You'll Never Catch Me, Batman!
The Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994 Genesis)
The video game side of the 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. franchise was, for a time, confusing to follow. We're used to one company making all the Batman games for a single brand and all the consoles. Maybe, once in a while, we get a game for portable consoles that plays slightly differently (although with the Switch all but replacing the 3DS at this point, and Sony's alternatives dead in the water, that basically doesn't happen anymore), but for the most part if you see a game with specific title -- say, The Batman: The Game -- then you know it will play (more or less) the same on all consoles. That's the industry expectation we've been trained on.
But that wasn't the case a three decades ago. Back then you'd get a movie or TV show and various companies would split up the rights for the games across the consoles. We saw that already with the various interpretations of both Batman '89 and Batman Returns, and now we're seeing it again with The Adventures of Batman & Robin. We've seen Konami take two stabs at the series so far with Game Boy and SNES entries, and now we have Sega's turn at the series, with three different takes on the material. Yes, three versions. That's milking it to an impressive degree.
The first of the titles is the Genesis edition, and anyone that expected a game that would play anything like Konami's interpretations of the animated series (i.e., street brawlers) would be in for a wild experience. Sure, Batman and Robin (who are both playable) can kick and punch in this game, but the title is essentially a run and gun shooter. In fact, I'd go so far as to say its not even a very good interpretation of Batman at all, right up there with Sunsoft's Batman: Return of the Joker for missing the mark on fidelity to the source material. That doesn't make it a bad game, per se (although this title does have issues), but it does make it a less than stellar Batman game, for sure.
The title is broken into four parts, with each section playing like an episode of the series. Batman and Robin (who play effectively the same, just enabling two characters on screen) have to battle first the Joker, then Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, and finally Mr. Freeze, as each attempts to take over Gotham in their own, weird way. Each section of the game is different, with new enemies to face and new challenges to overcome, and each is that capped with a boss fight against the famed foe before it's on to the next challenge to do it all over again.
One thing I will give a minor ding for is that the game lacks cohesion in its story. The Game Boy and SNES versions were episodic, as with this title, but each of those ended with a reprise battle against the Joker, letting you know he was the mastermind of it all. This was his big plan, to bring all the villains together. The Genesis version lacks that, and frankly lacks any plot at all. It's just four villains, each showing up to do their thing. It works in the moment, but it would have been nice to have a larger, more cohesive story (and context) to unify everything together in a satisfying whole.
Of course, the real issue with this game is that it doesn't really feel like a title made for Batman but, rather, a game that had the Batman aesthetics grafted on near the end. Batman and Robin run around (or, in many cases, fly around) the stages, taking out bad guys with their batarangs. Like in games such as ContraStarted by Konami in 1988 the run-n-gun platform series Contra was, for a time, one of the flagship franchises for the company., they can get upgrades to their 'rangs, from a power shot to a spread shot, and these will let them deal with foes in different ways. There's also a power meter, and when the meter is full the hero will throw out a more powerful version of their attack. It's a bit basic, but it does work.
Thing is that the mechanics of it don't feel very "Batman". This is double true for the animated series this is based on, which had very strict content guidelines the creators had to follow, including rules about how Batman could take foes down. He could never hurt someone with a batarang, for example, and outright killing foes would (of course) be verboten. That kind of content moderation doesn't mesh well against a run-and-gun shooter, even if you swap out guns for batarangs. Now I might feel slightly differently if this was a game based on darker Batman source material, maybe something from Frank Miller, but even then Batman's strict "no killing" rule does feel anathema to run-and-gun mechanics.
At a technical level the game play is... adequate. There are two styles of play in the game -- running and shooting or flying and shooting -- and much of the game focuses on the running. The issue here is there isn't much variety in the game play for the running and shooting. You run, you shoot all the enemies on screen, and then you run again until another batch of enemies show up and you have to shoot all of them as well. The game forces you to kill everything at every section, so it's not like you can learn patterns, avoid enemies, find quick routes and so forth. No, this is a game where every moment you have to brainlessly shoot enemies until they're all dead, and then do it again, and again, until the game is over. Once you've done all of that through the first, 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.-led chapter, you've basically seen all the game has to offer on this front.
Now, in fairness to the title the game does change up the enemies from one chapter to the next Joker's clown gang is replaces by 1940s-style henchmen for Two-Face's section, and then random toys and gadgets for Mad Hatter, and finally robots and scientists for Mr. Freeze's climactic final act. Each of these sets of enemies function differently so you do have to learn new foes, new attacks, new patterns. For a minute or two in each stage, that's variety... until the long, twenty minutes chapters wear out their welcome. It gets really repetitive really fast, and the game feels more tiresome than engaging.
Even when the game breaks up the action it lets those sections go on too long. The back half of Two-Face's chapter is a flight across the skies of Gotham with Batman and Robin in gliders. They have to take out helicopters, drones, and missiles before reaching a giant blimp. It's a fun change of pace, except for the fact that it goes on for ten minutes and really doesn't add much new to the proceeding past the first couple of minutes. It's just a long slog. And the same can be said for the jetpack section of Mr. Freeze's chapter. It's fun being able to fly around and shoot instead of being bound to the ground, but the game lets this play out for far too long before finally changing to a different mode of play. Some editing, and paring down, of content would have been really nice. That or the creators of the game needed to make shorter chapters with more foes to keep a lively sense of pace.
While we're at it, even the theming for the villains feels off. I understand Joker and a clown gang battling on the streets of Gotham, but the other villains feel very tacked on. Two-Face's goons are basic, just regular thugs, and a battle against Two-Face's blimp doesn't really scream "Two-Face". Hell, the blimp isn't even painted in two distinct colors. Where's the them and style, guys? Mad Hatter's stage is filled with toys, on a sound stage, and then there's a "Wonderland" section of plants and vines that feels like a better fit for Poison Ivy. The most egregious is Mr. Freeze, though, who's stage comes from the set of a 1950's sci-fi film. There isn't even one single section with actual ice in it, so... why use Mr. Freeze then?
But graphically, if we set all those other issues aside, the game does look great. Although the characters feel too rounded, too rendered, to look like they came from the animated series, but the game does look stunning otherwise. The game is loaded down with the kinds of "tech demo" effects Sega was clearly using to show their console could go toe-to-toe with the SNES. The opening section of the game features store fronts with sprite scaling to give real 3D perspective as Batman (and Robin) runs down the street. Mad Hatter has an impressive boss fight with the stage scrolling towards the play and objects scaling in that have to be avoided. There are plenty of instances where you can tell the Sega programmers when all out to make this game as visually stunning as they could. I can appreciate the effort even if the game itself feels lackluster.
That is, of course, the issue with the game. While it's technically impressive, it's boring as hell to play. I like what Sega tried for here, and I can appreciate the bones of the game that's constructed, but at the end of the day it's both a mediocre game and a bad Batman game. I hope Sega can do better in either of their two offerings because this was a horrible first salvo against Konami.