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CONSOLE: PlayStation 2 DEVELOPER: Ubisoft PUBLISHER: Ubisoft
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 16, 2003 GENRE: Beat-em-up
// review by SoyBomb

Na-na-na-na Na-na-na-na-na... BAD GAAAAAME!

It should surprise no one when I say that Batman's a pretty heavy hitter. Not just physically, but also in the overal comic superhero universe. He ranks up there with the biggies, like Superman (who for some reason, he thinks he thinks he should fight), Spiderman, and every other type of man who needs a gimmick to seem important. And unlike many licenses, if you make a terrible Batman game, people are going to notice. For the most part, though, Batman games are of top quality. Batman and Batman: Return of the Joker on the NES? Classics. Batman Returns for SNES? A Konami gem. Batman Arkham games? Mana from Heaven. Batman Forever on SNES/Genesis? Errrrm... we remember that, but we don't want to.

Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu for the PlayStation 2 is another one of those games that is more likely to be forgotten than lauded, and rightfully so: it's pretty trash. It's not even pretty trash. It's trash that's been laying about for a while, losing its colour in the process. It's not pretty trash; it's stale trash.

"A New Evil Rises." That's Sin Tzu, a villain made exclusively for this game by comic artist Jim Lee. He has only one thing on his mind: conquest. So leave it to Batman, alongside his trusty companions Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl to drop a batboot straight into his rump.

Unfortunately, in order to do that, you must suffer through most of this banal game. The major problem is simply the game design itself: it's neither creative nor inviting. The first stage involves you running through the dark alleyways of Gotham City with the goal of rescuing six hostages from fiendish gang captors. (Already a rescue mission? Not a comforting sign.) So you punch and kick your way through horde after horde of generic baddies. That would be fine if the enemies didn't require as many hits to defeat, at least early on, and if there wasn't a very strict timer dictating that you'd best be lightning quick or fail. The timer may be your biggest foe of all, leaving very little time for error. And the stage goes on and on for about a half-hour's worth of time, provided you don't get a Game Over stage or leave to weep openly. Once you've rescued all the hostages, you get to enter a new room and fend off 25 enemies of varying strength. You know it's 25 because the game keeps track in your HUD. 1/25. 2/25. 3/25. Why exactly 25? Did Sin Tzu decide to send precisely that number to keep Batman occupied? And why not send them all at the same time? "Alright, you guys go first. And when those ones are dead, send the next group." The brawling makes my thumb hurt.

The second stage is pretty much the same, except for four non-notable things: a different bland gray area to explore, no large group at the end, eight hostages instead of six, and certain enemies now just toss gas bombs that causes the world around you to swirl and distort. That last point is utterly pointless, but it provides a sliver of additional enjoyment. But you're still held down by the extremely limiting timer (a time limit, if you will) that tries to push you through the game as quickly as possible without letting you stop to, you know, have fun or anything.

Then you enter the third stage, and... yep, go rescue eight hostages again, all while stupidly socking your way through the generic thugs and goons. It's drab nonsense. There are other moments where you have to protect a door or defuse a bomb, but it's still the same "fight a wave of grunts, move forward a bit, fight another wave, move forward" nonsense. If there's depth, no one dug to find it. The entire game is a button-mashing drudgery.

It's always not sunny in Gotham City.

Couple this with how initially limiting your moveset is. You start off with a few basic tussling tricks, but by earning points via smacking around thugs, you can unlock new moves between stages. That would be great if the moves weren't so bloody expensive. Considering you have four characters to work with, this also means you have to play through the game four times to unlock everything...presuming you earn enough points at all. It might require a second playthrough! (Two playthroughs times four characters — eight trips through a second-rate beat-'em-up sounds like overkill.) Smart gamers will either stick with one character and just finish the game once as best they can, or they won't play at all and save the hassle.

Beyond this, there are other flaws. Some moves require you to hold down a button to charge. While you're doing this, troublemakers can easily sneak in and lay a good BIFF! into your skull, canceling anything you were trying to achieve. Many moves can also only be performed when a combo meter is filled, done so by landing hits on others, which takes a while. I anxiously awaited its filling so I could actually dole out some decent damage. Weirder still, the game has a movelist in its pause menu, and while some of the moves indicate specifically that you need to charge up, others suggest you need to "juggle" between button presses. Holy confusion, Batman! What in the name of Harley Quinn does that even mean? Do I have to press the square button twice, then toss my controller in the air a few times?

To add more insult, the presentation style is average. Though not entirely dark, the environments are beyond generic and bland. At least some of the elements are destructible (the gang members sure love to lift chairs, garbage cans, potted plants, etc. for tossing). The enemy design is equally generic and mostly consists of large buff fellows with incredibly square shoulders, alongside slimmer thugs in tailored suits. Luckily, boss battles do break up this trend a bit. Also, did they hire a composer from the 1970s to crank out all the tunes? The cheesy rock and Starsky & Hutch-a-like tunes don't quite match up with the Dark Knight.

Ubisoft fumbled with this one. You'll be pulling your hair out after the second stage, wondering where the inspiration went, if there was any to begin with. Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu could have been a decent and prominent beat-'em-up on the PlayStation 2, but with all it fails to offer, the game comes off as filler for a quick buck. In other words, it puts the "sin" in Sin Tzu.

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