The video game industry has not been kind to our hero Batman. Despite the fact that he's one of the greatest comic book characters of all time, Batman finds himself stuck in one terrible game after another. I've played Batman Returns on the Lynx, Batman: Return of the Joker on the NES and that Sega CD Batman driving game, so I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. Unfortunately nothing could have prepared me for the disappointment that is Batman on the PC Engine. It's a game that is only loosely based on the Batman movie, and even then it's so tedious that most gamers won't even get past the first area.
Instead of making it a 3D action game or a 2D platformer, SunSoft decided to make the PC Engine Batman an overhead Bomberman-style action game that was more about running through a maze than cleaning up the streets of Gotham city. There are times in this game where the Batman character doesn't even make sense, if anything this game looks like it was developed for a rat-shaped character that would run through these elaborate mazes trying to find the cheese. Unfortunately every single level is like this, so be prepared to turn your mind off and sit through a whole bunch of monotonous levels.
In Batman you play the Dark Knight as he runs around various mazes attempting to complete different quests. Your mission will depend entirely on what area you are in, for example you'll be restoring damaged paintings in the museum, picking up small boxes around the streets of Gotham City, and planting explosive devices in the chemical factory. The problem isn't that these missions aren't the kind of thing you would expect from this comic book character, rather it's that you're going to be doing these things over and over and over again. Each of the areas has 12 different levels, each using pretty much the same backgrounds and enemies. It's bad enough that you have to run around one maze set in a chemical factory, but just imagine how terrible you'll feel after you've spent the last half hour going through a dozen levels that look and play exactly the same.
As Batman you have a choice of either dodging the enemies or killing them. Well, actually, you never really kill the bad guys, instead you stun them with your baterang and then bump into them to make them disappear ... for about ten seconds. The biggest issue with this set up is that no matter how many times you kill a certain enemy you're going to be stuck facing them time and time again. And worse yet, all of the enemies look the same. Granted there are some enemies that act different from the rest of the bad guys, but by and large you're going to be dealing with the same villain from the first level to the last.
And don't expect to play with a lot of really cool toys, either. Although you pick up items, the only real weapon you get to use is the baterang. Like Bomberman you can pick up items that will make you faster, allow you to shoot your weapon faster, and kill everybody on the screen. It's all basic stuff, kind of like the rest of the experience.
The biggest problem with this version of Batman is that you just never feel like you're playing a superhero. The character is so small and the mazes are so crazy that this title never gives you that sense of being in a comic book. Instead you feel like a rat running through mazes while some old scientist is feverishly writing down stats in his notebook. And it's not just the boring combat and the lackluster mazes that make this game bad (though, they certainly don't help), you also have to put up with some of the worst design issues of all time. For example, in the Gotham Streets levels you have to cross the streets at the crosswalk. That's right, Batman can't jaywalk! Maybe it's because he has to do the right thing (being an extension of the law), or maybe, just maybe, it's because that would make too much sense and the game would actually be fun. Either way, every level has some troubling design decision that ruins the whole experience.
Speaking of ruining the entire experience, the music in this game is absolutely ear piercing. Seeing as this game is based on the movie by Tim Burton you might expect Danny Elfman's beautiful score (digitized to work with the PC Engine). But that's not what you get, not at all. Instead what you get are action-packed sounds that don't even come close to fitting the dark mood of Batman. Even the theme song is horrendous, it sounds like the composer took ten really good songs, played them backwards and then combined them in random ways to make the most annoying game music of all time. The music is so bad that you'll completely forget that the graphics are small and unattractive.
Batman really is one of the world's greatest comic book characters, but you would never know it based on this terrible attempt at an action game. Whoever thought that Batman would make a good Bomberman-clone deserves to have his geek credentials stripped and forced to only work on dating simulators. Batman on the PC Engine is just an awful game, from beginning to end. It may be a lot longer than most games of the era, but that doesn't mean it's a better value. This may just be the worst Batman game of all time, a tough feat considering all of the really terrible Dark Knight titles that have hit the market.