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There comes a time when we take our head out of the clouds and look at life a little more seriously. For the 80's generation, that time was Tim Burton's Batman movie in 1989. The movie was serious, sinister, and far removed from the campy 60's version. It also portrayed Batman, a hero in every kid's eyes, the way he was meant to be depicted: as a dark, ominous character. The success of the film eventually led to the astounding Batman: The Animated Series, a truly gut-wrenching experience for youngsters. The cartoon was vastly different from all others in its heavy-toned atmosphere and gave young viewers a taste of fear.
Also capitalizing on the popularity of the Batman movie, Sunsoft released the Batman Nintendo game that same year. It followed the film's general plot: the Joker plans to unleash a toxic nerve gas upon Gotham and The Caped Crusader is there to foil his scheme. It is further revealed that the Joker was the mugger who killed Batman's parents when he was little, making this fight personal for The Dark Knight. The game uses sprites similar to the movie actors' faces and utilizes actual dialogue from the motion picture. However, that's as far as the similarity goes.
Batman begins with the player outside Gotham's streets. It's a typical side-scroller wherein the objective is to keep heading east until an exit is found, dispatching foes along the way. What is not typical of Batman, however, is the wall-climbing ability used in the game, similar to the one found in Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden NES game. The feature works by jumping close to a wall and then pressing the jump button again. If done correctly, Batman sticks to the vertical surface. Leapfrogging from wall to wall is used all throughout the levels, and mastering it is essential for beating the game.
For attack, Batman starts with a standard punch that stops enemies in their tracks and kills them after a few shots. However, the player will want to use weapons sooner or later. They come in the form of the Batarang, a thrown blade that circles around like a boomerang; the spear gun that shoots a sharpened spear at the enemy; and the dirk, a projectile that splits into three blades and covers a wide area. To use these weapons, pellets dropped by foes must be collected; the pellets serve as ammunition. Bonus items that increase score and replenish life are also dropped.
Batman the game doesn't really have much of a plot. The whole objective is to reach the Joker at the last level. Between levels are various cutscenes which mostly involve the Joker taunting Batman. Level bosses are also available, but only three of them are actual Batman villains, namely Killer Moth, Electrocutioner, and Firebug. The game culminates in a battle with the Joker atop a bell tower. After the player wins, we see a really disturbing, out-of-character end scene that would make Bob Kane turn over in his grave: Batman grabs the defeated Joker by the collar, sentences him with the words "Now you will dance with the devil in the pale moonlight!", and flings him mercilessly from the bell tower to his death below. We then get a close-up of the dead body with its eyes still open. Although it was untypical of Batman and probably angered a lot of hardcore fans, seeing the hero actually kill the main villain with his own hands was morbidly satisfying and provided a strange sense of closure. Batman the game truly was the end of innocence.
Nintendo's Batman is an excellent side-scroller albeit a hard one. With the availability of Batman NES roms online, you can experience this classic game yourself. It's gloomy and gritty but still as entertaining as always.
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