Home > Weekend Asides > Weekend Aside: The Adventures of Batman and Robin (SNES)

Weekend Aside: The Adventures of Batman and Robin (SNES)

December 5, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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I know that I generally reserve these slots for comic reviews, but there isn’t really something that fits into the current stretch of Justice League episodes, as Amazo and Doctor Destiny, while great historical villains, don’t really relate themselves to a series (I know, I should probably just talk about Sandman).

So instead of print, let’s go to video games. I know that the intersection of ‘DCAU’ and ‘video game’ will send some of the more knowledgeable readers running for the hills screaming in terror like a Tokyo resident seeing that Godzilla‘s coming to town, but don’t worry, we won’t discuss the reviled Superman 64. Instead, we’re going to talk about the first DCAU video game, one that has both the distinction and curse of being so good that no other game set in the universe has come close to matching it.

Released in 1994, but in development for a while before that, The Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System came in at the tail end of the initial rush of merchandise related to the series. The name of the game itself is interesting, as while it’s named after the retitled series, the game was clearly in development based on the original version of the series, as Robin only makes a couple of cameos in the game.

The game is certainly in the upper tier visually on the SNES, and for a console that is still considered to have one of the highest levels of visual fidelity, that’s saying something. The overall look matches almost perfectly with the series, with lots of black backgrounds, a somewhat muted colour scheme, and bad guys toting Tommy Guns and revolvers. But as good as the game looks while standing still, it’s something else to see in motion. Batman is one of the best-animated characters in gaming history; just watching him start and stop moving is a visual treat. The music is predictably great; the SNES was always a musical powerhouse, and Shirley Walker’s orchestrated style is a good match for a console known for bombastic musical output.

The gameplay itself is something of a standard side-scroller, but it’s helped by terrific control and the fact that this game came about in the era where game companies stopped neutering their heroes and gave them lots of abilities to work with. Batman hangs from ledges, rolls past obstacles, and tosses enemies around with abandon.

Augmenting the hand-to-hand combat is a decent selection of weapons taken straight out of the animated series – Batman used most of them in “Heart of Steel” – with Batman’s omnipresent gattling gun and batarangs augmented by shurikens, grenades, smoke bombs (which are useless – if anyone’s ever found a spot for them, let me know because I’m genuinely curious) and knockout gas, in addition to special items like a gas mask, flashlight and x-ray goggles, which each come in handy for a specific level.

The levels themselves are the best part of the game, as in addition to largely being based on episodes of the series, they’re also very well designed in their own right, and hard as heck in places. Plus, just to show how far the homage to the series goes, each one has a BTAS-style title card (click on the cards to see a Youtube clip of each level)In order:

Joker’s the boss of the first level, but this one also features a pair of Harley cameos, as Batman fights through the mechanical funhouse from “Christmas with the Joker” and then takes on the Clown Prince in a multi-part boss battle on board the Twin Terrors roller coaster, as seen in “Be A Clown.”

After the fairly standard first level, this one takes things up several notches in terms of gameplay complexity, with Batman going after Poison Ivy in the middle of a forest complete with tumbling trees and a group of evil henchwomen that you’re only allowed to gas. The boss battle takes place inside a giant greenhouse, and Ivy is assisted by a huge mutant plant. This is a ridiculously tough boss battle for the second one of the game, and when I used to rent this on a weekly basis it took me almost a full week just to beat this.

The first of the really standout “concept levels” eschews the traditional sidescroller format for an ‘enclosed’ level, as Batman has to rescue hostages from within a blacked-out museum with Robin’s help. Penguin’s obviously behind it, but Batman takes much longer than the player to figure that out (the game seems to be written for a younger audience, in total contrast to the hardcore gameplay). The end battle first sees you beating up Penguin’s vulture (in a great anti-PETA moment, I always take the time to lob a few grenades at it), then taking on Penguin himself. Penguin isn’t much of a test at all, but here he brings along the stolen WayneTech helicopter from “Blind as a Bat”, which takes strafing runs across the battlefield.

Another innovative level for its time, this one is sort of a prototype of Shadow of the Colossus in that there’s only one enemy to battle all level – Catwoman. The level is a series of encounters with her during the course of one evening, starting with a fight in an elevator (she gives different statements at the end of the fight depending on how well you perform against her), proceeding into a mid-air encounter, then chasing her over the Gotham rooftops before finishing up in a final confrontation (that the player can get a different ending for by finding Selina’s cat Isis, which is secreted away somewhere in the level). As a pallette-cleanser between the first and second halves of the game, it’s a brilliant idea, and the shot of Batman chasing Catwoman across the rooftops would later be re-used for the short film ‘Chase Me’ that was included on the Mystery of the Batwoman DVD.

This is the level that takes this game away from being in the discussion for best platformer ever. Normally, the token Batmobile level in a Batman game is a welcome change of pace, but… I don’t really know what Konami was thinking here. A nightmare Mode 7 exercise, the Batmobile turns horribly, stops dead if it even brushes a curve, the whole thing is played under a time limit that usually even kills off perfect drives. A disaster in every aspect, and I think I wound up hating Two-Face merely for being the supposed boss of this stage (all you do is machine-gun his stolen truck into submission) until No Man’s Land as a result. If you want a great sidescroller that integrates a good driving level well, track down Vice: Project Doom on the NES, where at least Sammy had the good sense to totally rip off Spy Hunter.

The Scarecrow level is both a welcome return to the regular gameplay yet disappointing, as it doesn’t really have much to offer besides the interesting idea that most of the enemies are hallucinating regular citizens that Batman isn’t allowed to harm. The ending of the level sees Batman surfing the Batwing before boarding Scarecrow’s airship and eventually battling him atop a crashing glider, so at least it finishes strong. The boss battle is great, and the stunt that requires you to grapple the supporting girders of the airship before crashing through the cockpit is heart-stopping, but it’s mainly a level that you just play to get further in the game. It’s based almost entirely on “Nothing to Fear”, but has a much cooler title.

The final ‘real’ level is the combination of a smartly designed maze resembling the one from “Maze of the Minotaur” and an insanely hard autoscrolling sequence in virtual reality borrowed from “What is Reality.” The maze is the really fun part, as you battle through fake walls, hidden teleporters, and most of the riddles seen in the actual episode, with added distractions from the usual henchment. The second half, as noted, is a grad course in platformer skills, as you first get tossed around by chess pieces while dodging disappearing floors before having to take on one of my least favourite boss types, namely the ‘jump off a bodypart to get to the weak point’ model. Barbara Gordon makes her only appearance of the game here.

That title should put avery gamer worth their salt on alert that prior bosses are returning. And indeed they do – some much easier to deal with, such as a helicopter-less Penguin – but this game isn’t one to do things in a boring fashion, which is confirmed as you get to the end of the first sequence and CLAYFACE bursts through the wall and attacks. He’s very tough, but after getting past him and Scarecrow you’re ready for the anticipated showdown with the Joker…

… and then you notice something in the background…

… and then @!#$%^&!@ Man-Bat shows up.

Frankly, after those two stunners, Joker appearing wearing the jet-pack he sported at the end of Mask of the Phantasm is actually something of a letdown of a last boss; with that big a hint, I was expecting Phantasm… itself… to show up.

While there’s plenty of references to the show within the game, it goes the extra mile by having Alfred present in the intermissions between levels to supply the player with a password and make suggestions as to what equipment may come in specifically handy during a particular mission he was ‘five’, he knows his high explosives.

I’m not going to link to the actual game’s ROM, but I assume you’re industrious enough to find it. This slots in pretty highly on my list of the best SNES games ever produced, and I’ve had it on my personal Top 100 games list for a while now. Highest recommendation, unless you’re one of those annoying people who whines about “Nintendo Hard.”

Oh, and since you’ll eventually get frustrated with Trouble in Transit, the password for level six is B B S T C T T B B T B C B T C B.

Note that the games designed for the SEGA systems were totally different and, because of the Genesis’ limitations, not nearly as good. They do have Mr. Freeze, the one major villain that’s MIA from the SNES version, and a series of cutscenes on the CD version are a purported “lost episode” of the series, but they’re not really worth your time aside from those curiosities. I might take a look at another animated-era game in the future, but I’ve already got an idea for the next few weekends, so it’ll be a while.

Next time: back to robots, with the second part of the HARDAC story, in “His Silicon Soul.”

Next Justice League: the debut of the JL’s strongest adversary, Amazo, in “Tabula Rasa.”

Categories: Weekend Asides
  1. Red Hedgehog
    December 6, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Yeah, the problem with the Sega CD version is that it’s focused almost entirely on driving stages which are all as bad as the single stage in this game. The animated scenes are fun to watch, but not worth the effort of playing – just youtube them.

    It does fascinate me that three separate games were made with the same title. Of course, Konami did this a bit in the 16-bit era and was pretty good about tailoring the games to each system’s strength (See Sparkster, specifically).

  1. December 5, 2009 at 10:44 pm

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