Most movie games are abject trash, it’s true, especially from the 16-bit era. But Batman Returns is rather special in this regard.
In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.
For the longest time, if you saw a movie poster — or that movie’s star — on the front of a game box, you pretty much knew it was going to be awful.
Home Alone? Check
Blues Brothers? Check
Cutthroat Island? Check
Last Action Hero? Check
Wayne’s World? Check
Lethal Weapon? Check
You get the idea. Some of these games were absolutely shovelware, farmed out to developers for minimal cost and ground out to meet the release date of that year’s particular Hollywood epic.
I mean, there’s a reason why GoldenEye is held up as the one example that proves the rule, because there Nintendo gave the devs plenty of time to actually fine-tune the game, releasing years after the movie had been through cinemas and home video.
I’m pretty sure in that pre-streaming age, it had even done a run on free-to-air TV before I ever dropped a copy into my N64! But I digress.
GoldenEye it’s not the only movie tie-in that actually led to a good game. There were some gems out there, if you only knew where to look.
Konami’s Batman Returns is one such game, blending the style of a traditional side-scrolling beat-em-up with Tim Burton’s rather abstract take on Batman, The Penguin and Catwoman into a very satisfying game.
Sure, the idea of “take a genre and slap a movie licence on it” is hardly original — it’s why there were so many bland-if-you-were-lucky movie platform games back in the day — but if you take a genre and apply the source material with a bit of care and panache, you can end up with a game that’s genuinely fun to play.
Konami could have opted to go for a simple “Batman punches all the villains until there aren’t any left” style game, but instead gave Michael Keaton’s take on Bruce Wayne a nicely varied arsenal of moves, all set against backdrops that — while limited by what the SNES could actually manage — mostly faithfully recreated the sets of the 1992 movie it’s based on.
It also doesn’t hurt that the game uses large, well animated sprites for everything. Admittedly, this does bring with it the limitation that it’s a single-player affair only.
However, who would Batman have teamed up with? Burton was notably against the idea of bringing Robin into his early Batman cinematic universe, Catwoman’s basically an antagonist, and the Jim Gordon of those movies… well, he didn’t exactly cut an imposing figure, let’s put it that way.
It is subject to the limitations of the genre too. It’s fun pummelling clowns, but you’re going to beat up a LOT of them before you get to the end of level bosses. The switches between flat plane 2D, 3D isometric and driving sections are fairly well paced, but some sections can be frustrating, and it’s not a super-long game, either.
My own copy of the game came (once again) from a Japanese game store; from memory it was a very-short-lived retro section of one of the anime figure stores in the Akiba Centre in Akihabara, selling most games for 500 yen or less. That’s a bit of a bargain in my view.
How to play Batman Returns SNES now
Batman Returns is one of those games that will never see the official light of day on, say, the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Like so many movie games, the rights end up being sewn up so tight that unless Warner Brothers decided to launch its own console service — and presumably pay Konami for the rights to a semi-obscure 30 year old console game — it’s just not going to happen.
Spoiler: WB isn’t going to do that.
Which means if you want to play it legitimately, you’re looking at picking up an actual cart copy.
While plenty of shovelware SNES games are pretty cheap, Batman Returns sits a little higher — maybe it’s the licence, maybe it’s because it’s actually pretty good — with loose copies selling on eBay for around $30-$40 AUD.
Want a boxed copy? That’ll run you closer to $150 or so.
Want a sealed and graded copy? I hate you for turning perfectly good games into statues… and honestly, I couldn’t find any for sale. They’re unlikely to be cheap though.