NES REVIEW: Batman 1989 (The Game Based on the Joker Movie that Didn’t Kill Heath Ledger).
by Ray on
Back in the summer of ‘89 you couldn’t flush the toilet without seeing a bat symbol. The colorful old 60’s series was playing in endless rotation, action figures, t-shirts and ball caps were standard issue for any and all grade-schoolers, and that smokin’ hot Prince chick was doing the bat-dance nonstop on MTV. I was only 9 years old at the time and needless to say took Batman any way I could get him. I only managed to see Tim Burton’s first crack at the character in theaters once that Summer (for my Birthday) but went on to tell tales out in the schoolyard the following September of having never blinked once during the entire run-time. Back then even more so then now, the dark knight was a huge deal not just to me but the human race as a species. So a video game based on what at the time seemed like the biggest goddamned movie ever was a no-brainer and for the most part Sunsoft did a good job. Batman for the NES delivers fast paced action with tight controls, great music and solid level design. Even though for the most part, it has nothing to do with the actual movie.
Right off the ba-WHOA, sorry. Close one. Upon popping in the cartdrige players are met with one truly gorgeous title screen. Being treated to an awesome pixelated rendition of a shot straight out of one of your favorite movies was always something that felt pretty special back in those NES days. Just look at it: What’s the only way you could possibly make Michael Keaton dressed as Batman look any cooler? Make him 8-bit. So this is the first Batman game I think I ever played though I could be wrong about that. I may have given the arcade version a spin once or twice before I got my hands on it. I DON’T REMEMBER. Anyway I can’t tell you how oddly proud I felt seeing it in a stack with all of my other game paks. Owning a Nintendo game that allowed me to play as one of my favorite comic book characters of all time would have been enough to earn a top spot on my most played list no matter the quality, but thankfully it turned out to be a lot better than your average movie licensed product.
Time to get our fists dirty and knock the stink off some bad guys.
And a uh, Clive Barker version of that little robot trolley Chewbacca yelled at on the Death Star? So the first thing you notice once you start running around is that the character has a really nice “weight” to him. Jumping feels nice and tight and you stop on a dime. The background graphics are all pretty solid and the color palette suitably dark. Well aside from our hero that is. Batman’s sprite looks a little cutesy and for some reason he’s two shades of purple. If that weren’t enough something else is a little off here. The game looks pretty cool but it doesn’t really “feel” like the movie.
What could it be?
Something’s definitely missing.
Danny Elfman’s iconic score is nowhere to be found! The music is fine, don’t get me wrong. Sunsoft has a great NES track record of delivering quality soundtracks. But how much better would this be with that awesome theme from movie? Here’s a sample of what you get instead:
Which while feeling slightly generic is still totally serviceable and actually pretty good. I just would have liked a bit more of an aesthetic link to the film which brings up my next issue:
How come I’m not beating on a bunch of street thugs, mobsters or the Joker’s henchman? What’s up with all of these dudes running around in tech gear? Sunsoft must have already been working on a futuristic game called Ninjaman 3000 before DC/Warner Brothers tossed them the rights because all you fight are a bunch of robots with flamethrowers and rockets and shit.
And where’s Bob the goon? He got his own action figure but not so much as a passing mention in the video game adaptation? Poor Bob.
After clearing the first stage, a cut scene featuring yet another great image ripped straight from the flick (this time the Batmobile) pops up. I’m going to go ahead and make a long story short here. This game is a Batman movie adaptation in cut scene only. Everything else outside of his and the Joker’s sprites have no relation to not only the movie but even the character himself at all. The stages have you running around weird laboratories and factories that look like they were built by Skynet, not anything you’d expect to come across in Gotham City. I mean…I guess there is that one area that is supposed to represent Axis chemicals…
Ok. I’ve yapped long enough about the shallow stuff. Clearly this isn’t anywhere near a faithful translation of the movie so how does it play? Well, pretty damn good actually. So good in fact that it goes a long way toward making you forgive all of the qualms that I’ve already listed. There’s some incredibly well executed wall jumping that is easy to learn, hard to master, yet never full of shit (Goddamn you, Strider). And like I mentioned earlier, Batman himself feels really great to maneuver and you don’t come across many cheap deaths because the level design is overall very well rounded. And when you do inevitably lose a life, Batman’s death sprite is a flame in the shape of a Bat symbol. Even in death, that dude is kind of a nerd. While we’re on that subject, you remember the whole thing about Batman being anti-gun? Yeah neither does he. You get all kinds of projectile weapons at your disposal which at times make the experience feel somewhat related to one you’d get out of a game with Contra in the title.
Back to the shallow stuff. So once you do finally get to a stage even remotely resembling something from the movie its at the end of course, facing the Joker at the top of the cathedral. Only here instead of the 3 badass henchman Batman has to take out you face off against some kind of fire god. I guess that’s a bit more exciting for the kids. Once he’s stricken from the picture you’re up against the clown prince himself…wait. Prince. Is that why they hired her to write songs for the movie? I’ll have to look into that. So the Joker appears and to be honest, I’ve never actually taken this douchebag out. He approaches a near Judge Doom level of rage induced controller tossing so I have to be very choosy about when I decide I’m in the mood to commit to completing something like this. According to my good buddy ANC who has managed to beat this game however, he’s actually not all that tough to beat.
Protip: When all else fails, punch him in the dick.
And once you beat this creepshow’s balls into oblivion, it’s cut scene time again and we’re back to fully realized cinematic pixelated beauty. The dialogue says it all and we as the audience are now witness to Batman facing the asshole that murdered his parents (in Tim Burton’s version). Showing this assclown what a real man is made of…after all of the pain and suffering he’s caused, not sinking down to this murderer’s level and walking awa-
Wait, nope. This dude’s gotta go.
And there we have it. Sunsoft’s 1989’s Batman effort for the Nintendo Entertainment System is far from a great Batman game but still a great video game by itself that just happens to feature Batman. And for that it’s something easily recommended. What do you think, Mr. Face?
![Mr. Face say this game GOOD. Mr. Face never wrong!](/images/mrface4.jpg?resize=150%2C150 "Mr. Face say this game GOOD. Mr. Face never wrong!")