up there with the Joker’s clock tower for fun. The first is a detective level where you search through the bad guy’s home; I liked this one a LOT because it was the only detective level that not only demonstrated that Batman’s enemies are very intelligent and clever, but they are also fucking crazy. After the search, we move right on to the boss level, which also takes place in the villain’s home. This boss level was exactly the right way to end this game. Just like the Joker did in 1989 (pictured above), the final bad guy and his henchmen killed me a goodly number of times before I just barely managed to defeat them. Hell, yeah; that’s more like it.
Final verdict: go buy Jakks Pacific’s The Batman. Its fun, its challenging, and the flaws in the game are pretty much minor in the end. That’s about 4000 words – five, single spaced pages for those of you still keeping track – and if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.
PS – If you really want to know who the hidden villain is, just look at the first letter of the final sentence of each paragraph, starting from the last (not including this one). If you’re not enough of a detective to figure this out, then you probably shouldn’t be doing anything so complex as playing a Batman game or reading this web page. Its probably best if you just go lie down.