Welcome back to Retro Age Attack!, what I hope will again be a weekly addition to Gaming Age that tackles some of my favorite old-school games. It’s been a while since my last article, and my backlog of stuff to play has grown considerably, but I’d like to kick things off with one of my favorite NES titles, the original Batman.
It holds such a lofty position in my video game nostalgia because it’s tied into the film. And before you start on me for that, I’m not some crazy that thinks the Burton films are superior to the Christopher Nolan franchise; I can totally see the faults in the movie. But I’ve got some fond memories of the movie regardless, in part because it was one of those early theater experiences that didn’t involve a Disney cartoon or other standard PG fare. And also because it came out right around the time I started to get interested in comic books, and it helped fuel an obsession with that particular media that I’ve held onto my entire life. So of course, when I was able to talk one of my relatives into buying the game for me as a kid, I played the holy hell out of it.
Batman was released in 1989, the same year the film was released. The game is loosely based after the events of the movie, with a whole Batman vs. Joker thing going on, but pretty much all the bosses besides the Joker are taken from Batman’s comic book rogues gallery. The stages are a little on the generic side, with city streets and factories making up the predominant locales, but the cutscenes use 2D art that’s definitely lifted from the film. Digitized Jack Nicholson is actually pretty damn creepy.
It was published by Sunsoft, which should be a recognizable name for any kid that grew up with the NES in the 80’s. They published a number of noteworthy titles, including a few overlooked gems. Blaster Master is the first one that springs to mind, but they also did a couple other Batman titles, Journey into Silius, Gremlins 2, and a lot of other 16-bit titles. They had a pretty healthy mix of licensed games and original IP’s, and thankfully had a better track record in regards to quality than other, similar publishers at the time like Acclaim.
The gameplay for Batman was pretty great for its day, and also reminiscent of another more popular NES title, Ninja Gaiden. Like NG’s lead character Ryu, Batman can wall jump through a number of areas in this game, and the wall jumping mechanic actually becomes pretty major as the levels advance. The last stage, which involves a series of jumps through tiny platforms with their real estate already occupied by enemies, will test your patience and timing like few other NES games can. Being able to master the appropriate time to kick off from the wall to the next one becomes a pretty important skill to master.
The boss fights in the game are no joke either. Some of the bosses are pretty exploitable, like old games tend to be. You can sometimes find a safe spot to snipe a boss from a distance without worry of a projectile hitting you, but most bosses require a combination of attacks and jumps if you hope to survive the encounter. The first boss, Killer Moth, is certainly easy enough, but the second stage boss ramps up the difficulty quite a bit.
And the boss selection of Batman is pretty wild, all things considered. If you look at modern day Batman titles like Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, we’ve all come to expect certain bad guys will populate those games. It’s not unusual to see Two Face, Catwoman, Penguin, and The Riddler to pop up, but Batman on the NES really went out of its way to gather a pretty odd assortment of villains. And it’s not that the rogues chosen were particularly popular in 1989, but for whatever reason the game features foes like KGBeast, Killer Moth, Firefly and other more obscure bat-villains. It’s definitely an odd assortment of bad guys to say the least.
One of the best aspects of Batman on the NES is the surprisingly moody soundtrack. Composed by in-house Sunsoft composer Naoki Kodaka, it features some of the best chip-tune music this side of Capcom’s Mega Man series on the same console. Kodaka was responsible for a number of great soundtracks back in the day, providing the tunes for games like Journey to Silius, Blaster Master, and the criminally overlooked Gremlins 2. The last title Kodaka was credited for was an Albert Odyssey title on the Sega Saturn, and after that there’s pretty much no information about what he moved on to do, which is unfortunate.
If you’ve never had a chance to check out this hidden gem on the NES, I highly urge you to do so. It can be found easily enough, with most copies not demanding much more than five bucks if you’re ok with a cart only version of the game. It’s got that old-school NES difficulty to it, but I never felt like it was particularly cheap or punishing, and the level checkpoints are surprisingly fair. And it still holds up well today, which is always a big plus. It’d be awesome to see a Virtual Console port of the game, but sadly with this being a licensed title the chances for that occurring are pretty much nonexistent. So fire up that emulator, or plug that old CRT back into the wall if you want to experience some classic gaming beat ‘em up fun, Caped Crusader style.