Episode 95: Face it, you’ve got Batmania bad!

For this week’s Retronauts — Retronauts East — I invited the internet’s greatest Batman expert onto this show to discuss, well, Batman. Or rather, Batman games. Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB (and the upcoming SwordQuest comic) stopped by for this episode to help shed some light on a corner of video games that Retronauts has touched on in passing, but never with quite this much depth.

The original plan for this episode was to cover the entire span of Batman-based classic games from 1986-2005, but we ended up going into so much detail on the context surrounding the games — especially the character’s pop culture resurgence and rehabilitation throughout the ’80s — that we barely made it past Batman Returns. And that is OK! I do wish I had known we’d only be covering half the games I assembled notes for; I’d have gone for depth rather than breadth and really drilled down into the titles we did end up discussing. But there’s a lot of great and informative conversation about the Batman franchise (thanks to Chris) that helps to better define the games. It’s a good mix.

The games we tackle in particular this time around are: Batman (ZX Spectrum), The Caped Crusader, Batman (the movie games), Return of the Joker, Batman Returns (move games, again), and Batman: The Animated Series.

Episode description: Renowned Batmanologist and comics scribe Chris Sims joins Jeremy and Benj to explore the lore of early Batman games and how they fit into the evolution of the character’s franchise.

MP3, 48.8 MB | 1:45:28
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

This episode’s music comes from a variety of Batman games: SunSoft’s NES and Game Boy movie adaptations, Return of the Joker for NES, and the SEGA CD game — whose soundtrack, I fear, I unfairly maligned. After giving the SEGA CD soundtrack a closer listen, I owe Spencer Nilsen an apology. There’s some corny butt-rock at work there for sure, yeah, but also some pretty great composition (if decidedly of a ’90s vintage, soundwise).

Finally, a big thanks to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

12 Comments

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12 Responses to Episode 95: Face it, you’ve got Batmania bad!

  1. Ironically enough, I believe the PC Engine Batman would be most suitable for a character with his arsenal of gadgets. It seems like a lot of games didn’t know what to do with all of his Bat…shit, so you would end up mostly only using Batarangs. But, if it were developed a little more in the feel of Arkham/Metal Gear, it could’ve been a really cool game.

    Nice episode, though. I’ll always remember playing that Ocean Batman on the PC at Software ETC.

  2. Jay

    This episode’s music selection could’ve used some Batman 89′ for Amiga 500’s title theme… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGzS1k_0EhM

  3. meanstreet

    I can understand not being overly keen on Ocean if you’re basing your judgement solely on their console output, but they were a generally well-regarded and prolific development and publishing house on the 8 and 16-bit home computers.

    Even in larger companies like Ocean the team sizes were tiny, and can’t really be compared with what was common in Japanese development at the time. You’re generally better off looking at the individuals behind the games rather than the name on the box if you want to get a better idea of why particular games turned out how they did, since they tended to be based around the developer’s vision. Batman (1986) for example, was developed by just two people, Jon Ritman (programming) and Bernie Drummond (art), who would later go on to develop Head over Heels (1987), another isometric puzzle game that added a second character for a co-operative element.

    For reference, Batman: The Caped Crusader was published by Ocean but was developed by Liverpool-based Special FX, who worked closely with Ocean and were responsible for some of their other movie tie-ins such as The Untouchables and conversions of Data East’s Midnight Resistance.

    Ocean’s 1989 Batman movie tie-in had two vehicle sections as well, before the Game Boy version even, one each for the Batmobile and the Batwing. The Batmobile sections had you swinging Batarangs to take corners (something that’s given under 5 seconds of screen time in the film), while the Batwing stage tasked you with cutting balloons from parade floats. These sections are also in the 16-bit versions, but are styled as fairly impressive behind-the-vehicle driving sections. The vehicle segments were sandwiched between the more standard side-on adventure platforming (Axis Chemicals, Cathedral) and a puzzle minigame. This minigame collection concept was a bit of a formula for Ocean’s movie tie-ins by this point, something that took shape with Robocop and lasted at least until Terminator 2.

    Finally, just to cement the popularity of Burton’s Batman, and the game itself the 1989 tie-in became a bundled title with the Amiga 500. The ‘Batman Pack’ went on to be the most popular A500 bundle, allegedly selling two million computers. It was followed up by a bundle based around Bart vs the Space Mutants, but they can’t all be winners.

    Anyway. Didn’t mean for this to be so rambling, nor an impassioned defence of Ocean software, just hoping to provide a bit of context for the handful of people who are interested in the home computer versions.

  4. John Smith

    Jeremy, there was a Questprobe Spider-Man game. I had it for Commodore 64 and it featured Madame Web. (At least I’m pretty sure I’m not mixing it up with something else)

  5. Moroboshi

    I loved Batman on the original Gameboy, such a fun game with a great soundtrack. Sunsoft really knew their stuff.

    My favourite now is by far the Mega CD game, minus the terrible platform sections of course. (which can thankfully be disabled) Amazing music too, I won’t hear a bad word said against it. Plus it showed all those Nintendo guys just what a great piece of hardware the Mega CD was (if only more devs had bothered to use it properly).

  6. Soapfish

    I will go to bat (dare I say Bat…man?) for the HD Mirror of Fate any day. It isn’t a perfect game, but is nowhere near as bad as some people say and it’s a lot better then most of the other Metroidvania garbage on Steam.

  7. Not finished listening, so you might come into this later, but there were, in fact, two Batman games on Sega CD. There was the Batman Returns game and a game based on The Adventures of Batman and Robin that was just driving stages. I covered it in some detail here: https://youtu.be/wDyJKHU0qOQ?list=PLVxmvovKgzzpoQy-wGxUaZhJ2_8SeSQw6

  8. Kevin Peterson

    You made my day with your Superboy Prime reference.

  9. Greg Falkingham

    It really can’t be overstated how big of a deal the Tim Burton Batman movie really was. The marketing and merchandising push behind the film was the biggest we’d seen since the original Star Wars movies, with the gold-on-black logo nearly ubiquitous. There’s a funny moment in the Crumb documentary where Robert Crumb reacts to someone walking down the street in one of those Batman t-shirts.

    What was fascinating to see was how well the Batman brand was handled in the wake of that first film. The Animated Series seemed to borrow elements from both the movie and the original comics, but really stood out on its own by virtue of the quality put into its creation. It kept Batman alive and relevant in pop culture until the inevitable sequel, which was only slightly less of a cultural phenomenon.

    As much as Batman thrived and excelled on the NES, those titles all personally passed me by. The first Batman game I owned was on Genesis -indeed, along with Strider, it was my first Genesis game at all. The EGM coverage made it look pretty rad, and I certainly never hated the game. I did have a weird moment the first time playing when I got to the driving sequence. It felt immediately weird, and I turned to my brother and asked, “oh, wait, should I be shooting these cars?” To this he replied, “well, they’re purple, so they’re probably enemies. Besides, its just a video game.”

    I know there is a story behind the PC Engine version, and why it was never released in the west, but sadly I can no longer remember the exact details or where I heard it. I just recall that someone (the developer? the publisher? the license holder?) was pissed at someone else in the chain, and this thing was kinda just pooped out. If I can actually find this story, I’ll post a link to the source (assuming its actually online). That game sure did sit in our local import game store for a really long time, though. I don’t know if they ever actually sold it.
    The Lynx version of Batman Returns is a bit stranger than you might think. On the surface, it looks like a scrolling beat-em-up with some light platforming, but if you actually play it that way, you won’t make much progress. Instead, it is something more of a run-away-from-em-up, where the best strategy is to treat it like a speed run. Even so, it is rarely fun to play. It did look very nice though, and Atari made it a centerpiece of their Lynx promotion. They even made it a pack-in, if I recall correctly. Sadly, those efforts couldn’t save their handheld or that game (the license for which couldn’t have been cheap).

    I feel like Batman Returns on SNES is a fair bit better than you collectively let on. Granted that scrolling beat-em-ups do not typically age well, but I genuinely enjoyed the game at the time and thought it was quite gorgeous.

    Fun episode all ’round!
    Good Luck, Have Batman

  10. Matt

    Hey, long time listener, first time commenter.
    I’ve never thought the audio quality was poor on Retronauts, but I would say that this episode could use a de-esser, the “ssss” sound is a bit piercing on a lot of words. Definitely never got a “submarine” vibe from past episodes, but since it came up I figured I’d throw my take in there.

  11. Frump

    Man, you guys didn’t even get to the Genesis Adventures of Batman & Robin game! That game is so darn good and completely different from the SNES version. It’s probably my all-time favorite Genesis game, even if some of the levels do go on for way too long. It’s a technical marvel for a Genesis game too.

    The Sega CD version of The Adventures of Batman and Robin is completely different too, being nothing but extremely hard and frustrating driving levels. That one probably isn’t really worth playing. It looks really nice though and has some exclusive animation!

  12. Jiggeh

    Long time listener, first time commenter… I think? Anyway, this was a fun episode and I for one highly appreciate the extended discussion about Batman’s place in the public consciousness and the impact of Burton’s film, it really helps set the stage and provide context. Generally I find that just as, if not more interesting than simply rattling off facts about or experiences with a game itself. More of that please!

    While I enjoyed the episode, there were a few niggling things I felt I had to chime in on. First off, as previously mentioned the Mega Drive and Mega CD Adventures of Batman & Robin games are completely different from the SNES game, and both absolutely merit discussion. The MD game in particular is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to stunning visual effects; its use of scaling, rotation and 3D effects really are unmatched on the system, and it’s got a crazy soundtrack to boot.

    Beyond that I have to say I was really kind of bothered by the “I don’t know much about it but it seems bad, so it’s not worth covering” attitude you guys seemed to hold towards both of the Batman Forever games. Sure, I understand if that’s just fatigue talking at that point (and I don’t disagree with cutting this episode at that point), but surely there’s value in looking at lesser known or liked games and not just the hits everyone already knows and loves? In this case in particular I think both games do merit discussion as they really are all kinds of weird and interesting – the arcade game in particular is 100% absolutely insane and must be seen to be believed – but it was more the general attitude that I took issue with.

    So with that said, I absolutely think there’s fodder for another Batman episode; aside from these four titles there were several in the PS1-PS2 era as well. The Batman Begins game I have some decently fond memories of, and it might be interesting to contrast how that game (as well as, uh, the Batman & Robin PS1 game I guess) made use of and followed its source material compared to the earlier movie games in this episode.

    Anyhoo, sorry for being a curmudgeon, and thanks for doing the show! 🙂