Continuing with last week’s ill-informed decision of focusing on the Batman games on the Genesis, I further indulged my seemingly unquenchable masochism this week by diving into the videogame adaptation of one of the worst superhero movies ever made, Batman Forever. Joel Schumacher managed to turn one of the most popular superhero franchises in history into an awkward, giggling, neon-lit clusterfuck, so there was no way any game could ever approach that level of sheer crapitude, right?
I’ll give you three guesses.
Before I go any further, though, I would like to apologize. I couldn’t finish this game. Hell, I could barely get past the second level. No matter how much I tried to motivate myself, the physical pain, invasive boredom, and distressed confusion that beset my brain just moments into the first stage of this game birthed in me a kind of gaming anger that I didn’t know I was capable of. Take this as a review of the first couple levels if that sits better with you, but I think it’s safe to say that the rest of this game could have turned me in to a game hater.
When I booted up the first stage of Batman Forever, the following words slipped out of my mouth almost immediately: “Holy shit. I’m playing Mortal Batman”. Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week. But it’s true. Every character in Batman Forever, whether it’s the generic villains, Robin, or the Caped Crusader himself, is just a rendering of a (laughably awkward) human actor, in the same style as everyone’s favorite gory 2D fighter, Mortal Kombat. The déjà vu doesn’t stop there, either. Every movement, from the punches, to the uppercut, to the sweeping low kick, is identical to what you’ll find in MK. Even falling over looks the same. The two games share the same developer, so these similarities aren’t entirely incredible. Just unforgivable. These animations, as you have expected, are rarely anything short of hilarious. My favorite has to be the cop throwing his hands up ostensibly to praise the lord after you’ve set him free. Whoever delivered that performance is going places.
Once I got over the whole shock of a Mortal Kombat Batman game, it was time to lay out some baddies. Utilizing the predictably sloppy combat, I managed to kick, punch and trip my way through a couple dudes with bad posture and plain white shirts. I stumbled upon a Riddler question mark, which told me in a thinly laid riddle that I needed to leave the area through a hole in the floor. Ok, easy enough, I thought. I crouched by the hole, pushed down. Nothing. I pushed B. Kicked. I pushed A. Uppercut. I pushed every possible combination of buttons I could think of. Nothing, For about 5 minutes, I jumped around, rolled, threw out several batarangs, but none of it was getting me through the floor. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, I finally managed to do something (I still don’t know what) that let me jump through. Thank God. Time to continue.
I punched my way through a few other baddies. Then the room abruptly ended. Where the hell do I go now? I ran back and forth across the area punching anything I could find, partially in an attempt to uncover an exit, partially out of sheer rage. All of a sudden, I managed to spit out a grappling hook. What a relief. The thing hooked to the ceiling, started to draw me up, then dropped me. I did it again. It hauled me most of the way up, then let go again. Once I finally managed to get myself back through the top level, I managed to locate the exit, without a single prompt or direction as to where to go.
This would be acceptable maybe once or twice, but I found myself forced to awkwardly switch between floor one and floor two of whatever room over and over again. Level design is nonexistent in Batman Forever, replaced completely by the repeatedly jumping down and grappling up between two tiny, empty rooms in which you fight a couple enemies. Besides the occasional riddle, the game gives you just about no visual cues or hints as to when this grappling is necessary, so you’re left fishing for an exit or a place to go for minutes at a time. Making this even more tiresome is some of the most unintuitive, unresponsive controls that I have ever had the displeasure of fighting with. For example, pressing up makes you jump, but you need to push up, B and C to shoot out your grappling hook. Unless you press all three at the exact same moment, you’ll be jumping like an idiot until something works. Special weapons are made available to you at the beginning of every stage, but actually using them requires you jump through ridiculous hoops that I still can’t consistently pull off. The developers seem to be aware of their terrible controls, and so they let you choose between control method 1 or 2 at the title screen. Too bad they don’t actually show you a map of the controller. Choose a scheme and figure it out yourself.
Batman Forever’s looks are just as nasty as its personality. Each stage is rendered with this faux-3D style seen in a lot of movie-licensed games of the time. The stages are ugly, crushingly banal, and constantly dark. My TV screen was never full in the stages I played, as empty black borders section off tiny rooms and corridors, further adding to a painful sense of boredom and emptiness that permeates the rest of the game. To be fair, I’ve seen quite a few shots of other stages, and they do look like they have a bit more color. The darkness looks like it’s pretty ubiquitous, though. Characters are uncomfortably bright in such black environments, especially the guys in yellow suits who proudly proclaim that you should “FUGGETABOUTIT” when they defeat you. They are truly intimidating characters.
After playing this little bit of Batman Forever, I would rather eat my Genesis than go back. The graphics are just a little over absolute blackness, the gameplay is the worst bits of Mortal Kombat and the shittiest beat-em-ups, and the sound bites from the movie sound like someone recorded them while getting smothered by a pillow. Revenge of the Joker, despite its flaws and odd sense of style, is light years ahead of this pile. It makes me smile to remember that Arkham Asylum exists, if only to finally give Batman the videogame adaptation we all know he was meant for.
Batman Forever a very faithful adaptation of the film… At least in terms quality.