Batman Returns For The SEGA Mega-CD: The Kotaku Australia Review

Batman Returns For The SEGA Mega-CD: The Kotaku Australia Review
Contributor: Jam Walker

With just a couple of weeks to go until Michael Keaton makes his long-awaited ‘return’ to Batman’s hallowed cowl in the upcoming film The Flash, it’s fair to say he’s been on our collective minds more than usual of late. We here at Kotaku Australia thought it would be a good time to revisit Mr. Mom’s last rubber-suited outing in anticipation of this momentous event, and by that, I mean that David was gracious enough to accept this unhinged review pitch from me without expressing any questions or concerns.

Editor’s note: I support Jam’s right to produce retro reviews in the style of the long-defunct British games magazines we both read as children. — David.

the flash
Screenshot: Sega, Jam Walker, Kotaku Australia

The Bat, the Cat, and the Penguin (but obviously not The Flash) are all here in this action-packed blockbuster from Malibu Interactive on both SEGA Mega Drive and SEGA Mega-CD.

Being the Batman, of course, means fighting like the Batman. Players can throw punches at the touch of a button as expected, but can also punch while jumping and while crouching for those situations where crime is just that little bit harder to reach. Batman can take a fair few hits before he goes down – he’s Batman! – but as the adventure progresses, so too do his enemies, and even from the very beginning, Gotham’s scum hit hard.

Fortunately, Batman Returns sees our caped crusader come equipped with an impressively stocked utility belt which can be accessed by hitting pause. You can get the edge on the Penguin and Max Shreck’s forces by throwing batarangs in a straight line, throwing super batarangs which do more damage, tossing smoke bombs that freeze enemies for a few seconds, and even summoning bats to swarm your foes. It’s an impressive arsenal, to be sure, but these all have a finite use and must be replenished by meticulously searching each level. Ammunition for each will not replenished upon player death either, so using your gear wisely, as Batman would, is of the utmost importance.

Make no mistake, Batman Returns is just as much a platformer as it is a brawler. Even with the aid of Batman’s signature grappling hook, navigating through the environments is a challenge. Close attention needs to be paid to every step and swing you take, as traps and enemies are concealed everywhere and can easily deplete health points you’ll vitally need for each level’s end boss fight. Batman can’t attack while grapple-swinging unless he’s got a good deal of momentum behind him, and if he is attacked while hanging, he’ll instantly fall, making things all the more difficult.

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Screenshot: Sega, Jam Walker, Kotaku Australia

Where the game contained within one of SEGA’s sleek, black cartridges is but a humble action-platformer, the Mega-CD version puts you in control of the Batmobile in three action-packed, multi-stage tears through the city and its surrounds. Of course, with this being Gotham and all, the streets are riddled with criminals in vehicles of their own who will relentlessly attack you until you blast them to pieces with all the Batmobile’s flash guns and missiles. These levels are quite cool but also fiendishly difficult, made greatly more so by both the lumbering way that the Batmobile steers and the aggressive time limit under which you must kill all the enemies. As with Batman’s personal equipment, missiles don’t replenish on death here either, which can end up making repeated attempts even more challenging. A variation on these stages toward the end of the game has you driving the Batboat, too, navigating the trap-laden sewers that lead to the Penguin’s lair.

The Mega-CD version of the game also massively leverages the power of CD-ROM technology with greatly enhanced music and sound effects, as well as a lovely new cinematic depicting Batman behind the wheel of his iconic ride. The soundtrack, composed by Spencer Nilsen, is full of fittingly moody gothic-industrial bangers, and I love that the tunes keep playing at full volume even while the game is paused so that you can enjoy them in their own right.

Accessibility features can be reached from the options menu when first starting the game, and very thankfully, allow the player to both lower the game’s difficulty and increase the number of lives Batman has all the way up to seven. Nine would have been nice, but hey, that’s why Catwoman is here! The options screen itself is portrayed as a piece of Batman’s tech with his hand moving up and down and tapping buttons as you go, which is a cute and immersive extra touch.

I mentioned earlier that the game is fiendishly difficult, but ‘utterly bastard hard’ would be a more accurate description. Even with difficulty lowered, lives increased, and almost thirty literal years to practice, I still couldn’t get past the third stage of the first platforming act before my deadline came due. Those who weigh a game’s worth by how many hours it takes to complete will get enormous value for money here; they just also might find it prudent to get the number of a good anger management specialist first. Those who just wish for more Michael Keaton Batman can get tickets to The Flash when it opens in Australian cinemas on June 15th. It will probably be a more enjoyable experience than this game.

Batman Returns is available on SEGA Mega-CD and SEGA Mega-Drive and has been for around thirty years or so. Games bearing the same name but made by different studios are available on SEGA Master System, SEGA Game Gear, Nintendo Entertainment System, Amiga, and MS-DOS. I haven’t played those, but I do still own the Tiger handheld version, which is pretty alright, all things considered.

This review is based on the Mega-CD version using a copy that my mum bought me from Big W around 1994.

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Image: Jam Walker, Kotaku Australia

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