Retro Review: It's Batman V Superman in a retro arcade battle0 Comments
Batman and Superman are about to be doing battle at movie theaters nationwide. This isn't the first time these two ultimate super heroes have faced off in a pay-per-experience entertainment platform, either. In 1989, video games based on both properties faced off for our quarters. Today, we look at which of them was most worthy.
Reviewed on: Arcade
Also available on: n/a
Developer: Atari Games
Publisher: Atari Games
The 1989 Batman film forever changed how movies are hyped and marketed. Little surprise that part of that marketing plan would be a video game based on the movie, right down to including the likenesses and names of the actors that portrayed the characters. The distinctive music from the film is also featured, along with an opening title screen that attempted to recreate what fans had experienced in theaters.
For the most part, Batman is a side scrolling beat-em-up platformer, done in the style of Sega's Shinobi and Namco's Rolling Thunder. A few extra elements, including several of Batman's wonderful toys, helps keep the game from coming off like a direct clone. Also included in the game is a driving segment in the Batmobile, something that was unique at the time. Sadly, this section is clunky and feels unfinished, with the epic-looking Batmobile handling like a 1978 GMC van with a bent axle. There is also a flying section with the Batwing, where you must help Batman catch the Joker's poison filled balloons. Unfortunately, this section plays so oddly that you find yourself longing for the Batmobile segments again.
If you've seen the film, the storyline of the game will come as no surprise, as it follows it exactly. Key scenes are digitally recreated in stills between various levels, but none of it really does anything to add to the game itself. Overall, the graphics are very dark in color, yet highly detailed for the time. The sound effects are similar to sounds found in the other Atari games arcade titles of the era, which seems out of place from time to time. Some digitized voice samples attempt to add to the feel of the game as well, but they often seemed forced in.
The final battle with The Joker is honestly pretty dull when compared to the one in the film. The goal here is simply to knock the Clown Prince to the right until he falls off of the building, which is done in really corny fashion here. You are then treated to a basic The End text over the fallen body of the Joker, followed by an apparent prom photo of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale.
All-in-all, Batman looks really exciting at first, but it clearly falls victim to being part of a marketing campaign. The clearly forced-in demands of the film's public relations hurts what should have been a top notch game. That said, it is far from the worst side-scrolling beat-em-up from the late 1980s, and is worth playing through to the end at least one time.
Reviewed on: Arcade
Also available on: n/a
It is unclear if the timing of Taito's Superman arcade game is related to 1987 film Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but nobody could blame them if they denied a connection. The classic music from the movie franchise is used throughout the game, but the cabinet graphics and in-game characters are based on the comic book versions of DC's iconic characters. The game marquee also totally spoils Clark Kent's secret before it is revealed on-screen.
Superman is clearly based on the side-scrolling street beat-em-ups of the era, with the very big exception of the fact that you are Superman. Therefore, you can fly, something that the brutes in games like Double Dragon and Bad Dudes can't claim. Some stages are flying-only, where you use your laser eyeballs to destroy your enemies. These stages play more like the flying military shooters of the era, due in large part to the fact that Taito seemingly repurposed them from other games they released in that genre.
There are two real oddities in Superman that I've never been able to fully let-go. One is the ability to add a second player, which is basically Superman in a red suit. Clearly, this makes sense from a financial standpoint, as most side-scrolling fighting games in the late 1980s gave players the ability to play together. It is only strange here because it makes little sense to have two Supermen, so comic purists might want to stick to single-player mode. Also, Superman simply dies too easily and often. Again, clearly, this makes sense from a financial standpoint, as arcade owners really don't want the players to have godlike powers and near-invincibility, but given the fact that you play as Superman, you will be surprised at how often you are killed off.
The graphics are very colorful and fun, even if some of the enemies are a bit odd (see photo). The programmers may have missed something with the larger enemies, however, as fighting them with your feet on the ground requires players to repeatedly punch the alien enemies in the most private of places. Depending on your mood, you might look at this as a feature rather than a flaw. The music sticks in your head, featuring the iconic Superman film score in a pure video game form.
Overall, there is little about Superman that stands out in its genre, other than the fact that you are the Last Son of Krypton. That said, there is a bit of a fun charm and innocence to the game, helping it to stand out over the aforementioned Batman arcade game and other more serious side-scrolling beat-em-ups. It can prove far more fun to burn through your $20 bill while pretending to be the king of super heroes instead of a grungy street punk or kung fu expert.
Misses the Mark
Batman seems more interested in marketing a movie than creating a memorable gaming experience. Disappointing, as most people had already seen the movie by the time the game was released.
Superman might take a few odd liberties with the character, but overall it is a fun time while it lasts. The lack of a full movie connection has helped it age well, too.