The Bat. The Cat. The Penguin. The Standard Licensed Game.
Batman. He's a man who dresses like a bat and infiltrates crime syndicates. That's more or less what I would do, although I'd probably choose a more fear-inducing creature, like a newt or a politician. But this is an iconic superhero of the ages, made popular through his endless supply of comic books, the television shows surrounding him (including his rudimentary portrayal by Adam West), the Batman movies, and the video games, up to modern ones in the Arkham series. Now let's rewind just a titch to 1992. Batman Returns, the second and final film featuring Michael Keaton in the titular role, was released to theatres on June 19, 1992, earning a significant amount of money at the box office to become the third highest grossing film of the year. The youth, however, could not be satiated, and as usual, they didn't just want to watch Batman listen to Michelle Pfeiffer roll her tongue while melded into pleather; they wanted to BE Batman, Man of Bats! He's a fictional character, mind you, so the only way to accomplish this would be via a video game. Sega Genesis and Game Gear owners got their fix in 1992, pleasing those masses, but Nintendo enthusiasts had to wait until 1993 before they could wrap their hands around the ability to be Batman. The Sega versions were developed by multiple companies, but the NES and SNES games were developed by Konami, whose track record spoke for itself.
The game follows the movie's plotline very closely, from the release of the Red Triangle Circus Gang by The Penguin to terrorize the citizens of Gotham City to the transformation of Selina Kyle from ordinary business secretary to slinky costumed feline impersonator. Even The Penguin's political motives are touched upon through the cutscenes interjected between stages. Beyond the story, Batman Returns is a single-player beat-'em-up (shameful, as a Robin cameo, though severely out of place, would bring friends closer together for this worthy cause) in which Batman can punch his way to victory. But he wouldn't be a superhero without a few extra tricks up his sleeve, including being able to jump kick, slam enemies on the ground, or just grab them to give the dreaded massage of death. Also handy is the Batarang, which, while not good at inflicting damage, keeps enemies at bay while you do whatever else you thought was important, be it fending off a bozo juggling fire or readjusting your utility belt to prevent chafing. Batman also sports a grappling hook, which is occasionally useful but normally just something else to take up space in your Bat-Fanny Pack.
It has come to my attention that Gotham City really isn't the best place to raise a family.
Stages vary between 3D movement (as in games like Final Fight where you can move up and down, as well as left and right, on multiple planes) and 2D movement (where left and right are the only options), but the goal of both remain the same: punch everyone's lights out except your own. Gosh, that would be awkward. The only time the action really changes is in the fifth stage, which actually puts you in the hot seat of the Batmobile, where you have to chase down The Penguin's campaign vehicle and destroy it using, uh, Bat-Projectiles. This part really stood out as showing the developers putting in that extra sprinkling of love and effort. Plus, I needed a break after the last couple of bosses anyhow.
One of my bigger complaints about Batman Returns is that the game can be a bit dull. The majority of enemies you kill are clowns, thinner clowns, and... uh... fatter clowns. Basically, the Red Triangle Circus Gang has been contracted for all issues related to stopping the Caped Crusader in Gotham City, and fighting them over and over gets a bit tiring after the hundredth one. Then a motorcyclist with a giant skull head drives through and knocks Batman down, providing irritation and mild comic relief. Only the bosses offer anything different, and early boss battles don't even require that much of a modified strategy. It's only when Catwoman and The Penguin show up close to halfway through that your senses are awakened and planning suddenly becomes your new best friend because these guys are TOUGH. I still have no idea how to avoid The Penguin's attacks; I lost so many lives to that guy alone that he could open up a life emporium and retire off my contributions alone.
Yet visually, this game is very pleasant on the eyes, with the exception of Stage 4, which takes place in an area far too dark for my taste. First rule of gaming: see what you're doing. I shouldn't have to stammer over and adjust my TV's brightness just for a SNES beat-'em-up. That's ridiculous. I like how large the sprites are: Batman had nary been quite as buff and brooding up to that point. And the Batmobile stage takes a life of its own, very well done using the most modern of Mode 7 technology on the SNES to illustrate the evening drive as you fire off shots at bikers...and a van. In between stages, static renderings of scenes from the movie make for good viewing, most of the time. Oh look: a computer rendering of Michael Keaton. How novel. I'd sure love to hang that on my wall.
On the flipside, I found myself rather uninterested in the game's soundtrack, which has been moderately adapted from Danny Elfman's original score and complemented with some original compositions. The cutscene music is haunting and emotional, but the actual music played during gameplay ranges from somewhat engaging (such as that of the very first scene) to decent but generically orchestral. Granted, it's well done, but it hardly qualifies as memorable and doesn't stand up against other heavyweight soundtracks on the SNES.
Batman. He's a man who dresses like a bat, infiltrates crime syndicates, and has a pretty standard adventure punching clowns in the face, something we all wish we could do at least once. Batman Returns isn't the pinnacle of its genre, but as far as licensed games go, this one's pretty good, if not somewhat formulaic. If you have an old SNES and want to slip into a soft, silky cowl for a short while, Batman Returns is your ticket to wearing a mask and channeling your inner Scrotifera. That's not dirty, I swear. Look it up.