What happens when one title contains the word ‘revenge’ twice? Nothing: it’s either an editorial mistake, in which case I’ll fix it a year later when all seventeen of our readers have properly derided me as an idiot, or I’m talking about a video game with ‘revenge’ in the title. This week thankfully it’s the latter, as we’re dealing with everybody’s favorite DC crime-puncher in his third outing for the Genesis/Mega Drive. Gotham help us all, it’s Batman: Revenge of the Joker, and if this one didn’t make you break a controller, your system, the television, or a random family member, then hello, Mr. Dalai Lama–we’re honored you could drop by and please don’t be offended by some of the language that’s about to follow. The rest of you? Let’s get ready to [excised for copyright violation]!!!!!
I don’t talk a whole lot about sound when I write about video games, because the effects are normally just fine. Unless the soundtrack is truly spectacular or just flat-out boring, I leave it to the reader to understand it’s there, it serves its purpose, and not to worry about it. But Batman: Revenge of the Joker must, I cannot stress this enough, be played with the sound muted or you will anger everyone within hearing range. Batman’s projectile attack is a sound best quantified as the exact opposite of cat purrs. If you could rub a balloon while scratching broken glass down a chalkboard with your fingernails, cross that with microphone feedback, mix in a dental drill, and lay down some out-of-tune accordion, you still wouldn’t have a noise as aurally repellent as the one produced when Batman fires his weapon. It doesn’t matter which of the four guns you use: the shots are the most intrusive, annoyingly horrible effects ever committed to a gaming medium, and I’m not convinced the shuriken noise isn’t used by Satan to torture misbehaving souls in the fiery bowels of his own asshole. Given Tommy Tallarico handled the sound programming for this game, that’s a surprisingly awful affront to his talent. Maybe he was having an off-day?
Now that we’ve turned down the volume, we can talk about gameplay. I for one don’t mind a difficult Batman game. Whether it’s Caped Crusader, Dark Knight, Crisis, or any other era of the vigilante’s long and storied history, Batman doesn’t have the luxury of choosing a difficulty level his Justice League teammates. He can’t shrug off gunshots like Superman, speed-dazzle his opponents like The Flash, breathe underwater like Aquaman, and can’t morph into a two meter tall razor-clawed alien killing machine like Martian Manhunter. Hell he can’t even force somebody to tell him the truth like Wonder Woman (OK, he can totally do that, but it requires him to break a few bones). That said, Revenge of the Joker isn’t even trying to play fair. It punishes you for moving too quickly by zapping you with one trap after another, it punishes you for moving too slowly by occasionally dropping the floor out from beneath you, and it punishes you for excessive hubris when you reach a boss and think everything is under control when you’re about to get the shit chainsawed out of you.
The good news: levels are varied and mixed well. You’ll see plenty of the Batman staples like the rooftops, factories and and sewers of Gotham, but developer Ringler Studios manages to inject some unique bits in there that elevate Revenge of the Joker above your average side-scrolling platformer. A couple of stages see you zipping through the level on your Bat-Jetpack, temporarily turning the game into a side-scrolling shooter. Other stages are of the auto-scrolling variety, where you travel atop a train, or dodge landmines and dynamite as you deal with Joker, who has stolen a tank and is smashing his way through the city streets. Then there are the just plain weird stages, like the random Egyptian-themed one near the end of the game, or the icy Winter-themed one towards the start.
Then there are the boss fights, which play out something like a one-on-one fighting game with rounds that go on for freakin’ ever. Instead of a normal life meter, both Batman and the boss he’s fighting get Power meters. Batman’s always starts at 80,000, but the bosses get bigger and badder as the game progresses until you reach the final fight with the Joker, see his meter start at a quarter of a million points and question your decision to become a masked crime fighter. Bit of a morale drainer, that.
Aside from the steep difficulty and the boss fights that go on for far too long, my only other major complaint about Revenge of the Joker is that it doesn’t feel like a Batman game. By that, I mean you could remove Batman and Joker, replace them with virtually any other characters, licensed or original, and you’d have exactly the same game. Aside from some poses and “Level Cleared” victory screens, Batman doesn’t really do anything to call attention to the fact he’s Batman and, in fact, does quite a bit that makes him out to be anything but Batman. I can’t seem to remember the last time I saw Batman wielding shuriken, or With the exception of Joker, the end of level bosses are generic dudes not pulled from the DC cannon (at least as far as I can tell). The enemies fought during the various stages also seem out of place–knife-throwing, turban-clad stereotypes and barrel-flinging strongmen don’t exactly scream ‘Gotham City’ if you get what I’m saying.
Finally, the story of the game is completely non-existent. Yeah, in the opening scenes we see Joker escaping from what is either Arkham Asylum or a manhole cover in the middle of the street, but what is his ploy? What’s his plot? What’s his revenge, for crying out loud? “Making Batman catch me!” seems a bit too dumb, but we get no indication why Batman’s going through the stages, putting up with the enormous boss fights, and not focusing all his rage on dick-headed engineers who design things like elevators with conveyor belts right in the frigging middle. Even the back of the box, where most marketing suits want to explain the whys and wherefores of their games, is no help. It’s just an illustration of Joker spraying Batman in the face with water from a fake lapel flower, and wielding a sledgehammer with his own face printed on it. That’s it! What the hell, Sunsoft?
So in the end, we got what the developer and publisher would like us to believe is a solid Batman game. Unfortunately while it has some good points and is challenging enough to make one consider naked rhino taming as a hobby instead, it doesn’t come anywhere near the level of greatness required of a solid Batman title. You can have beautiful level cleared screens, a well-animated Caped Crusader, and a malevolent, violet-clad clown but unless you nail down settings and foes worthy of the Batman, then you will never be worthy of the Batman’s respect, only his anger. Super Nintendo owners should be glad this one was canned prior to its release on their console, as it’s one less thing to apologize for when Batman finally catches up to you. And catch up to you, he will. Because he’s the goddamn Batman. Thanks, Frank Miller. And as always, enjoy the two-page ad spread we’ve got for you this week: