Retro Review: Batman
Platform: ZX Spectrum
There have been some amazing Batman games over the years! A few of my personal favourites are Batman Returns on the SNES, Batman on the Megadrive, and of course one of the best games ever made Batman: Arkham Asylum.
I loved everything to do with Batman when I was a kid, from the camp Adam West TV show to the fantastic comics. As you can imagine, my excitement levels went through the roof when I saw the box art for the first ever Batman game in my local computer game shop. It depicts a great image of the Caped Crusader looking mean and moody ready to fight crime. Let’s just say the box art Batman and the character you play in the game couldn’t be more different.
Apart from the famous cowl and cape, Batman looks nothing like the lean Dark Knight from the cover of the box, in fact he actually looks a little bit portly as he shuffles around with a slight paunch. That’s not to say he is without charm, because if you leave the joystick alone for a few seconds Batman becomes impatient and starts tapping his foot.
Batman from 1986 is quite possibly one of the strangest games I’ve ever played; I thought it was weird then and I definitely think it’s weird now! The first indication that things are a bit strange are the sound options. They are described as nasty, useful and late at night. Maybe there is some kind of sexual undertone which I’m missing but they are certainly a bit cryptic.
The game itself is an isometric platformer which seems more similar in tone to the Adam West Batman rather than the more modern versions. The story is that Robin has been kidnapped and you must assemble parts of the Batcraft to stop The Joker and The Riddler. Before you can do that you need to find your equipment as Batman is almost useless at the start of the game. You need to find a Bat Bag to store items, Bat Boots that enable Batman to jump, a Bat Belt which slows down Batman’s descent and a Bat Thruster which gives him control when falling.
The game is almost silent apart from when you move and then the spectrum emits a clicking sound as if to resemble Batman’s footsteps. You’d think that this would grate on you but it’s strangely hypnotic. What isn’t hypnotic is the jarring death tune which is enough to drive you mad and trust me, you will die a lot! I thought having 8 lives was being generous but they won’t last you long at all.
Part of the problem is that batman moves around so slowly and pretty much everything else is quicker than he is. The enemies are completely bonkers with giant mouths trying to eat you, pig face dogs chasing you, spikes and spinning yo-yo’s randomly bouncing around and Wolfmen walking about. Come to think of it they could have written this into the story by saying Batman was suffering hallucinations from The Scarecrows fear toxin.
Some of the rooms are also complete and utter bastards as you can find yourself entering a room with a moving platform which sends you to an instant death, so success in the game means memorising the route you need to take.
Power-ups give you a temporary speed boost and invulnerability and whilst it’s nice to feel protected for 99 seconds it’s almost pointless if you fall onto a load of spikes, as this means you are just waiting for your inevitable death.
When the game is over it tells you how many parts of the Bat Craft you assembled, how many rooms you explored and how many times you died. In my first play through I explored 9 rooms and had a score of 928. Quite how I managed to get this score I’ll never know.
Although it is insanely difficult I’m really pleased that I went back and played Batman because it’s actually still very playable and has a lot of charm. It also reminds me a lot of rogue-like games which are so popular nowadays. Rogue-likes are all about learning the game, dying, learning a bit more and getting farther than you did before, rinse and repeat. With each play-through of Batman I improved a little bit and on my second attempt I explored 18 rooms.
You could even say that this game reminds me a lot of Dark Souls. You will die regularly but with each death you will learn a strategy about how to play the game better next time.
If you have a spare 30 minutes it’s worth watching a play-through for Batman. It absolutely blew my mind that someone could complete it and explore 119 rooms in the process especially considering how tough the game is. Or if you fancy a real challenge see how many rooms you can explore before tearing out your hair.
Graphics – Although Batman is 30 years old the graphics still have a wonderful amount of charm and personality. 6
Sound – The music and sound effects are very basic but you have to applaud the Batman theme tune and sound options. The death music is incredibly annoying though. 4
Playability – Batman is very simple to play and extremely tough but strangely you will be compelled to keep trying to explore more rooms and get that little bit further next time. 6
Re-Playability – The controls take a bit of getting used to but I really enjoyed going back and replaying Batman. It may have aged but the charm of the game is timeless. 6
Overall – Batman will test your patience but each play-through will reward your persistence. I look at this as a very early prototype of the popular rogue-like games of today. 6