Iteration Altercation: The Adventures of Batman & Robin

In comics, alternate realities are commonplace. Before the Crisis, superheroes jumped back and forth between worlds all the time and had all sorts of adventures with different versions of themselves. Naturally, this would transfer over to videogames. On the Genesis we have SEGA’s The Adventures of Batman & Robin and on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System we have Konami’s The Adventures of Batman & Robin. We’ll start with the Genesis game.

The game gives you a choice between playing as Batman or Robin. This might not mean anything to you but personally Dick Grayson, the first Robin, later Nightwing and currently Batman, is my favorite comic book character of all time. It’s rare but once in a while you get to play as him in games like this, Teen Titans and Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu. Man, has he been in any good games?

Batman tries to be unique by switching up the controls like no beat em up I’ve played. A and C both attack and throw batarangs while B is jump. Throwing a batarang depletes the players special bar instead of use ammo. If the bar is full it throws a glowing batarang that knocks out anyone in its way but if its less than full, it will just be a normal batarang. If the enemy is close enough, Batman or Robin will just punch them. It controls more like a run and gun, which it may be classified as, but it struts like a beat-em-up.

Am I wrong about this? It could just be the controls being poorly executed but maybe it’s me. Maybe by virtue of the game being an adaptation of the Batman license, I just assume it should be a beat-em-up. And is that so wrong? I don’t think run and gun quite fits Batman, not like a beat em up at least. It would be like making say, making Pac Man into a third-person platformer or Darth Vader turning into a giant scorpion. SEGA could have wanted to take another route with the game, after all this was in 1994, post-Street Fighter II. Many people believe the fighter craze had killed the beat em up genre and the industry had to move on even after the success of games like Streets of Rage. But I digress.

I got a lot of problems with these controls. First of all, why waste two buttons by making them BOTH do two things? This can mess up attack plans and make the controls feel unwieldy. It’s like you have less control over your character. In most games, holding down allows you to do a low attack but in Batman it always makes you throw a batarang downward, even if you’re on the ground floor of the level. The contextual function of the buttons is confusing. Sometimes 4 enemies will be barreling toward you and you’ll want to use a super batarang to clean them out. Too bad the lead guy got just close enough as you pushed the button but is still too far to punch. It works in the inverse too, often you’ll want to punch a guy before the three guys behind you attack. He’ll be one step too far and you’ll waste the batarang and have to wait for it to recharge to fight the rest.

This is even more annoying once you notice the regular batarangs don’t do shit. You may as well be flinging packing peanuts at the clown sprinting toward you with a crowbar. One button should have been melee attacks while the other used weapons. And the jump button being in the middle is just annoying. You can also throw the batarangs while in the air but pressing B twice does a jump kick, another waste. Where there could have been a double jump now is a clunky jump kick that can sometimes confuse the controls during platforming.

Objects like trash cans and expensive looking Chinese vases will litter the streets as in most beat em ups but in Batman you can’t use them as weapons. A batarang will knock them over, sometimes revealing impressively 3D rendered items but that’s about all the environmental interaction besides hanging from ledges you get.

Visually the game does a lot of interesting things with depth. While the gameplay in the levels is very shallow with the player having about two tiers to play around in, many enemies and environmental flourishes use 3D really well. Sometimes it almost feels more like a PS1 game rather than a 16-bit title. It’s really impressive what they were able to pull off on the SEGA Genesis. It must have been the blast processing. It would have been nice to be able to jump back and forth between the background and foreground or have more of a plane to wander around on like Treasure’s Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen or Streets of Rage. Or… like every beat em up since River City Ransom.

While it does some cool technological things, the game isn’t much of a looker. Some levels feel like a Hanna Barbera cartoon where the background will just repeat and wasn’t that pretty the first time you saw it. Gotham seems to be a city populated by buildings with the exact same dark blue façade on one long stretch of road with no alleys or turns.

The enemies are usually really cool looking but with each level having 3 stages, they get really repetitive. Batman & Robin doesn’t even do the stereotypical beat-em-up trope of throwing the same villains at you just recolored. In this, they’re just the same villains. In one level they made a tiny sprite for an enemy and just repurposed it over and over by building giant enemies out of the small toy. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were continues in the stages. If you die, you get to start the level over again. This would piss me off more if the game didn’t have the most kick-ass continue screen.

But if you run out of credits, it’s game over and Mr Freeze sets off a bomb that puts Gotham into a deep freeze. Which I guess is the plot? They don’t really tell you that until you die. While there is a level skip cheat, there’s no save or password feature. Unless you can check GameFAQS or are playing this in the 90’s and have the latest issues of Tips and Tricks, you’re SOL.

Each level starts with a title card much like the show. These are badass but when you see the villains in the game, it’s much less impressive. Harley Quinn is an early bossfight. You’d imagine the super sexy femme fatale acrobat would have some cool kung fu fight, but she just tools around in this helicopter thing. And looks like this:

A Harley Quinn I DON'T want to have sex with? No thank you.

But that’s kind of an issue I have with the whole game. None of the levels make sense to the villains with whom they’re paired. Why am I fighting little toys on a studio backlot to get to the Mad Hatter? And why is TwoFace’s level a shmup that has nothing to do with twos? And this one might be a little too nitpicky considering this is a video game, but where the hell did the Mad Hatter get a giant cat robot?

I’m just going to assume he hijacked the set of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland movie. He probably could’ve done a better job with it than Burton did. But then this happens:

Yeah I don’t know either.

Within levels, the gameplay doesn’t really evolve. The first minute or so of each stage will give you a pretty good idea of what the rest of it will be like. This can make the already long levels seem even longer. And I’m pretty sure the same tune loops throughout the entire game. Either that or the entire game’s music is just so super boring that it melts together.

However, there are some levels where the gameplay varies greatly from the rest of the game like that shmup-esque level I mentioned. Actually the shmup level would be fantastic if it didn’t fall prey to the same control problems the rest of the game has. You still get one powered up attack then have to wait for the meter to refill. When there are a ton of planes flying at you, this can suck and make it really boring. The unpowered attacks still don’t do poop and you get one good attack every 30 seconds or so, which in a shmup may as well be forever.

Also check this out:

The level is played as Batman in a bat-hang glider like at the end of Batman Begins. Doesn’t he have a giant bat plane? Why is he fighting hundreds of enemy airplanes with no armor and a dinky bat-kite?

With the clunky controls and repetitive environments and characters, the shmup level is probably the best part of the game. I’d rather have played an alright Batman-flavored shmup than a mediocre beat-em-up with some fun levels sprinkled in between.

Then the game ends with Mr. Freeze in his cell at Arkham being all sulky because Batman beat him up. A text narration lets you know what happened to Freeze and mentions the Joker laughing down the hall, I guess as a way to open the door for a sequel. This would be really cool if I didn’t just beat the Joker in the first damn level.

I was excited to try this game out. I’d always heard good things, especially since the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum last year. I hate to say it, but this game is kind of a stinker. I hope the SNES version is better.

Immediately I noticed that The Adventures of Batman & Robin on the Super NES was much less technically impressive. The backgrounds were layered but didn’t have the 3D effect like the Genesis game. The sprites seemed flatter as did the coloring on the environments. This sounds like I’m complaining but it actually replicates the aesthetic of the cartoon much better than the Genesis game did.

The simpler sprite art also allows for smoother and more fluid animations. Batman almost moves just as he does in the cartoon. The enemies aren’t as inventive. Even in the Joker’s lair I’m still fighting gangsters in suits with guns.

The game starts out with just Batman, which is a shame. In fact, Robin is barely in the game unless you have a second player. Bats has an array of gadgets like bat-spray, smoke bombs, batarangs, but most importantly a freakin’ grappling hook.

Hell yeah. Grappling hooks always bump games up at least a full letter grade for me. The SNES’s controller face has one more button than the Genesis and uses them all well, unlike the other more wasteful game. One switches items, one uses them, there’s a melee button and a jump button. Perfect for a beat-em-up and they feel great. There’s also a grab and throw function, which made me realize how much I missed that in the Genesis.

The game is easier than the Genesis version but still moves slowly. No slower than most beat-em-ups, though. Luckily there’s a password feature, but even though there are only 8 levels it looks like this.

It might take less time to just replay all the levels.

The game is laid out basically like the Genesis version but the levels are shorter and each of them are based on a specific episode of the cartoon. For instance, the Riddler calls you up on the bat-computer and talks about his Maze of the Minotaur game that he made in his first appearance on the show. Then Alfred tells you to prepare for the level and “you may need to blast through some walls.” Don’t know how he came to that conclusion but that’s why the game’s inventory system comes in handy.

Pushing one button to cycle through your inventory is boring but not as bad as if you had to pause the game every time you wanted to switch items like in Resident Evil. So, before each level, Batman can choose what he’d like to take along. This is not only practical but helps you feel more like Batman, God of preptime.

The Riddler’s level is actually pretty interesting because, like in the episode, Batman has to find his way through a maze. A little mini-map appears at the top right corner and tracks your progress as you navigate through the labyrinth. When the player comes to a crossroads, you choose a path and the screen background flip around to accommodate your choice. It’s a breath of fresh air when the beat-em-up play style is getting stale so late in the game. And in pure Riddler fashion, he’s a complete asshole. Throughout the maze you’ll find points where ol’ Eddie Nygma (nee Nashton) will ask you a riddle. If you get the riddle wrong, you go back to the beginning of the maze. Eff you, Riddler. Also the last level takes a cue from Mega Man where you re-fight most of the bosses from the game.

On the whole, there isn’t much to say about Konami’s The Adventures of Batman & Robin on the SNES. The game is alright. It’s a solid beat-em-up and has some neat levels but there isn’t a lot to drive you to the end of the game. Still, it’s better than the Genesis version so this Iteration Altercation goes to the Super NES version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin. I told you I wasn’t biased! Commence the fanboy bitching in the comments!

There was also a version of the game on the SEGA CD. This iteration had animated cutscenes that convey the game’s plot and is considered by a lot of fans to be the animated series’ “lost episode” and can be found here and here.

Readers Comments (1)

  1. I prefered the SNES version, too.
    I think the one on the SEGA CD is just a racing against time game, in your batmobile.

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