Thursday, June 26, 2014

The ABCs of Sega CD #1: The Adventures of Batman and Robin

The Adventures of Batman and Robin
Developer: Clockwork Tortoise
Publisher: Sega
Release Year: 1995

It’s apropos that the first game we’re delving into embodies the missed opportunities that characterized the Sega CD’s short run.

On the plus side, the Adventures of Batman and Robin nails the unique “dark deco” atmosphere of the seminal cartoon of the same name, from the graphics to the animated sequences between levels. Even the stylized font is the same.

I am vengeance! I am the night!
A lot of talent went into this game. The cutscenes were penned by and directed by Batman: The Animated Series veterans Paul Dini and Bruce Timm respectively, and the original voice cast, including Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, reprised their roles. I’m no producer, nor do I know much about budgets (nor do I own a wallet), but I think that’s where the majority of this game’s finances went.

With no television censors to worry about, the animation is a lot more brutal than the show. For example, in an early scene, Batman hacks Poison Ivy’s plant-based henchman with an ax, and “chlorophyll” spatters on walls. Later, the Riddler takes an electric shock that could kill a man.

The Bat STABBED him, and he DIED.

The music is a far cry from Shirley Walker’s orchestrated fare from the show, but it’s exciting enough and appropriate for the action.

Unfortunately, these cutscenes, the game’s greatest strength, serve to make the rest of the experience that much more dull. Sans the magic of Dini, Timm, and the familiar gallery of rogues in the cutscenes, there’s absolutely nothing about this title that couldn’t have been done on stock Genesis.

Let’s get the game’s most unforgivable sin out of the way: Not once do we control the Dark Knight or even the Boy Wonder outside of the Batmobile or the Batwing. I suppose it’s understandable because Batman is so well known for his driving skills, not his martial arts and detective skills. OH WAIT.

What's in the trucks? Crappy gameplay.
It’s a fundamental flaw that dragged this title to bargain bin hell – I got this game new at Toys ‘R’ Us for $10 about six months after it hit the shelves.

The game begins with Bats hopping in the Batmobile and riding off to save Robin from the clutches of Poison Ivy. Immediately, players must avoid every citizen in Gotham City out for a Sunday drive at 3 a.m. (Maybe it’s Black Friday?) For a game that should be all about speed, forcing players to drive carefully starts things off on the wrong batboot. It never recovers.

Then Poison Ivy’s goons show up. Nothing says “Batman” like dodging an endless stream of giant pumpkins, trees growing in the middle of the road, and pissed off bushes. You could try to avoid them, but that’s pretty difficult. Your other choice is to try to take them out with your weak mini-missiles and a handful of confusing, useless special weapons.

Hey, Batman! Make like a tree and NEVER GET OUT OF THE BATMOBILE.

On leather wings?
And that’s all you do. You drive, you fly, and it takes forever to beat down the bad guys. I’d describe the gameplay more, but there’s hardly anything to talk about. All the backgrounds look the same until the Riddler traps Batman in an arcade game and then the Joker forces him to drive though some kind of bizarre zoo with joker-smilin’ animals, but then it’s back to the same ol’ Gotham City.

All I want in a Batman game is to, you know, play as Batman. Sega CD owners had that chance with Batman Returns, but the Batman: The Animated Series license deserved much better.  My advice is to level skip your way through this bat bomb and enjoy the animation. (Code: B, A, down, B, A, down, left, up, C when paused. “Bad, bad luck?” I think not!)

Will Batman drive himself crazy? Will Clayface speed to an early demise? Or will the Joker get the last laugh? You won’t want to tune in long enough to find out.

That's not funny. That's not...

See you next time, same bat blog, same bat console, but a new bat game: The Adventures of Willy Beamish!

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