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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Batman the Movie (Ocean, 1989)


Commodore 64 version: Coded by Zach Townsend; Graphics by Andrew Sleigh; Music by Matthew Cannon

Commodore Amiga & Atari ST versions: Coded by Mike Lamb, Jon O'Brien and Alan Short; Graphics by Dawn Drake, Bill Harbison and John Palmer; Music by Jonathan Dunn and Matthew Cannon

Amstrad CPC/GX4000, MSX & ZX Spectrum versions: Coded by Mike Lamb; Graphics by Dawn Drake; Music by Matthew Cannon

IBM-PC compatibles conversion by Astros, based on the Amiga & ST versions.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


We're veering off a bit from the horror genre here, but in the great non-Finnish tradition of Halloween, people running around wearing masks is apparently a big part of the whole thing, whether or not it actually includes any death or other horrendous things. So, for the final October entry, I have prepared a properly big one, although it has actually taken me a year or so to write. So, grab your coffee and read on.

DC Comics have been publishing Batman comics since May 1939 (Holy Festive Whatchamacallit, Batman is 75 years old!), but ever since Batman became a TV-icon in the late 1960's, it has remained in our cultural wallpaper, as much as any of you non-comic book enthusiasts would like to deny the influence. As the latest notable feat in the history of Batman, Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight movie trilogy has reached its finale a couple of years ago, and left some of us slightly unsated. Sure, I understand the need to view things in different light, but for me at least, the only proper way to view the character is to have a slight sense of tongue-in-cheek, if not exactly comical. The upcoming Batman v Superman movie doesn't really have a very promising start in development, but who knows. In my not all that humble opinion, the best Batman interpretation has always been, and most likely always will be the first Batman movie by Tim Burton from 1989. And despise me if you will, but to me, Joker equals Jack Nicholson.

Before this new interest in making Batman movies appeared, Ocean had already released two other Batman games. The first one was an isometric adventure, simply titled Batman, made by Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond of Match Day and Head Over Heels fame, and released in 1986 for the ZX Spectrum, MSX and Amstrad CPC. The second one, The Caped Crusader, was developed by Special FX and released in 1988 for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, C64, DOS and Spectrum. This was a unique brawler/adventure that was made to look like a comic book, and had two different, separately loaded adventures. A third one was supposedly made by Simon Butler - another one of his graphic text adventures in the vein of his takes on the Neverending Story and Hunchback The Adventure, I would imagine, but it was never released. Now that there was something happening in the film industry to really boost up Batman's rebirth, Ocean decided to have yet another go at it, and base the new game on the movie. The previous attempts did not exactly please the percentage of gamers, who expected a Batman game to be more action-based, so this was to be their tour de force. And boy, did they ever succeed.

Zzap!64 gave Batman: The Movie a superb 96% in their review of the C64 version, C+VG gave both the Spectrum and C64 versions 92%, Crash magazine gave the Spectrum version 93%, Your Sinclair gave it 91%, CU Amiga-64 gave the Amiga version 88%, Amiga Format gave it 90%... of course, there were contrasting opinions as well, but compared to how the game is appreciated today, it's not too far off. While starting to write this entry, the World of Spectrum users have given their version a very nice 8.17 with 164 votes; the Lemon64'ers have given the C64 version a 7.7 with 137 votes; at Generation-MSX, the game has four stars with 16 votes; and at LemonAmiga, it has a score of 7.58 with 168 votes. Even CPC Game Reviews have given the Amstrad version a nicely above average 7 out of 10. The only version that doesn't have all that good of a rating is the Atari ST version, only having a 6.1 with 41 votes at Atarimania. For the PC version, I couldn't find much of any ratings, but at Home of the Underdogs, the game has a Top Dog mark, so it's something at least. Perhaps the game hasn't aged all that well, and perhaps there is some truth to some of the negativity - let's see what's what, then.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


Batman the Movie is one of those mid-life games from Ocean, when their movie tie-ins were actually becoming rather good. The movie follows Bruce Wayne's battle against his early childhood nightmare, Jack Napier, who killed his parents one night in a dark alleyway after coming from a movie theater. As the movie gets fully in motion, Jack Napier is thrown into an acid pool by Bruce Wayne, already well into his Batman alter ego. Some time later, Napier reappears among his criminal colleagues with a misformed face, now to be known as the Joker. So, the Joker starts to wreak havoc with chemicals and get lots of people killed with a smile on their face, and Batman is forced to deal with this character properly this time. After saving Vicki Vale, Bruce Wayne's love interest from Joker's hands, Batman drives to the Batcave and finds out about the deadly chemical combinations. Then, Batman saves Gotham City from the Joker's big poison gas attack, disguised as a funny nighttime parade, before heading for the final confrontation at the cathedral.

What is so remarkable about Ocean's game, is that it follows the movie rather well, which is possibly the second Ocean movie tie-in to do so, the first one being Platoon, as far as I can remember. It also plays in four different genres throughout the game: two platformer stages in Bionic Commando style, one logic puzzle, one racing stage and one flight-based avoid'em-up (or collect'em-up, if you prefer). This multi-genre formula was fast becoming the preferred formula for Ocean at the time, and although it did not perhaps ever get fully polished, it was a welcome change to the single-genre world of gaming back then. It's also one of the few games I still very much enjoy playing through, at least on the C64, because it was the machine I had it first on. Now, I have finally decided that I really need to go through all the other versions as well - at least as far as I am able to, because some of these are so different that I have no idea whether I will ever be able to finish them, but now is as good a time as any to find out about that.

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LOADING


I will have to effectively skip this part, because the game is a multi-loader in most of the cases. If you want to enjoy the game, you had better be prepared to spend some time waiting for the game to load. Unless you want to take the easy way out and use emulation, your best choice would be any of the cartridge versions available, but the disk versions aren't too bad either. I have a soft spot towards the C64 tape version due to its brilliant loading screen and the legendary Ocean Loader 4 tune by Jonathan Dunn, but occasionally, you just want to play the game and skip the loading bits. But, here are the loading screens in any case.


Loading screens. Top row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Amstrad GX4000, Commodore 64.


What is notable here is that all the loading screens are directly related to what kind of a version the game itself is going to be. The original C64 loading screen is completely unique, and the three other 8-bit loaders have a traditional title logo and the main character somehow situated on the screen in a simple way. Although GX4000, ATARI ST and AMIGA share a similar loading screen, the Amiga version is a full-screen version of it, while the ST version retains clear black borders, thus showing less of Batman himself, and as you see, the GX4000 version is an 8-bit version of it with less background. The reason why I love the C64's original loading screen the most is, naturally, the appearance of Nicholson's Joker face, but it also gives some sort of environmental setting to the game, instead of just a black background, or perhaps even worse, a Batman-logo infested flooring. But of course, it's a matter of taste.

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PLAYABILITY


Judging by the teams behind all the different versions, one might easily suppose that there would be three distinctly different versions of the game around. So, I will start my playtesting from the one I'm the most familiar with, and move on through all the 8-bits to the 16-bits. Due to the sequential nature of this game, I am forced to write the whole thing in sequences - version by version. At least as far as necessary, and as completely as I am able to.


**LEVEL 1: THE AXIS CHEMICAL PLANT**

All of the games start similarly enough: with a side-scrolling Bionic Commando-like stage, which takes place at the Axis Chemical Plant, where Bruce Wayne as Batman takes his revenge on his parents' death by dropping Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals. The gameplay, however similar in style, is quite different from Bionic Commando in a number of ways. First of all, the rope handles with better response than the bionic arm, but you need to be careful about how high you are from the platform below you when you drop, and about getting swung into a wall, because you will die in either case. Secondly, the game screen scrolls in a very constant speed, which can often be slower than yourself, once you get used to moving around with the rope. Third, the map is fairly easy to navigate through, and a child's play once you get to know it, but still takes a good amount of time, and quite a bit of practice to make it through without losing a single life, while in Bionic Commando, you'd be lucky to make past the first stage without a game over. But this is where we stop comparing Batman to Bionic Commando, and start comparing the different versions of Batman, since enemy behaviour is where the biggest differences in gameplay start to show.

C64:
Mostly, the enemies walk in from outside the screen, but the game has some bugs that because of certain events, some of the enemies don't always spawn. Napier's minions' actions are a bit randomized in that they don't shoot very often, but when they do, they might shoot a couple of bullets before you are able to react. In the original, the enemies never climb ladders/stairs up and down, but instead run their occupied platforms back and forth like the idiots they are supposed to be. There's also an annoying bug regarding the grenades that some of the enemies throw around - they bounce off the ceilings and walls pretty randomly, and you can hardly ever dodge them as you should be able to. If you need to find something good about this, then you can consider it a balancer for the otherwise too easy difficulty for this level.

SPE / MSX / CPC / GX4000:
All enemies walk around, even the grenadiers, and they also climb stairs. Those that use guns, shoot more bullets in a row than on the C64, and are able to shoot diagonally. The map layout is otherwise similar, but some of the platforms (very few of them) are differently placed and are of slightly different lengths. In other words, the more advanced behaviour of the enemies make the level much more difficult, but the level layout balances it out a bit, since it's less possible for you to drop from too high to your death. The two AMSTRAD and MSX versions play a bit slower than the SPECTRUM version, but are otherwise similar in playability.

DOS / AMIGA / ST:
Sort of similar to the above, but with slightly more enemies, and they seem to shoot more. Batman himself walks around with a good pace, but his actions are a bit too sluggish for Batman, considering he is supposed to be quick in his actions, and fairly unbeatable even with a big bunch of evil henchmen fighting him. When compared to all the enemies' abilities, Batman seems to be a bit untrained. It's difficult, but playable enough.


**LEVEL 2: BATMOBILE CHASE**

After Batman has met the Joker for the first time at the gallery, things get a bit heated and Batman escapes with Vicki Vale and drives her to safety - to the Batcave. This is basically the premise of level 2: follow the blinking arrows through the streets of Gotham on the Batmobile and find the entrance to Batcave within a limited amount of time. In the movie, you don't even see any sort of car action sequence related to this, even though the bit where Batman takes Vicki Vale to the Batcave lasts for almost 2 minutes. In other words, this sequence is made this way basically just to give the Batmobile some proper advertising space.

On the 8-bits, this level is not much more than a side-scrolling avoid'em-up with cars, but you need to push the button every now and then in order to get through the passages you are instructed to. If you go too far from the correct intersections, you are greeted by a roadblock of police cars. On the 16-bits, this level takes a behind-view of the car, and is played something like Outrun, but otherwise has basically the same idea.

C64:
You come into the level already in a good hurry, and the Batmobile reacts to your commands as quickly as it is supposed to. Zooming around through the Gotham traffic is fairly easy, having enough space between other cars, even if there are a fair amount of them getting in your way. Here, the level timer starts going down from 2:20, so it's a comfortably short level, and gives a fair challenge.

CPC / GX4000:
The level starts off from near 0 mph, and you are required to accelerate for a few seconds before reaching the top speed. Unfortunately, the level doesn't improve later on, as the Batmobile reacts to your commands aggravatingly slow, and often makes a U-turn when it should make a regular turn. Besides, here you need to actually steer and drive through the intersections by yourself, instead of letting the game handle the hard bits, and this adds quite a bit to the difficulty, which can be fine if you're a masochist. Since the traffic is insanely heavy, it's nearly impossible for you to make any corrections to your mistakes, since 99% of the time, you will be faced with a wall of cars. Here, the level timer starts going down from 4:00, so it's quite a lot longer than the original, and it feels even longer because it plays somewhat slower.

SPECTRUM:
Thankfully, it's quicker than the AMSTRAD version, but neither the controllability nor the traffic is any easier. Although there is a tiny bit less of Sunday drivers blocking your way, due to the sprite sizes, it still is much more difficult to navigate through Gotham's streets than on the C64. The 5-minute time limit doesn't help, much, even if it does give you a fair chance at slowing down in places, because due to the heavy traffic, you are more likely to take damage.

MSX:
It's as slow as the AMSTRAD version, but the time limit is the same as on the SPECTRUM. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same as all three.

AMIGA / ST:
So, this is where the 16-bit game starts properly differing from the 8-bits. In this version of level 2, you will drive your Batmobile from a 3D'ish 3rd person perspective through the busy multi-lane streets of Gotham City. The timer starts at 4 minutes, and you have a hundred units of distance to cover within that time. It's a properly fast and furious event, with jumps, tough curves and hardly noticable intersections. At least, you are given a half-way point, at which your timer is set to 2:30, if and when you need to retry. Unfortunately, your Batmobile is a bit difficult to control, but I suppose the reason for that could be the speeds you need to be driving at. It's not nearly as bad as the DOS version, though...

DOS:
I wonder, when did the DOS conversion team for this game realize they took on a job too great for their skills. Sure, it essentially follows the Amiga/ST version, minus the jumps, but a hardly playable conversion of an already difficult reimagining of a traffic endangering simulator doesn't really fill the requirements for me to make an entertaining game. Hell, even Turbo Esprit is more playable on any computer it was released for. I'll give you a few examples of the ridiculousness of this conversion: your car is actually wider than it looks like, all the traffic cars look like drunk drivers as they switch lanes without a notice, and like on the Amstrad versions, your Batmobile doesn't really perform anywhere near the speed it should. It's slow in responding, slow in accelerating - slow at everything basically, and it even struggles at steering against the curve. I don't think I have EVER played a driving game as bad as this. Bumping into other cars takes away quite a lot of your energy, and often bounces you off into some other cars or walls, so you need to be constantly adjusting your speed to keep a safe distance from the traffic. And that wastes time. It's a wonder I ever managed to beat this stage in this version.


**LEVEL 3: CHEMICAL ANALYSIS IN THE BATCAVE**

After taking Vicki to the Batcave, Bruce-in-a-costume explains Vicki about Smylex. Of course, you can't see the thought process of getting the formulas correct in the movie, so you are given the job of making the connections yourself in the game.

This is the snack in the middle, an eased-up clone of Mastermind. The playability doesn't really differ all that much in any version, except that in the 8-bit versions, you get a line of products to combine, and in the 16-bit versions, the products are divided to the left and right sides of the screen, while the "testing platform" is placed in the middle. Also, the 16-bit versions have less attempts at finding the correct combination. The only other thing I could think of that might cause some playability differences is the way each player thinks, related to how the objects are located. Moving on.


**LEVEL 4: THE CARNIVAL**

Joker has decided to give the good people of Gotham a carnival as an act of his "good will", and to compete against Batman for the city's popularity, if that makes any sense. Of course it doesn't, since the carnival consists of a bunch of great big balloons, filled with Smilex gas, which could effectively kill the entire population of Gotham. So, of course, Batman rescues the city with cutting off the balloons with the Batwing, and the whole sequence takes about 3 minutes of the movie, so it actually has some more purpose there than the Batmobile.

The Batwing section is similarly handled between the 8-bits and 16-bits as the Batmobile section: 8-bits have a side-scroller and 16-bits have a behind-view 3D racer. Only this time, the 16-bits get a speed-o-meter to go with the time limit, and since it's more of a 3D version of the level, you also get to change your altitude.

Much like in the Batmobile level, the differences are quite notable between the C64 and the other 8-bits, as well as between the DOS version and the other two 16-bits. It's so much easier to guide the Batwing through the carnival and snip off the balloons without taking damage on the C64 than it is on the other 8-bits, and it doesn't help that the other 8-bit versions feature helicopters that follow your movements between balloon sections, as well as more balloon trucks passing simultaneously on different speeds, making it virtually impossible for you to ever get through the stage without taking too much damage. With that in mind, it does take 20 seconds extra to get through than the original. The SPECTRUM version is even a bit faster than the original, and is more difficult to follow due to the size of all the graphics and their cramped appearance. The same problem naturally occurs on the MSX and the two AMSTRADS. You also have less time to react to all the stuff coming at you, particularly because there is more stuff, and so it's more consuming to play. You could consider it as normal mode vs. hardcore mode, when comparing the C64 original to the other 8-bit versions.

And as you might have suspected, the DOS version of the level is almost as bad as the Batmobile level - not quite as bad, but certainly worse than the original AMIGA and ST versions. It's very difficult to follow the balloon patterns on the DOS version due to the badly converted 3D engine, rendering it almost as unplayable as the Batmobile section. You get less reaction time for the appearing balloons, and they are similarly unclear for their actual placing on the four lanes as the cars in level 2. Also, using a joystick in this level is very much recommended, since you need to adjust your velocity as well as altitude, and having a keyboard setup of QAOP+Space doesn't necessarily help a lot.


**LEVEL 5: THE CATHEDRAL**

And we're back to the Bionic Commando-like gameplay for the final level, which now takes place in the Gotham City Cathedral. The only thing that has changed, apart from the very slight changes in level design, is the way you kill Jack Napier, but even now, you only have one of two choices. All the platform-related differences can be drawn straight from the Level 1 comparison bit. The sequence in the movie takes up about 12 minutes, so in that sense, the impressive length of the level is justified, but I have to admit, it wears on you after a while, particularly as some of the versions have no checkpoints midway through the level. Then again, I'd say that if you happen to be playing any other version than the original C64 game, you should consider yourself lucky to make it that far, and missing a checkpoint should point out to be a very small inconvenience.


**OVERALL**

For starters, I can safely say that the DOS version is easily the most unplayable one of the lot, due to the badly converted 3D sections, and for that alone, I can heartily recommend you to keep yourself a safe distance away from it. The other two 16-bit versions were not nearly as bad as I first thought they would be, but are certainly a departure from the original. Although the 8-bit versions have significantly different levels 2 to 4, it would be a bit silly not to put them on the same list, since the idea is basically the same in every version.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ATARI ST / COMMODORE AMIGA
3. ZX SPECTRUM
4. AMSTRAD CPC / GX4000 / MSX
5. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES

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GRAPHICS


Comparing graphics from two radically different versions of basically the same game is a dirty business, and I have to admit, has no point in the slightest. Of the little that actually is comparable between the 8-bit and the 16-bits, it's a no-brainer that the 16-bit versions look so much better than the 8-bits. But let's begin this section from where it should start: the title screens.


Title screens. Top left: Commodore 64. Bottom left: DOS. Bottom right: Commodore Amiga / Atari ST.
Top right corner: Amstrad CPC - top left, Amstrad GX4000 - top right, ZX Spectrum - bottom left, MSX - bottom right.


This is probably the smallest space I have so far managed to compile 7 different versions' title/menu screens, even if the DOS version has two menu screens. The reason for this, of course, is the other 8-bit versions' menu screens, which offer no actual graphics apart from the logo - which, I grant you, is stylish enough, particularly on the two AMSTRADS. Even as simplistic as they are, I think they manage to be more attractive than the DOS menu screens, which offer no real Batman-style graphics. I'm not entirely sure which one is my favourite - the C64 title screen or the proper 16-bit screen. I think the C64 version has more style with its subtle animation (which, of course, you can't see here), but it's always nice to see a full image of Nicholson's Joker.

Before I start commenting on the level graphics, I would like to say something regarding the GX4000, which is a machine that has intrigued me for quite some time now, because of it being such a rare thing. Although I have come to understand through various sources, that Amstrad's GX4000 console has better graphical capabilities than, say, the old CPC 464, I can't honestly really see much of difference between the two here. The only thing worth mentioning is the slightly different palette, and judging solely by this game's graphics, I couldn't say if it truly offered anything worthwhile to the old computer. Being the first game on this blog to have a version on the GX4000, I am not very impressed yet, so I hope some other game will prove to be more worth mentioning.

Level 1 bits. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad GX4000, Atari ST.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, MSX, DOS VGA, Commodore Amiga.


As we start the game, Batman finds his entrance to Axis Chemical Plant, which, in the movie, is a dark and steamy place with vats of toxic waste, pipes, staircases and lots of large rooms. Jack Napier has a few of his goons following him around, and a good bunch of policemen are trying to get to them, unknowing that the Caped Crusader is there on his own volition. I am happy to say, that the level design is rather well done, and true enough to the movie set, considering everything. What I am unsure about is the colours used in each version, since you couldn't see much of colour in the movie at that point. Blue is a very Tim Burtonesque colour, at least in his early phase, so I'm happy that all the versions have quite a bit of blue in them.

Unfortunately, the rest of it is not nearly as simple as that. The C64 version is the only one of the 8-bits that share a similarly wide action screen with the 16-bit versions, which is great for giving you more reaction time for everything. The Batman sprite itself is multicoloured hi-res on the C64, which makes it amazingly detailed and colourful compared to the other 8-bits. The enemy sprites, however, could be considered quite dull compared to all the other versions. Strangely, the AMSTRAD versions have the most colour of all the 8-bits, perhaps even too much - but it's better than an overly bright monochrome on the SPECTRUM and MSX. Speaking of those two, one thing that keeps bugging me for some reason is the Batman logo there. When it's a round one, it looks more like those old 1960's Batman logos, which it definitely is not supposed to be here, if you try to be true to the movie. Elliptic is the way to go here. But even then, the AMSTRAD logos look horrid.

Conserning the 16-bits here, it's a bit surprising how many differences can be found in these screenshots already. Usually, the AMIGA and ST share the same graphics in any game, but here, you can see some slight design differences - such as the different looking toxic waste vats and the colour of Batrope - as well as differences in screen properties. It is quite an unusual occurence, but a welcome change to the form. Also, we have one of those occasions that show us, that VGA graphics on DOS aren't necessarily any better than what can be found on the Amiga and ST, if the conversion is a lazy one. This one certainly feels lazy, and I'm sorry to say the proof of it has only started here.

Level description screens, from left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad (CPC/GX4000), MSX (and ZX Spectrum), Commodore Amiga (and Atari ST)


Since this is going the hardcore way now, let's have a quick look at the level introduction screens. On most of the 8-bits, you will be lucky to get an acknowledgement that you have moved on to another level, but the original C64 version gives a brief plot update along with the level title, plus the ever so necessary Batman logo at the bottom of the screen.

Level interlude comic book pictures from DOS VGA, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST.


The 16-bit versions additionally feature a nice colourful picture in a comic bookish fashion, usually captioned with a quote from the film. Curiously, although you can't see it here because I couldn't bother to make screenshots of them, any DOS screen configuration lower than VGA doesn't offer the comic book screens between the levels.

Screenshots from the 8-bit versions of level 2. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: Amstrad CPC.
Bottom left: MSX (left) and ZX Spectrum (right). Bottom right: Amstrad GX4000.


Here, we have a highly significant example of graphics and how far their influence to playability goes. Both the AMSTRAD versions suffer from a similar case of crampedness as can be witnessed on the SPECTRUM/MSX conversion. All the sprites are much bigger and leave little room for navigating through the traffic, which is already made difficult by having less screen width. The only thing I like on the AMSTRAD versions more than on the original is the choice of colours. Because the movie is again quite dark at this point, it is only proper that the choice of colours should be quite dark in the game as well. Even though the resolution is the lowest on both the AMSTRADS, the colouring gives the level more of an atmosphere than the monochrome SPECTRUM/MSX version. Sure, the cars and background elements look prettier in monochrome, but the occasional lack of room still makes it look too busy. The C64 version's colours are okay, but not very representative of the movie sequence. Still, when it works so well to its advantage, how could anyone really consider it anything but the best compromise of the lot?

Screenshots from the 16-bit versions of level 2.
Left: DOS VGA. Center: Atari ST. Right: Commodore Amiga.


More surprisingly clear differences can be seen in the 3D version of the Batmobile level. The only two differences I can see between the two better ones are the colour of the sky and the screen size, neither of which matter in this case very much. The leftmost screens are from the VGA DOS version, which is again surprisingly low quality compared to the other two 16-bits, particularly for its lack of colours compared to its companions here. I told you of the bigger problem earlier, but the horrible 3D engine truly makes the level almost entirely unplayable. You have to see it in action to believe.

Levels 1 & 2 - examples DOS graphic modes, from left to right: CGA, EGA (bad), Tandy and VGA.


As another mid-way snack, here are all the available DOS graphic modes presented. For some reason, the EGA version seemed to have some sort of a bug, that made the info display bit to disappear and fill the space gradually with dead enemies and their flickering in the empty space. It also somehow prevented me from finishing the first level, crashing after Jack Napier got dropped into the toxic waste container. From this point on, the DOS graphics will only be represented by the Tandy version's graphics, because I got too damn tired of trying to beat level 2 again. But in any case, you should have a fairly good idea of the DOS version's graphic quality at this point already.

Screenshots from level 3. Top row, left to right: C64, Amstrad CPC, GX4000, Amiga/Atari ST win screen.
Bottom row, left to right: SPE/MSX, DOS Tandy, Amiga/ST mid-level, Amiga/ST lose screen.
In the Mastermind section, there are surprisingly many notable differences. As I have grown with the C64 version, I have grown accustomed to having a clear grid here to point out how many mistakes I am allowed to make, but otherwise, it's not that much different from the other 8-bits. The 16-bits actually feature less items to combine, which I didn't notice earlier, but it's just as well, since you have far less attempts. Also, since the layout is so different, it can be a bit more confusing to follow than the straight line-up. The 16-bit versions additionally feature screens for failure and success - you can easily make the guess from the above. I didn't include the Amiga screenshot in the above picture, because apart from the slight difference in screen size, it looks exactly the same as the Atari ST screen.

Note that I have removed the MSX screenshots from here onwards, since they are too similar to the SPECTRUM screens to be worth the bother. Only having the slight differences in palette don't really add any value to the screenshot comparisons.

Screenshots from the 8-bit versions of level 4. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Amstrad GX4000. Bottom right: Amstrad CPC.


As you might have gathered from the Playability section's description, the Batwing section is very similar to the Batmobile section in style. Since the original C64 version has no helicopters to avoid, it is now represented with a single screenshot, unlike the other 8-bit versions. I would repeat the things I said about level 2 here, but it would be pointless.

Screenshots from the 16-bit versions of level 4, left to right: DOS Tandy, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga.


Compared to the Batmobile level, the differences are pretty much exactly the same here, although this time, the DOS screen is from the Tandy graphics version, due to reasons I mentioned earlier.

Screenshots from level 5, left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST.

For the final level comparison picture, I was only able to get the CPC screenshots from the two Amstrads; the Spectrum shots from the two other similar 8-bit versions, and then the Atari ST version's shots to represent the 16-bits. That's how difficult and frustrating level 4 is. But when you consider the similarities to level 1 with this one, I'm sure you can all just imagine the missing pictures in your head.

Not to belittle the level design of the Gotham City Cathedral, I think the most interesting bits on this level, graphically, are on the roof. This is where you finally get to see Joker in some moving form, and your job is to force him off the ladders leading into the helicopter floating above the screen. This is also where the C64 version shows its biggest letdown - boring flat cyan sky, impossibly straight ladders and the really cheap Joker sprite. Luckily, the rest of the level is quite nice and ornamented to look as catholic as the context allows. The C64'ers might feel some slight envy towards all the other versions for having a properly good looking finale, but at least they've got the least boring cathedral. Of course, everything looks easily the prettiest on the 16-bits, but somehow the cathedral has been made to look more like a castle by taking a notch down on the ornamentation.

Ending sequences. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: Amstrad CPC.
Bottom left: Atari St. Bottom right: ZX Spectrum.


For the first time in a long while, we have a rather nice ending in the game. It starts with the Joker falling down to the ground, finally colliding with the ground, which activates the laugh box in his coat pocket. Then, your victory is sealed with either the familiar message that Batman sent to Harvey Dent to read to the Gotham press as you see above, or a more generic "well done" message as it is on the C64. Understandably, some versions needed to cut down on the graphics and other extras due to memory constraints, but seeing the Joker fall to his death is more than enough compensation for your troubles.

Now, as I have said before on this blog, I understand that art appreciation is a difficult subject, and most people have different views on it, but since the game at hand is supposed to be an adaptation of a movie, one should like to think the graphics would somehow reflect the movie's visuals as far as possible. As much as I'm not very comfortable with either of the AMSTRADS' screen resolution and scrolling abilities, the darkness and colour added together are the best match for the movie, at least on the 8-bits. On a functional level, the C64 version easily beats the other 8-bits, and it does have its fair share of graphical qualities that the other 8-bits were unable to reach. I think the SPECTRUM version is equal to the AMSTRADS, in that it balances out in scrolling speed and screen resolution, giving more high quality monochrome graphics. The MSX version, however, takes the worst of both Spectrum and Amstrad versions, having both monochrome graphics as well as slow scrolling speed, so I can't really put it as high as the others.

But there still are all the 16-bit versions to consider. Well, the EGA DOS version will have to take the lowest spot, since it doesn't even work properly - although this might be just a distribution error. If anyone can confirm that a properly working EGA version exists, I will give it the same spot as the Tandy version. That said, the CGA graphics are really unsuitable, and during the 3D stages, completely horrible. Unfortunately, the VGA version somehow manages to fall quite far from the AMIGA and ATARI ST versions, with a really strange lack of colour and a bad port of the so-called 3D engine. (I know it's not 3D, but I can't think of anything else what to call it.) So, let's put this lot in some sort of an order...

1. ATARI ST / COMMODORE AMIGA
2. COMMODORE 64 / DOS VGA
3. DOS TGA / SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD x2
4. DOS CGA / MSX
5. DOS EGA*

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SOUNDS


Since all of the versions of the game have very little to do with the fairly famous Danny Elfman score of the movie, and just as much with the Prince soundtrack, we shall have to make do with comparing the conversions to the original game soundtrack by the slightly lesser known master of the SID, Matthew Cannon. Although I'm a big fan of Danny Elfman's work, particularly his movie scores, for once I'm actually glad that the game offers no rearrangements of any music from the movie.

Unless you wish to count the loading music on the C64 tape version (which you don't, since it's not a unique loading tune), the soundtrack starts from the title screen with a nicely thumping suspensious and mysterious tune that nicely sets the tone, just as effectively as the Elfman score. It is clear from the beginning, that Cannon's knowledge of the SID chip is vast, with all the different sound types used in a single tune. Happily, the theme tune isn't even nearly the most memorable of the tracks, since almost every one of the in-game tunes are much more interesting and can handle repeated listens quite easily.

Level 1 has a danger-conveying 6/8 tune, which has the primary mode of harmonic minor in A flat, but does venture off into other chords and moods to relieve the pressure and give more room for the action on screen. We're back to more thumping music in level 2, which has a very hard-rock inspired thing going on for it, and it fits the driving sequence very well indeed. The puzzle section has a tune very fitting for a puzzle section, of a moderate speed, but giving you a clear warning that the time is ticking away. For the Batwing section, we are back to a dark waltz-like tune, this time with a clearer 3/4 time, very much fitting into this dark carnival idea. The Cathedral tune is probably my least favourite, but only because you have to be listening to it for such a long time, and it feels more like a Matt Gray tune from Last Ninja 2 or something. It is memorable, yes, but for me, doesn't work as well in the context as it should. Added to all this, there are some small bits for between levels and Game Over and all that sort. As usual, on the C64, you get the option to choose music or sound effects, so you cannot hear everything simultaneously. While the sound effects are nice enough, and there are plenty of them, they are not nearly as entertaining or mesmerizing as the music.

I'm happy to say, the 48k SPECTRUM version is surprisingly rich in sound, even if you get no music, and most of the sound effects are very much comparable to old DOS games like Commander Keen. Unfortunately, still with a bit more memory and a quite capable sound chip, the MSX version follows this form. But remember, I'm not comparing the hardware now, but the sounds themselves.

Happier still, that both the AMSTRADS and the 128k SPECTRUM have almost complete conversions of the original soundtrack (only the theme tune is missing), and they even sound quite good on the AY. Just a bit different on both, but neither of them deserve any lower place for that. Even more happier still, all of them are even able to play sound effects on top of the music, which is very nice. To make that one little bit of difference here, both AMSTRAD versions have the option for turning the music off from the main menu, but you can't choose to ONLY hear the music, so you are stuck with sound effects either way. The SPECTRUM version doesn't offer any choice at all.

On the AMIGA, Matthew Cannon was joined by another chiptune legend, Jonathan Dunn, who was also responsible for the loader tune on the C64 version. Most likely, Dunn is responsible for at least the title theme, which is completely different from the C64 version, as well as Batmobile level and Batwing level theme tunes, all of which rock quite a bit harder than any of their counterparts on the C64. These tunes are, in their own particular way, also very fitting for the different versions of the levels they inhabit. Unfortunately, just like was the case with the converted tunes for The Great Giana Sisters, and many other games of the time, the 16-bit upgrades of C64-originated tunes don't really have the right feel to them here, being too much in the background and having less power and oomph in them, if you know what I mean. Then again, it is very much possible that the lack of power and oomph has much to do with the fact that you can hear all the sound effects simultaneously with the music, so I'm guessing some of the important channels have been left to that use. This is unfortunate, but sometimes compromises need to be made.

Apparently, Dunn was also involved in the ATARI ST version, but you can't really hear his involvement in the soundtrack. It's a very straightforward conversion of the original C64 soundtrack, so I'm guessing he only worked as a programmer for the tunes. That said, the tunes still don't have even nearly the scale of expression that Matthew Cannon was able to produce on the SID, even if the tunes have been converted otherwise perfectly well. At least the sound effects are better than on the C64, but again, this "one thing or the other" sort of thing kind of shows the ST's inferiority of the Amiga in terms of sound capabilities.

Finally, we have the DOS version, which offers a very limited sound library. It's all just VERY limited beeps and bops from the PC speaker, and sometimes the sounds disappear altogether. This makes it quite a lot worse even than the 48k SPECTRUM version. Not very attractive.

In the end, I still cannot help but feel that the C64 version of the soundtrack sounds the best. Unfortunately, you will have to make the choice of either music or sound effects. I admit to being biased towards the music, because it is so good, so having any sound effects on top of the great music is slightly blasphemous to me. However, Matthew Cannon has done a VERY good job on the 128k SPECTRUM and the two AMSTRAD conversions, even if he dropped the theme tune from the set. Whether you or I like it or not, I think I have to give them the equal top spot. Also, the ST version deserves the high spot because of even better sound effects, and although the music doesn't have the right feel, it does have all the tunes included. The AMIGA soundtrack is its own thing altogether, having three completely different tunes and sampled sound effects. How can I ever put these in any sort of order? Well...

1. C64 / CPC / GX4000 / SPE 128 / ST / AMIGA
2. SPECTRUM 48k / MSX
3. DOS

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OVERALL


This has been quite a journey, and I have to say, enjoyment was often far from being part of the deal. But even with lots of anguish and hopeless times, some happy surprises came forth and kept me going. A year of writing about one game, on and off, is just too much for me, so I'm hoping this will be the only one of the blog of that sort.

I don't think I need to say it, but the original C64 version is easily the most enjoyable one of the lot overall, because it offers the relative ease of play, good enough graphics, a fantastic soundtrack, and even a memorable unique loading screen. That's why it deserves the top spot. As for the rest of them... well, there are hits and misses in every version, but the two versions that left me the most impressed were the 128k SPECTRUM version and the ATARI ST version, even though the AMIGA version wasn't that bad either, but it has two disks instead of just one, and the soundtrack is just too different for me.

Anyway, here are the final mathematical results, even if you don't need them...

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 12
1. ATARI ST / AMIGA: Playability 4, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 12
2. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
3. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
3. AMSTRAD CPC / GX4000: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8
4. MSX: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
4. DOS VGA: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 6
5. DOS TANDY: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 5
6. DOS CGA: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4
7. DOS EGA*: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

In case I didn't mention earlier, the DOS EGA version's score is dependent on whether or not the game works well enough in the said mode. But that matters very little, since the conclusion says clearly that whatever the graphic mode, the DOS version still sucks a donkey. Also, if I wasn't clear enough earlier: even though the MSX version looks exactly the same as the SPECTRUM version from the screenshots, the scrolling speed is what makes all the difference - just like how all the colours make the atmosphere better on the AMSTRADS.

But, as I said earlier, putting the 8-bit versions to the same list with the clearly different 16-bits is an exercise in futility. Here's what I really think:
Alternative DataEast cover art from
the USA and Canada release.

8-BITS:
1. COMMODORE 64
2. ZX SPECTRUM 128k
3. AMSTRAD CPC / GX4000
4. ZX SPECTRUM 48k / MSX

16-BITS:
1. ATARI ST
2. COMMODORE AMIGA
3. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES

There, that should do it. Feel free to argue. Now, before I make my exit, I will briefly tell you about all the other Batman games based on the movie, whether they are either very much or very loosely based. As they are all so very different from the Ocean game, they couldn't be compared against it. As a matter of fact, they are all so very different from even each other, that I wouldn't have been able to compare them against themselves.

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OTHER GAMES BASED ON THE MOVIE


Most gamers are probably aware of the NES game, which was very loosely based on the movie. I, for one, had forgotten that a different Sega Megadrive/Genesis game, and another Nintendo Game Boy game based on the movie were also developed and released by Sunsoft. And until now, I was also completely unaware of a fourth Sunsoft Batman game, which was released for the TurboGrafx-16 machine. And finally, there's even an arcade game which might surprise you in some ways. So, because none of these games are comparable to the Ocean game, I will quickly write about these three as an afterthought.

Screenshots from Batman: the Video Game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.


Ranked by many websites and reviewers as one of the most difficult NES games of all time, Batman is also considered one of the best platformers ever on the console. I never really got the hype, because my focus was variety, wherever possible, so you can understand why an insanely difficult Ninja Gaiden copy didn't really float my boat. The game was made even less interesting to me, when I noticed it had so little to do with the movie - Joker is there, Batman is there, and a couple of locations are there, but the details connecting to the movie are scarce and your enemies are mutants and some sort of robotic killing machines... none of which have anything to do with the movie. On its own, it's a fine example of NES gaming, but the connection to the movie makes it nearly useless in my book.

For some more entertaining (and NES-positive) reviews, you can always check out the Angry Video Game Nerd's Batman specials at Cinemassacre (as well as their James and Mike Mondays' two Batman videos), although he misses out on the next four items for some reason.

Screenshots from Batman: the Video Game for the Nintendo Game Boy.


The GB version is definitely a step closer to being player-friendly, and it even follows the movie plot a bit closer than the NES game. Most of the time, it's still a side-scrolling action-platformer, but instead of being only equipped with your fists at the beginning like on the NES Batman, here you have an upgradeable/tradeable gun, making it feel more like Contra. Also, the Ninja Gaiden-like wall-climbing ability is gone, but to balance that out, there are more traditional shoot'em-up stages in this one, where you fly the Batwing and shoot massive amounts of enemy jets and whatnot. I haven't gotten far enough in the game to know what else lies beyond the Batwing section, so it might give some surprises yet.

Screenshots from Batman: the Video Game for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive.


Strangely enough, on the Megadrive/Genesis we have a side-scrolling platformer on our hands (for most of the time), which is also almost like a brawler in a Bad Dudes vs. Dragonninja sort of way, but you've got projectile weapons too. This time, you can also finally use the Bionic Commando-like arm extension rope thing, almost as usefully as on the Ocean game, and you even have a weapons inventory. Like the Game Boy version, it takes the original movie more seriously, and tries to follow the plotline as far as a platformer can. There are also two side-scrolling traditional shoot'em-up stages in the game, the other being one with the Batmobile and the other one is played with the Batwing. Although it still cannot be called a walk in the park, it's definitely much easier than the NES game, and in every aspect, for me it is more interesting as a Batman title than either of the two other Sunsoft games so far.

Screenshots from Batman for the PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16).


The last one from Sunsoft is, at least initially, the most interesting entry on the list, because it is so little known, being only available on the Japanese NEC console originally called PC Engine - which outside of Japan is known as TurboGrafx-16. Additionally to that, this game serves the collectors well as a proper rare curiosity too, since it's quite possibly the only Batman game ever to take form of a Pac-Man -like maze game. As of yet, I haven't bothered to play very far in it, because it becomes repetitive and boring very quickly, but it truly is a curious piece of gaming software. Although it's not a bad game as such - it plays very well and has nothing wrong in it, but due to its lack of depth and variety in gameplay, I cannot honestly recommend it to anyone but the most fanatic Batman fans, as well as completist collectors. And perhaps Pac-Man fans. But I'm sorry to say, it's certainly not worth owning a PC Engine for.

Screenshots from Batman, the Atari arcade game.


Finally, we have the arcade version by Atari Games. I didn't know about this game either, until I took a look at the Arcade Museum list of games by a hunch after writing all the above. This one was a complete surprise to me in many ways. At first, it appears to be nothing much more than a side-scrolling brawler in the vein of so many other Batman games, as well as other generic action-platformers on all the home consoles. When you get well past the first stage, though, you'll realize it's even more clinging to the movie plot than the Ocean game, as well as more varied in gameplay than any of the Sunsoft games. It also features sound samples of the movie and very good (if midiesque) renditions of Danny Elfman's original score. On top of that, it's also a game for hardcore action-platform fanatics, who like a good challenge. It quickly got up there to share the spot as being my favourite game adaptation of the movie with the Ocean game. Highly recommended.

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That's quite a lot of Batman for one sitting, I hope that brought an unexpected but satisfactory ending to this year's Halloween theme! On that note, happy Halloween, everybody! See you next month with something a bit more cheery. Comments, suggestions and corrections are as welcome as ever.

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