Batman is probably one of the most recognisable superheroes of the modern day, and also one of the most represented in terms of the number of movies, TV shows, and games that exist to portray him. It isn't that surprising therefore that Batman Returns - a 1993 video game created for a variety of platforms and sharing the same name as the hugely successful movie - was made to once again bring Gotham City and its saviour to the screens of everyone that owned a Sega games console at the time.
This review looks at the 8-bit Master System version (played using the Freeze SMS emulator), which was produced independently of the 16-bit versions and therefore exhibits slightly different structure than its Megadrive/Genesis counterparts.
This game is a side-scrolling platformer that also possesses a number of features of the beat-em-up genre, as well as possessing some unique mechanics in order to make the game stand out from other platformers. The game involves taking control of Batman, guiding him through each of the game's five levels, combating various enemies along the way as well as traversing the game's many platform puzzles. Many of these require some well-timed jumping as well as the use of Batman's trusty Bat-rope, which is essentially follows the usual grappling hook mechanics.
Where the game deviates slightly from straightforward platform games is in the structure of the game's first four levels. At the outset of these levels you are able to choose between two paths, one easier and one considerably more difficult, essentially allowing you to choose your own difficulty for each of these stages. The difficult path for each of the levels usually involves more enemy encounters as well as having to rely a lot more on utilising the Bat-rope in a number platforming situations, many of which lack a floor below meaning that it is much easier to fall to your death.
This game is also based on the Batman Returns movie that was released in 1992. Though a long way from the quality of modern-day titles like games based on The Dark Knight Movie, Batman Returns for the Master System does attempt to follow its namesake in its progression.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Batman Returns' mechanics are quite straightforward and typical of the platform game genre, with a few twists that make this game distinctively 'Batman' in nature. Playing this through the Freeze SMS emulator, you'll be able to choose your own keyboard assignments by clicking on specific buttons on the controller diagrams (these can be found in the Config) section of the emulator's main screen.
Directional arrows correspond perfectly with the joystick of the Master System controls while it is up to you to set the assignment of Batman's other functions which include: throwing his Batarang weapons (the 1 button), jumping (the 2 button), deploying the Bat-rope (pressing 2 quickly after jumping), and also gliding (press and hold 2 in mid-air). When learnt and applied appropriately, these mechanics allow you to navigate all of the game's platform-based challenges as well as deal with all of the enemies you'll encounter along the way. You'll also be able to grab some bonuses using the Bat-rope, with prizes like additional lives and improved rate of fire for your Batarangs.
Graphics and Sound
For the time, the graphics of the game should be considered above average. Its portrayal of Gotham City's dark streets is commendable, though the lack of cut-scenes really makes it difficult for the game to create a sense of continuity with the Batman Returns film. Basically, if you're expecting anything like the quality of Arkham Knight, you're in the wrong decade entirely. You can't really knock the sound either aside from its repetitive nature, though this criticism can be applied to all games from this era of gaming if you were being picky.
There are many things that make Batman Returns a game that sits above average when compared to other Master System games at the time. You've got the beat-em-up/platform mechanics which work together very well, as well as the Bat-rope which adds another dimension to the platform action. The ability to choose your own path (read: difficulty) at the beginning of most of the game's five levels also makes for a unique twist. It's a bit of a shame that the game is so short however: its five levels equate to about 40 minutes of playing time which is a little short even for Master System games. Still, there are many Batman video games out there that can pick up the slack left by this Master System iteration.
Batman Returns is still a classic Master System game that blows similar movie-based titles out of the water (the disappointing Rocky, for instance).