Taking Out the Rogues of Gotham
Batman: The Animated Series (1993 Game Boy)
The late 1980s and early 1990s were a great time for BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. fans. Along with the Tim Burton movies there was also the start of the Bruce Timm created Batman: The Animated Series (which did take some design inspiration from the Burton films). If you were a kid living in that time period you could go from one movie to the next, and then the show, and get all kinds of toys and (important for us here) video games based on the adventures. It was glorious.
The Burton films had a fleet of video games attached to them, a new one for each movie and a different version on each console. While it might seem like Batman: The Animated Series avoided that similar barrage of games, it actually went through the same process. Konami kicked things off in 1993 with a Game Boy adaptation, under the name Batman: The Animated Series, and then multiple other games came out once the series changed its name over to The New Adventures of Batman & Robin, but it was the same ploy: a bunch of games all tied to the same property, spread across multiple consoles and iterations. But it's a good ploy if it works, at at least with this first game in the set, the Game Boy version provides a solid adventure.
The game sees the various rogues of Gotham City, led by JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled., escaping from Arkham Asylum to wreak havoc across the metropolis. When the city is in danger there's only one man to call: Batman. Well, and Robin. The Dynamic Duo head out to take on all the worst the city has to offer -- Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, CatwomanOnce a thief (but a pretty damn good one) and rogue of the Bat-man, Catwoman went from villain to anti-hero as she found love with the man that once pursued her., Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, and of course the Joker -- and bring peace back to the land once more... with their fists.
The game, at its core, is an action platformer. As Batman you go around, jumping, punching, wall kicking, and occasionally using your grappling line, taking out bad guys and scaling through the various maze-like levels until you find a boss. Each level provides its own challenges and traps, with the difficulty escalating slowly but effectively as the game moves on. It's not a long game, with only four major chapters, but each one manages to convey a bit of the spark of the villain(s) in question, letting the vibe of the series flow through.
The first big addition to this game over previous versions is a playable Robin. The Boy Wonder is a core part of Batman: The Animated Series (from the second episode of the series onwards), so his inclusion in the game is a no-brainer. But it does mark the first time we ever had a playable Robin, and the game does well by the hero. He's as effective a fighter as Batman, and he can climb along the underside of platforms, which Batman can't do. The only downside to Robin is that he doesn't have as much health, making his sections potentially more difficult if you don't know what you're doing. Still, I like the balance between the two heroes, and I like that Robin was included at all.
As far as the villains concerned, it's a good mix of baddies to go up against. All the most famous foes that kids would expect to see in a game based on the show based on the character. With that said, the game lacks a central plot, instead playing out like a series of "episodes" of the series. As such, while each villain gets their own zone to fight through, creatively designed after their personalities (so Ivy's area is like a green house gone rogue while Penguin's is an airship), there's no real connective tissue to bring all their schemes together. Everyone is just doing their thing, all in the same game, just because.
Even when two villains share the same episode, such as Scarecrow and Mr. Freeze, their sections aren't connected in any meaningful way. You get a zone dedicated to one villain, and then the next, and the game just has you marching on, one down and one to go. It's really better to think of the game as a collection of nine or so stages, all grouped together simply for the sake of it. Anyone hoping for a real, well thought out plot that unifies the villains on a grand scheme was looking in the wrong game.
The game does play well, though. While not a beat-em-up, the action is still pretty solid. The difficulty is on the easy side, probably because so many little kids were watching the TV show at the time and Konami, the developers, wanted to make sure kids could complete it (we were already moving on from the era when every game had to be "Nintendo Hard"). Batman and Robin have tight, responsive controls with fair hit boxes and smooth animation. You never feel like damage you take is the fault of the game but, instead, because you didn't keep up or anticipate what was next.
The levels are large and maze like, but constructed in such a way that they never feel too big or too empty. It's smart, tight construction, letting the zones play out just long enough to get the full feel for their theme but then wrap up before it all becomes tedious. In that regard, featuring two villains for most of the episodes was a smart choice as the game play is nicely broken up between exploration and boss fights. And, at about 40 minutes, you feel like you got just about the right amount of action and adventure for a portable title.
Plus, let's be honest, the game does look good. Konami's designers put in the work to make the characters look like their animated counterparts. This has the right feel, the right vibe, to express the style of Batman: The Animated Series, and you can tell the designers really wanted to get it right. Sure, some of the background graphics get a little repetitive in places, and not everything is as richly detailed as you might like, but this is a Game Boy title having to work with the limitations of the hardware. Compromise is expected. The fact that the game still looks really good despite the hardware shows the care.
If there's any place where I think the game is truly lacking its on the sound front. The game only has four music tracks: one for Batman, one for Robin, a boss theme, and then a single song played during one mid-game level. This would be decent variety if they were changed around and cycled, but Batman always has his theme (except for one stage specifically), Robin always has his, and you'll hear them a lot throughout the stages. With such colorful villains each having their own zones, you'd think each area would have gotten its own theme, but that wasn't the case. It's weird, considering Konami is always held in high regard for their music, that the company dropped the ball here.
Still, on the whole this is a fine effort from the company. It's a solid Game Boy adventure, and a good game in the pantheon of Batman titles. Within a year other games would come out associated with the animate series (in its renamed incarnation), and those would feature more to do, and brighter colors as well. But for a first effort associated with Batman: The Animated Series, I think this portable title acquits itself quite well. Good work, Konami.