Thursday, June 18, 2009

"History of Batman in Video Games" (Part 1)

Batman (1986)
Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, ZX Spectrum, MSX

As the launch of Batman: Arkham Asylum sneaks up on us like The Dark Knight himself, we can't help but to look back on Batman's history in video games. We've had some laughs and some fun well as attempts that seem more like one of Joker's sick pranks, but it all starts with this classic simply entitled: Batman.

The very first Batman game is actually not as horrible as you would think. I have played it myself, and can say that despite the archaic mechanics of the game, it is a solid entry in the Batman game world. The premise is simple; you must traverse the Batcave in search of seven parts that make up the Batcraft in order to save Robin.

Sounds simple right? Wrong. The game takes place in 3D isometric view which can make avoiding creatures difficult. Wait...creatures!? In the Batcave!? Yes. You can't attack or really evade them though. You have to time your walking so that you bypass their path of travel. There are various creatures from what I've seen. Walking Mutants, Spike Discs, and Skull-looking Bulldogs (Skulldogs?) Each with different behavior.

Before you can venture on, you need to locate all of your gadgets. The boots grant you the jumping ability while the Pack allows you carry one object or item at a time. The jetpack let's you glide over a distance after jumping off higher areas. I honestly don't know what the last item is or does despite collecting it in my playthrough.

The icons on the left side of the HUD are your various power-ups. The number beneath the Bat are your lives. I never did collect the spring power-up, but the shield means invulnerability for our caped crusader while the bolt represents a boost in walking speed. You receive these by collecting Batman Figures scattered throughout the cave. Careful though, as they only last a certain amount of "steps." All of this can actually be fun since you will be doing a lot of platforming and puzzle-solving, but will become frustrating to impatient players very quickly.

As mentioned before, the game is locked into a 3D isometric view which can make the trek very difficult seeing as how there are several creatures and dangerous objects waiting to collect one of your precious Batlives. You quickly get a feel for this portion though. It's the jumping that is killer...You will die by attempting a jump more than anything. In order to successfully "hop" to another platform you must creep onto the edge until you are nearly one pixel off of it and THEN proceed to jump. You can master this as well, but it doesn't always seem consistent.

The puzzles are an excellent addition to the gameplay but from what I saw, not varied. They mostly include finding out a way to stack different items to create a platform, which will help you get to those out-of-reach areas. One example was a room I encountered that had an elevating platform in the bottom corner. It was the only way up but there were obstacles surrounding it that could kill my poor chubby Batman. There were two conveyor belts leading to the platform but they were too high to reach. The only tools available were two circular objects and a teapot. You read that correctly...teapot.

After several minutes of experimentation, I found that I had to stack them in a specific way. I pushed one block near the conveyor belt, and then jumped on the teapot and "collected" it (You can only hold one item at a time and it must be in the same room you collected it.) Afterwards I set the teapot on top of the previous object...but I had to offset it a bit. Stepping near the edge of the first object and dropping it so that one wasn't directly on top of another. Thus I created a makeshift staircase...I repeated the process with the final portion. As soon as you drop an item you instantly appear on top of it allowing access to where you need to go. In this case, the conveyor belt which led to the elevating platform (Phew.)

There are plenty of these rooms to explore in the Batcave (150 in total.) I only visited 30 but still never found one portion of the Batcraft! It is definitely a challenge worthy of the great detective himself. This experience is still impressive due to it's presentation. Upon start up, you see an impressive Batman sprite. After the title screen, (where Bat's is tapping his toe Sonic style with impatience...) you catch a glimpse of the Batcraft pieces and the 60's theme blasts through your speakers in glorious 8-bit style. Classic. Besides that though, within the game you only get the musical pitter-patter of Batman's steps, beeps of enemies hitting walls, as well as victory or defeat chimes for collecting items; or for the failure that brings you death. Whether this is memorable in a nostalgic way or infuriating manner, is up to personal preference.

In conclusion, the first Batman video game turned out to be a fun while flawed experience. Things will annoy you (ie: Picking up an item just to forget "taking" it out of your bag and collecting it for your inventory. Not to mention the awful jumping.) Also, while being based on the '60's show, the game reflects art from the '80's comics. It is also odd that the Batcave would feature giant eyeballs, creatures, and objects that resemble elephant feet. Aside from this, there is plenty of fun to be discovered for those seeking a challenge that combines platforming, and puzzle solving as well as level memorization. I dare say this is one of the better games that was made and is definitely a worthy title of our caped crusader. I never did save Robin...but I am compelled to keep trying...

- James Gordon


  1. The third clue is really the second one,

    Yes my friends you have nearly won!

    If you find yourselves to be at a loss,

    Simply walk as Dorothy in Land of Oz ...

    ~The Riddler

  2. I have to comment in order to win. ;)

    The clue is comments.

    - Nate/WarrENDeatH