Sigh. Another day, another Batman video game! Seems like every week I am reviewing another one. Today's fodder is Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo, 1993 release.
Batman Returns was a strange film. It was a followup to the breakthrough 1989 release (also a strange film), which re-invigorated/cemented the importance of Big Budget Superhero Flicks in American culture. Naturally, a tidal wave of merchandising followed suit, and so too with the sequel.
Japanese developer Sunsoft held the rights for the 1st round of Batman console games, and they did an admirable job with their efforts both in 8-bit and 16-bit incarnations. When it came time to divvy up the rights for the next film, WB decided it was Konami's turn (among other houses) to take up the Mantle of the Bat.
And so with this new heavy-duty license, Konami set out to make a Batman game which would not only be very beefed-up with some heavy tech (this is one of the more detailed, gorgeously rendered titles on the console), they also decided to make it very trendy. Many of the previous Batman games were side-scrolling platformer games. Konami decided to shoehorn the whole affair into the then-popular Final Fight playstyle. Large detailed characters, have it out with a few enemies at a time, deplete their health, knock out a couple of flashy supermoves, face down a boss, repeat until game over.
It came off very well. Even for an already-tired scheme, Batman Returns was a looker and clearly a labor of love. They did very good work with the subject matter and it seemed as if the SNES had another clear winner in their stable. Unfortunately, being trendy won't necessarily win you a spot in the history books. Looking back at the game now - aesthetics aside - it feels quite flat and empty, with some half-baked 3D driving sequences thrown in for good measure. Even today, BR is a nice beat'em-up and it's fun for a couple of rounds, but there's so many examples of this style of game (and enough of them which support multiple players) that it is hard to recommend this one as above average. A shame, as they clearly set out to make a game which should have dominated the legacy of this franchise from that period - but lazy design cuts it down at the end of the day. Stick with the platformers!