AUTHOR’S NOTE: The owner of this site, as well as the writer of this article, contributed to this book. They’re also a Kickstarter backer.
Brett Weiss has been writing about video games as long as many of us have been playing them and he’s showing no sign of slowing down. Recently, Brett has been busy with the SNES and NES Omnibus series, a 4-volume collection that extensively covers in painstaking detail every single title that graced the beloved 8 and 16-bit machines. Not only does each volume feature detailed write-ups, high-res screenshots and vintage print ads for hundreds of titles, they also include stories from fellow writers, YouTube content creators, and journalists. Yours truly has even been blessed with the opportunity to appear in Brett’s books, writing about many of the games covered on this site plus others that aren’t ripped out of the pages of your favorite comic book.
Prior to the Omnibus tomes, one of Brett’s most popular books was the 100 Greatest Console Games: 1977-1987, and it’s something that many of his fans have longed hope would get a sequel. Later this year, the anticipated follow-up, the 100 Greatest Console Games: 1988-1988, will become available wherever books are sold or you can buy from Brett himself. When it finally gets into the hands of readers, expect to see classics from the 8 and 16-bit era, along with beloved software from the first generation of 3-D machines like the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64. Like the SNES and NES Omnibus titles, the 100 Greatest Console Games: 1988-1988 will include contributing authors, including myself, Greg Sewart from the Player One Podcast and Generation 16 YouTube series, Patrick Hickey Jr. and many more.
As an appetizer of things to come, Brett has gracefully provided a sample chapter from his forthcoming book that spotlights a title that readers of this site will be intimately familiar with: Sunsoft’s Batman: The Video Game for the NES. Give it a read, and then see all the ways you can support Brett, including a link to his ongoing Kickstarter for the project that has already passed its initial funding goal.
BATMAN: THE VIDEO GAME
GENRE: SIDE-SCROLLING COMBAT/PLATFORM SHOOTER
1990 Finally, Hollywood treated Batman, a.k.a. The Dark Knight Detective, with dignity. Even as late as the 1980s, and even in the wake of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns (1986), many still associated the character with the silly (if beloved in some circles) Adam West TV show, which ran for three seasons from 1966 to 1968. But Tim Burton and company brought the character from camp to classic with 1989’s dark, serious, and violent (relatively speaking) Batman, starring a surprisingly good Michael Keaton in the title role, gorgeous blonde Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, and Jack Nicholson as the obvious choice for The Joker.
Leading up to the movie, I bought all the cool merch I could find, from trading cards to action figures to a wall clock. I already had a Batman T-shirt (I was geek long before it was chic), but I snagged a few more. While on a trip to visit family in East Texas, I bought the novelization of the movie weeks before the film’s debut. In short, I was plenty stoked the debut weekend of June 23, when I saw the film in a packed house of cheering Batman fans. I was not disappointed—I was thrilled, in fact—and have seen it many times since. My only real complaint was the fact that the stiff, bulky costume Keaton wore limited his neck movement, making some scenes look a little awkward.
When Batman: The Video Game for the NES hit stores in 1990, it was a no-brainer purchase as I was not only a big Batman fan, but a huge Nintendo nerd. Part beat-’em-up, part platform shooter, and all awesome, the game entranced me from beginning to end. Or at least almost to the end. I never did beat The Clown Prince of Crime (the final boss), despite playing the game for countless hours. He’s one tough Joker.
According to the game’s storyline, which is loosely based on the film, the denizens of Gotham City are planning the city’s 200th Anniversary Festival. Unfortunately, The Joker is the “city’s evil leader,” which of course is never a good thing. Crime and violence run rampant, and only Batman can save the day. The intro looks terrific, from the nicely rendered characters to the sleek and stylish Batmobile, setting the stage for the action beautifully.
As an agile, fun-to-control Caped Crusader, who is purple to distinguish him from the black backgrounds, you run, jump, and battle your way through ﬁve exciting, multi-level stages: Gotham City, AXIS Chemical Factory, Underground Conduit, Ruins of Laboratory, and Cathedral. Much more athletic than Keaton’s portrayal of Batman, you’ll dodge electric currents, ride conveyor belts, deal with Deadshot, confront Killer Moth (who shoots fireballs), face Heatwave (who totes a fire gun), fight K.G. Beast (who attacks with a sword and shurikens), joust with Javelin (who attacks with a long spear), and dodge and destroy homing mines, jetpack-donning soldiers, and bomb-dropping claws. While certain characters and situations will be familiar to fans (Deadshot, for example, is a DC Comics supervillain, but he wasn’t in the film), many of the enemies and scenarios have nothing to do with the Batman mythos of the comics or movie.
In addition to punching bad guys, robots, and the like, Batman wields three selectable Bat-weapons: a spear gun that fires slow rockets, a dirk that shoots in three split directions, and rapid-fire Batarangs. Punching works well for battling certain enemies, but it’s a blast and super crucial to be able to shoot enemies that are out of arm’s reach. Ammo is limited, but you can pick up more throughout the game. You can also grab heart icons for health. Batman’s abilities to kneel and wall-jump (a la Ryu Hayabusa’s wall scaling in Ninja Gaiden) are important as well. If you care about points, you can collect bonus items.
Batman is easily one of the better superhero or movie games of the era. The graphics do an excellent job capturing the dark, psycho-somber tone of the film, and the music, though unfortunately not reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s film score, is nonetheless engaging and conducive to gameplay. There’s a wide variety of well-animated villains constantly after Batman, and although many are slightly too easy to dispatch early in the game, the tough-as-nails bosses at the end of each level more than make up for it. Many consider the game to be “Nintendo-hard.”
In 2004, The Jaded Gamer (thejadedgamer.com) wrote, “Even though there are quite a few difficult areas of extreme aggravation (which was fairly common back in the NES days), the overall atmosphere of the game makes Batman succeed. True to form, Sunsoft has created another high-quality game with this title, and at the same time they’ve created one of the very few movie-licensed games on the NES that’s worth owning.”
Steve Harris of Electronic Gaming Monthly praised the game overall in the April, 1990 issue, but he did have one complaint. “Batman consists of splendid game play that is coupled with dark graphics and backgrounds,” he wrote. “I’m sure this is done to capture the mood of the movie, but it does detract a bit from the overall appeal of the title. The intermissions are well done and there’s plenty of challenge and play value here.”
Batman: The Video Game was supposed to ship in 1989 in time for the holidays, but it was pushed back to early 1990.
In Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman (2014, SCAR Productions), Rob Strangman interviewed Jay Moon, former Software Development Manager at Sunsoft America, about some of the difficulties of working on the game. It was the first title Moon worked on for Sunsoft. Here’s the relevant part of that conversation:
Rob: I’ve heard that Jack Nicholson was the reason Batman was delayed originally, because the in-game Joker looked nothing like him. Any truth to this?
Jay: That is not the way I recalled how it happened. Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton were pretty easy to deal with. Now, Kim Basinger was another story. The development team for Batman were a talented group of guys, but they had a very difficult time staying within the parameters of the Batman movie license. So, yes, we missed our Christmas shipping date; however, we did ship in late January and still sold over a million copies.
Rob: There is a prototype of Batman that surfaced with entirely different cutscenes than the game that was released. Any memories of that?
Jay. Well, yes, I do remember that. Sunsoft Japan were always sending me different prototypes. I know the one you are referring to, and I believe Warner Bros. didn’t like the cutscenes. Those ROMs are floating around on the web.
Mr. Moon also worked on Batman: The Video Game for the Sega Genesis, but that version is quite a bit different than this one (not to mention easier). The Game Boy version is different as well, and it is the NES game that most Bat-fans remember most fondly.
FUN FACT: In the Game Boy and Genesis versions of Batman: The Video Game, you can take flight in the Batwing for a little side-scrolling shooter action.
WHY IT MADE THE LIST: In addition to being one of the better movie-based and superhero games of all time, Batman: The Video Game is just good plain fun. Solid controls, detailed graphics, and challenging (if frustrating at times) gameplay make for a Bat-tastic combination.
~ Brett Weiss
100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1988–1998 has already successfully beaten its Kickstarter goal with over 20 days to go. If you wish to support the project, click HERE.