Michael Keaton wasn’t a bad Batman. The 1989 movie was a lot of fun, especially with Nicholson’s Joker nearly stealing the show. And now Nolan’s Batman is about to wrap up his own take on the Dark Knight and I liked those a lot as well. It’s also kind of odd that of Nolan’s films, only Batman Begins had gotten the game tie-in treatment while the Batman series before it had one for each movie – even Batman & Robin.
Back in 1989 on through 1990, SunSoft did an adaptation of the Keaton/Nicholson Batman for a number of platforms ranging from the NES on through to the TurboGrafx-16 and each one played quite differently from the others. Unlike the usually homogenous ports that we see between platforms such as Xbox 360 and the PS3 for a single title, back then, it wasn’t unusual for a developer to create as many different takes.
While the Genesis adaptation in 1990 sported a more arcade action approach (and an arguably better soundtrack) taking advantage of the newer hardware with the TurboGrafx-16 version in the same year was a top down action adventure, the NES version comes off as Ninja Gaiden Lite which really wasn’t a bad thing.
The NES and the Genesis versions were both side scrolling, action adventures. But where the NES diverges from the one that SunSoft would do for Sega’s 16-bit box is that the gameplay has a much larger emphasis on platforming, jumping, and gadgets – much like Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden on the same system. Levels have convenient platforms for jumps and Batman can even wall jump just like Ryu can. The difficulty is also considerably higher, especially with the fight against the Joker who can summon lightning in addition to having that massive gun of his that can take off massive chunks of health. Wait, summon lightning?!
The NES game loosely follows the plot of the main movie and created stages around the key scenes such as Gotham’s city streets, Axis Chemicals, and the iconic Cathedral. All of which are platforming paradises. Batman has a collection of carried goodies ranging from batarangs and a bat speargun as well as his fists which can wreck most anything from the thug in the street to the small spikey robots that come after him along the ground or the platforms he needs to jump across.
NES’ Batman also had a number of cutscenes inspired from the film, although the ending does something of an about face for Batman’s character. In the film, Batman tries to prevent him from escaping with a tether looped around his leg anchoring him to a gargoyle that eventually breaks free from the roof and pulls him down to his death. In SunSoft’s NES take, Batman vengefully tosses the Joker OFF the roof himself!
Often overlooked, SunSoft’s Batman on the NES was almost as tough as Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden especially in the final fight. Fortunately, infinite continues helped out and I pretty much needed them, but this was also when games had to be so tough because they weren’t expected to be as long as they are nowadays. Batman for the NES was not a long game and could be finished in a day – or in less than an hour or if you had already gone through it – once you had the enemy patterns down in your head. Yet it’s also a fun example of how different a game, based on the same license, can be in the hands of the same developer depending on the platform…almost like the legend of the Dark Knight himself depending on who the director will be.