Batman Returns on the Sega Master System: Could have just as easily been Spider-Man

“There must be something half-way playable on the Sega Master System,” I thought aloud with no one around to hear. Well, lookie here: Batman Returns. Now I know Batman on the NES by Sunsoft was just awesome with its side-scrolling action, amazing soundtrack, beautiful environments and cutscenes. How bad could Batman Returns on the Master System be?

Batman Returns SMS is a side-scrolling adventure game. You have a grappling hook and you get around by jumping, swinging, and pulling yourself up onto platforms with the grappling hook. You have the ability to glide with the cape, but this kicks in a bit too late to be altogether practical. Your only weapon is the Batarang, but you get power ups to make it travel faster and farther. The controls are responsive and the physics are exactly what you would expect from a well-made side-scrolling action game. The levels are somewhat large and it is fun to explore them. The graphics are very nice and the music is adequate.

However, the game is not very challenging and is very short. This is somewhat made up for by having two routes to each stage to choose from, adding a bit of replay value and extra challenge, although the final stage is always the same. You do die when only hit once, but extra-lives are ridiculously plentiful. I almost always had 10 lives or more. It wasn't that I wasn't dying. I just kept finding about as many extra lives as I was losing.

The boss fights varied in design quality. Catwoman is fought twice. You would think different routes would have different bosses at the end, but this is not the case. The first boss is a circus strong man sort that breathes fire. This fight requires the players to figure where and when to attack. The second boss is Catwoman and is pretty straight-forward. The third boss is an… Iron Golem that summons meteors…? Pattern recognition will win the day here. The fourth boss is Catwoman again and is the same fight with an added obstacle of dripping sewage or acid or some such thing. The final battle with The Penguin was very well done having three forms that took a little watching and some pattern recognition to overcome and was the highlight of the whole experience.

That doesn’t seem so bad, right? Batman Returns on the Sega Master System seems pretty damn good when you have been playing nothing but Master System games for a couple of months. I don’t want this to become a “Hate the Master System” article, but after playing so many games with many of the same flaws, it was nice to play a game that controlled well enough to play, that wouldn’t spawn enemies ex nihilo, that had music and sound that didn’t make one’s ears bleed, and that was designed with the idea that someone might try to make it to the end.

That was nearly a year ago, and the only Master System game I have been playing of late is Fantasy Zone to broaden my shmup horizons since I did not play many of those growing up. Now, the contrast is but a distant memory. I played this game again, and it really can barely be called mediocre.

Enemies just stand still and wait for Batman to approach. The level design is done just well enough that the stages are not overly linear. The environments are stale and while colorful, nothing more thana series of platforms that vaguely resemble buildings. As my friend who was visiting while I played said, “Now we see what was being built in Donkey Kong.” I think that says it better than anything I was going to come up with.

The Batarang is barely effective as a weapon. I am reminded of Captain America and the Avengers on NES here. Cap attacks by throwing his returning shield in a similar way as Batman attacks by throwing his Batarang, but that game does one small thing that Batman Returns SMS doesn’t that makes the former seem like a masterpiece: you can still attack while the shield is in flight! Batman just stands there and waits for the Batarang to return. If an enemy jumps over the Batarang, you are a sitting duck. This makes the long-range power ups as much bane as boon. This Batman can’t punch or kick and only uses one weapon the entire game. 8-bit NES Captain America would beat the shit out of 8-bit SMS Batman. Hell, 8-bit NES Hawkeye could do so twice as fast.

The game was released in 1991 and is just primitive when compared to other games coming out around that time and a few years before. This game seems to have been developed in a vacuum, as is the case with most of the Master System games I have completed. The designers do not seem to know what to do and what not to do. They just throw Batman into a sub-par side-scrolling platforming shooter of sorts and left it at that. This could have just as easily been a Spiderman game. Switch out some sprites and make the Batarang the web-launcher and there you go: Spiderman on Sega Master System.

I could make an extensive list of how this game could have been made better using only other games of the day and earlier as a guide. If only the designers at Aspect had done the same. This could have been the best Spiderman game on an 8-bit console! I don’t think it could have been the best Batman game at the time. Sunsoft already did that.

I am going to come of as a fanboy for this final statement, but I feel it needs to be said. The first thing on that list of needed improvements? Make the game for the NES instead. At least people knew how to use that system to its fullest potential.

1 comment:

  1. Love the Batman games, never tried this one. Definitely need to check this one


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