Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Batman Forever: Soulless Silicon

I could have baited you with a catchy opening sentence questioning whether Acclaim did justice to the Batman Forever license with this game but I’m not going to lie to you or waste your time. The Batman Forever video game for Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and Super Nintendo just plain sucks.

Ignoring the warning label that many bad video games have – the Acclaim logo – I recently took Batman Forever out of my stack of Genesis games, dusted it off, and plugged it into my system. After being greeted with a lackluster title screen, hearing Two-Face annoyingly exclaim, “If the Bat wants to play, we’ll play!” and skimming over a confusing weapon select screen, someone who looks kind of like Batman appears, surrounded by brown, grainy bricks, ugly gray columns and the occasional steel door. With him is another guy dressed like Robin, but he looks more like your eccentric neighbor wearing his ballet tights. Suddenly, an Arkham Asylum inmate shambles over and, after doing his victory pose a few times, eventually gets around to attacking! Sensing danger, “Robin” pulls out his staff, just like he never did in the film, and whacks the now flipping and kicking villain. But the Dynamic Duo isn’t out of the woods yet! A door to one of the other cells explodes open (huh?) and out pops the same guy Robin just floored. I guess crazy acrobatic ninja inmates never learn!

Wave after wave of the same few digitized villains battle our heroes’ stunt doubles, performing the same few attacks over and over. Acclaim/Probe didn’t even have the decency to change their pallets, so the only difference between enemies of the same type is their woefully dim-witted names. (My favorites are a guy named “Bad Gazz” and a clown named “Bio-Man.”) There are only five normal enemies and four boss-like characters, so the player is likely to grow bored of his or her competition at light speed.

Try as I may, I can’t remember a single tune from this game. I’m holding the box in my hands right now touching it, smelling it and practically begging it to jog my memory – but the only song that comes to mind is from Phantasy Star II. That’s not to say Batman Forever’s music is bad, it just proves that it’s entirely forgettable. (And that Phantasy Star II had some wicked tuneage, but I digress.) Don’t worry, you’ll be able to remember the melodies by the end of the game, because later levels reuse themes from the earlier ones. If that doesn’t say “rush job,” I don’t know what does.

Every time your character grabs one of the Riddler’s question marks, you’re subjected to a tooth grinding “Riddle me this, riddle me that” sound clip. The enemies’ comments aren’t much better: “Forgeddabout it!” yells the stereotypical mobster in a not-so-stereotypical yellow suit. Yet, the player never hears a peep out of the Caped Crusader or the Boy Wonder, aside from a generic “I got knocked over” grunt that every character shares. Throw in a few nonspecific punching noises, and you’ve got the Batman Forever soundtrack.

Holy unresponsive D-pad, Batman! These controls stink! Seeing as how Batman Forever passed through both Acclaim and Probe’s inept hands, it’s not surprising that this game plays a lot like Mortal Kombat. Actually, let me rephrase: This game wants to BE Mortal Kombat. With high and low punches and kicks, a block button, foot sweeps and even the trademark MK uppercut, Batman Forever is the video equivalent of a kid who tries to emulate his older, cooler sibling and fails miserably. Punches and kicks come off without a hitch, but using the grappling hook is a chore and I’m still not sure how to make my character jump down a level. Jump and tap up on the controller and Batman will float across the screen on leather wings. Robin kind of sticks his bum out and starts levitating, though I’ve never quite been able to get that to work in real life. Both moves work about 50 percent of the time and are occasionally paramount to progressing through the game. The result? Lots of senseless falling and backtracking.

Hey, remember that awesome part in the movie where Batman and Robin had to jump over all those exciting crates? Yeah, neither do I, but it’s in this game. There are eight tough stages to slog through, but each one has little to do with the movie. Levels begin in one nondescript location and end in another, so good luck trying to figure out what triggers the onset of the next stage.

Even on easy mode, the game is unforgiving. Locating and disarming a bomb in the circus stage is a confusing process, with enemies appearing randomly and a quick-moving timer working against you. If you’re not lucky, the bomb explodes and you lose a much-need life. (Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb, I guess.) There are some ridiculous jumps in the fifth level an you’ll often find yourself running all the way back to the spot where you fell, only to fall again. So, what’s your reward for sticking out this entire hard, frustrating game? Let me save you some time: “Congratulations! Game complete.”

All of this could have been overlooked if Batman Forever had managed to be fun, but it’s not: The gameplay isn’t just laughable, it’s this game’s killing joke. To be fair, any game where you get to beat up clowns can’t be all bad, and uppercutting and roundhouse kicking your enemies can be fun, especially when you knock them into some sort of environmental trap or off the side of a building. Yet you never feel like you’re doing much damage. Even a bone-shattering blast of Robin’s stealthy staff steals but a fragment of the foe’s life gauge.

To help remedy the monotony of the limited combat system, the programmers added plenty of special weapons to the fighting formula. However, it’s always easier to just kick and punch your adversaries into submission, because trying to use a bat-gadget will get you bat-killed. There are 20 of the little buggers in all, but most of them just freeze enemies for a few seconds. Each gadget is activated with a Street Fighter-like button combination, but the player shouldn’t have to do a Yoga Flame motion to fling a weak gimmick weapon at some schmoe across the screen.

You can drag someone else along with you into this lunacy, but why would you? The controls are so broken in the main game that you’ll find yourself explaining to the other player how to use the grappling hook more often than pounding on the bad guys. It’s a shame too, because there was some real potential for fun here. Instead, it’s just as frustrating – if not more so – as the rest of the game. The versus mode fares better though, because it allows two players to choose any character in the game and mix it up mano a mano. It kind of plays like a crippled Mortal Kombat and offers players a respite from the tedium of the main game.

Some games seem to have a soul – a soul of silicon, but a soul nonetheless. This is not one of them. Batman Forever has tried my patience, and the only reason it didn’t receive a lower score is because the game can actually be completed if the player can deal with the masses of uninteresting villains and the tiresome gameplay. Avoid Batman Forever if you come across it, but if you simply must see what all the fuss is about, don’t spend more than $2 on it. Save yourself three hours of aggravation and watch the lackluster movie instead; at least when that starts to suck, you can go to sleep and when you wake up, it’ll be over. Better still, dig up some episodes of Batman: The Animated Series for your Dark Knight fix – the worst installment of that show is at least twice as good as this piece of garbage.

I am vengence! I am the night! The Batman Forever game stinks!

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