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SummaryFrustrated with Batman: The Video Game's difficulty? Try this one...
The GoodI've been promising myself to review the first Batman game on the NES, which I and the rest of humanity love, but having finished this game today made me want to review it first. And here was I, in a bored afternoon, when I decided to play some NES game. I remember playing it back in the day, and though I remember it being fun, I didn't like it as much as I liked the first one for some reason. I also remember playing the Genesis version, which was quite similar to it, but again, nothing to write home about. But I recently watched Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN)'s review on this one, so I thought "well, let's give it a try". AVGN tell us this game is insanely hard, yet as it turns out he was wrong (more on that later), but let's start talking about the game.
Batman: Return of the Joker is a sequel to Batman: The Video Game and unlike the first game, this one isn't based on any movie. Instead, the plot follows the first game's story. Somehow the Joker is back and Batman is once again called to save the day. Not much of a story there, but who needs stories in side-scrollers, eh?
Gameplay-wise the game brings some elements from the prequel while adding some new features. Batman can't punch or do wall jumps anymore, but has a wider range of weapons and can also do a slide attack. He starts off with only a batgun with straight-moving bullets and this weapon can be upgraded with letter upgrades: S, B, N and C. The S version shoots what looks like shurikens in three different directions. The B shoots guided bullets. The N shoots two somewhat senoidal waves of bullets and the C shoots some sort of rocket bullet which explodes on target. All special weapons have also a special shot, which can be released by holding the B button for a while and releasing it. The S shoots and orbiting cloud of bullets, B shoots a rotating blast of fire to whenever direction Batman is looking at (this includes up and down), N shoots a stronger single senoidal wave and C shoots four little rockets. You'll find use to all weapons in the game, but I used mostly C and B. Aside from the weapon power ups, Batman also collects another type of power up, which is measured by a counter with the letter B, right under his life counter. When this counter reaches 10, Batman becomes invulnerable and keeps shooting automatically while the counter is depleted.
Besides the platform side-scrolling levels, where Batman has to kill enemies, jump over holes and avoid obstacles such as spikes (which grant instant death), there are also some shoot'em up levels where Batman flies with a jetpack side-scrolling to the right while destroying enemies.
The boss levels have a special touch to them. Batman's life meter is replaced by a numeric power counter at the bottom of the screen, always showing 80,000 at the start. The enemies also have their power counter and as you get to harder bosses, their power becomes higher and higher than yours.
The graphics in the game are really good, but they are more colourful than the first game. One thing I really like about the first game is that NES darker palette fits it perfectly. In this game, they used more colors, which granted the game good graphics, but not as much appealing as the first one (at least for my taste). Batman's and the enemies's sprites are huge, something I'm not used to in NES games. Some enemies are just updated versions of the enemies from the first game, and this adds some kind of interesting continuity to this game.
The music is also pretty good, specially the title tune. I still prefer the music in the first game, as I still whistle those tunes every now and then, while I can't remember much of Return of the Joker's tunes, even if I've just finished the game. Maybe that's because I spent much less time on it, but that's something to talk about in the "bad" section of this review.
The BadAs I said in the beginning of this review, I decided to play it after watching AVGN's review of this game. He even states that overall this isn't a bad game, but he complains a lot about its difficulty. Well, this game is anything but hard. I agree that some stages are annoying, that dying is overall easy, but many measures were taken to make this game an easy ride.
Batman's life bar can never be restored, and if the player dies in the middle of a stage he'll start from the beginning of it. But all stages are pretty short, so this won't be really a problem (except for two or three stages from all 12 - not counting the bosses - the game features). The game offers infinite continues, and you'll always continue from the stage you died, except for boss fights. But the bosses are the easiest part of the game. If you use the B weapon and a turbo joypad, all you have to do is avoid their attacks and keep shooting until all their power is depleted. Even the last boss, which has an enormous amount of power, took me only two tries to kill.
The game is overall short, and that's probably why I didn't get to know each tune well. With 7 levels, with 2 or 3 substages each, you'd expect a game at least as long as the first one, but as the levels are short and easy, you'll find yourself finishing it in about one hour of gameplay.
Another thing which I missed in this game was a bit more of a story. The first game didn't have much of it either, but at least it followed the movie's plot and had little cutscenes in between the levels to fill the gap. This one only shows Batman, the Bat-Mobile and the Bat-Wing with a "Stage Clear" phrase in the end of each level, and that was even misleading, as I was expecting some Bat-Mobile or Bat-Wing stage after that. The game's intro only shows the Joker laughing and Batman being called, and it turns out that you just don't know what the Joker is up to, and why are you going from place to place to finally find him on an island.
The Bottom LineAll in all Return of the Joker is a good game. It seems to me that SunSoft tried to make their first game even better by putting more effort to the graphics and toning down the difficulty. But it seems that they tried a bit too hard, rendering the game much easier than it should be. I'd like to make clear I played it with a gamepad with Turbo function, so maybe much of the difficulty goes away due to this. But any experienced button-masher won't find any difficulty even if playing with a regular controller.
A bit more of story and challenge would make it as good as the first one, or even better than it.