Let’s go back to 1989. I remember such a vivid word! Everything was bright and cheery, food tasted better, and everything in theaters and on TV was magical! Then again, I was five years old, so what the fuck did I know? The three strongest memories I have from that time were that I could get away with doing nothing but painting during school if I ignored the teachers, Mickey mouse was a scary devil with a big head (my first and only trip to Disney), and BATMAN!
The movie had just come out and my brother and I were excited as hell for it. Our parents, on the other hand, thought that it would be too scary for us. Instead of seeing Batman, we ended up seeing ‘City Slickers’. You know those people in the theater you silently wish would either take their kids home or drown them in a large soda (seriously, go back to the theater and look at the size; you can totally drown a child in one of those cups)? For that one day, that’s who they were.
After that shit-show, they decided to introduce us to films that were a grittier to get us more accustomed to darker content, though maybe letting us sit through a bootleg of ‘Akira’ was a bit overreaching to start out. We eventually saw ‘Batman’ and loved it. Based on that criteria alone, a copy of the video game showed up at our house (along with a pile of others with sketchy origins, but younger us knew better than to ask questions and risk losing our new hoard).
Here’s what I remember:
Young me sat down, loaded the tape (yes, I was one of those little bastards that called cartridges “tapes”) and immediately thought this was the best game ever. Ingrained in my mind to this day are the chills I felt then those first few notes of the game’s theme played and Batman faded onto the screen. There he was! And it looked like him! THAT’S who I was going to play as and it was going to look exactly like the title screen! Certainly no one would make Batman look any different! That would be like an internet writer telegraphing a shitty punchline in their…
Besides the fact that Batman was blue, I remember this game playing out closely to the movie. Scenes would play between the levels showing the story right before dumping you into one of the locations. It felt like I was playing the movie!
There was a lot of jumping and platforming, and his punch was a little short, but I WAS Batman, and I could use his batarangs, some kind of splitting disk, and missiles…YEAH MISSILES! There were a few parts that didn’t make sense to me, but that didn’t stop my fun. I would try to figure them out, get frustrated, then take damage and hope for a heart later. I know this now as “damage boosting”, an actual technique in games that have invincibility frames that you can capitalize on, back then it was “this is stupid”, something I still stand behind (more on that later).
How does it hold up?
My memory hasn’t been too hazed by years of booze and bad life choices; there certainly is a lot of wall jumping and platforming. It’s actually a pretty nice feature to have and it’s the closest thing to feeling like the Caped Crusader until the Arkham series. How else would you picture Batman getting to all those high places? Do you think he’s some plebeian like Spiderman or the Bionic Commando? Please!
You know what I wish I remembered before running headlong into this game and DYING on the first screen? Input lag. I must have been a slow kid since everything appeared normal to me. Playing ‘Batman’ now is like fighting against the future. All of those awesome wall jumps must be made a half a second before Batman even touches the wall otherwise he falls. That also includes pressing the d-pad towards the wall as well. Did you press jump first THEN press the direction, all before you even TOUCHED the wall? Congratulations. Batman just had a stroke and fell three stories.
As for the level design, it doesn’t make much sense. There are often parts of the level you can jump to that go nowhere. It’s not like the game is a maze (it’s very linear), so why were these parts left in? Did somebody have a great idea only to paste it somewhere else and forget to
BATMAN SURE CAN PUNCH FAST. BET HE DISLOCATES HIS ARM A LOT.
Then there are those moments that brought be back to my six year old frame of mind. Some of the pathing was almost instinctual, most likely due to the trial and error of Batman having to think for a second before he realized you wanted to shoot something, and for a while I was thinking “This isn’t as bad as I remember! I just didn’t have the patience!” Have you ever been so wrong that you can feel yourself calling you and asshole from the past? I did. It was in the second level, the chemical plant where I started taking damage to get through certain areas, hoping that enemies dropped hearts instead of those bullshit “B” icons.
Honestly, I thought I was going to reconnect with this game. I thought I’d have that warm, fuzzy moment when all my childhood memories would flood through me, reminding me why I play what I play and becoming something that I’d pop in from time to time for a nostalgia kick. I still enjoyed the graphics, and even got over the mistimed controls at first, but it’s a downward spiral that left a grown man throwing his controller across the room by stage three. To put it into perspective, my experience was akin to remembering a funny childhood moment, only to pop in a family video and find yourself pants less with a cooked turkey and ruining Christmas.