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Batman: Return of the Joker Review

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Developer: SunSoft Publisher: Sun Corporation of America
Release Date: 1991 Available On: NES

It’s not often when a company known for some of the most memorable games on the NES trips over itself and remains crippled for life. Batman: Return of the Joker, is one of those titles for SunSoft. Coming one year after Batman and serving as the sequel, this game is awesome on the surface in many ways, but when it comes down to what counts, it just can’t muster the same amount of playability as its predecessor. And that’s where this one just sucks. It sucks all over, it’s pretty much a borefest in the worst way.

Graphically, Batman: Return of the Joker is ace. The visuals are stunning, there are excellent storyline screens at the opening that really bring the ‘comic book’ out, a broad range of colors, smooth animations, the works. Really, quite incredible for an NES game, other than three issues. First off, though only seen for a few seconds, the screen right before boss battles is incredibly meek. You get Batman’s teeny head in a teeny box next to the boss in a teeny box, with no text other than ‘VS’ between them. What in the hell am I fighting here? Then you have the between-level shots of Batman, the Batmobile, and the Batwing. They’re just thrown in there with no real connection to the game. Sure, they look good, but do they apply? Considering you never use either of the vehicles, not at all. Why the tease? The big thing that most people complain about, however, is the size. This game is big, like so big it ruins the gameplay. In the first Batman, the smaller sprite size and larger playing field made for an enjoyable experience, but here in Batman: Return of the Joker everything is huge. Batman fills up at least 1/3 of the screen, as do other characters, leaving little room to observe and predict because everything is so compacted. It looks good in certain ways, but in others Batman: Return of the Joker is a bit of a wash.

Thankfully, the music in Batman: Return of the Joker, is where it’s at. The tracks are killer and really up the gameplay, which is good because without it this game would have likely sunk to nothing. The action is driven hard by the music, and it also serves to create cool atmosphere. However, one big complaint is the sound effects. Let’s just say SunSoft seems to have dipped into their effects barrel one too many times. Basically everything you’re going to hear they lifted from the same index used for more iconic titles like Blaster Master. The gun sounds are especially noticeable, and really lessens the experience. It’d be like if in Batman Returns they used the entire soundtrack from the first film. Just doesn’t work. Some also seem a little too ‘baby’ for big, bad Batman.

But the big bummer here is the gameplay. Batman: Return of the Joker definitely doesn’t get thrown in to the ‘suck’ pile, but man, how tedious it can be! When it comes down to it, this game is standard platformer to a capital S, and then all the other letters. Batman can run, jump, shoot, and that’s it. Power-ups are almost nonexistent. You get, in all, three. After your regular shot, which totally sucks by the way, you get one of three guns. One a homing shot that does damage like a swarm of gnats, the other is a wave beam that never seems to hit anything, and the best is this slow, but really powerful single bomb-type shot. So there’s your first problem, Batman can’t really attack that well. Thankfully, most enemies don’t take many hits, but the strategic elements from the first game are gone. You end up button mashing most of the time, and without the power shot you’re pretty much screwed. You can also hold in the button to power-up, but really it doesn’t do much so don’t even bother. One annoying thing too is that the power-ups are contained in boxes you can’t help but blow up, and if you don’t want a certain power, you either have to shoot the icon to get it to change, or wait until it disappears, which isn’t possible on the forced scrolling levels. Pretty much, once you find the gun you like, don’t bother shooting the boxes, there’s basically nothing else in them! Check out the game here:

But Batman: Return of the Joker has some other issues. First off, there is pretty much no challenge. The only challenge comes through poor level arrangement and the compaction of the screen to where you can’t see anything until it’s right on top of you. At some points you need to memorize what’s coming, at others just take the hits and forget about it. That’s easy because you have infinite continues. And why is there a password feature? You can pretty much run through the whole game without giving a damn. The boss segments are kind of cool because the game switches to a point meter instead of the usual life bar, but the bosses are incredibly easy. With the powerful gun I mentioned above, you can kill the final boss, the Joker of course, while taking barely any damage. Pathetic. The big issue, though, is as a platformer this game is way too tame. In terms of its actual play we’re talking mid-80s NES material. It offers nothing new, the actual gaming is so basic it’s shocking.

So, as you can already assume, Batman: Retun of the Joker offers very little in terms of creativity. Now, don’t take that all at face value, because there is quite a bit of variety in the level design, and there are some rather interesting moments, like the forced-scrolling tank level near the end, but all in all it’s really the most basic platformer you could possibly design. Nothing new, nothing challenging, nothing worth your time.

You can rush through Batman: Return of the Joker in about thirty minutes. Just sad. Why do they even have a password feature? Do they really think you want to play this for an extended period of time? Well, from experience I can tell you that’s unlikely. It’s okay through one play, but after that, no way. The gameplay is too stripped down, boring, and completely without challenge in most respects. The only challenge you do experience are annoying memorization segments that tax your nerves in the worst way.

Batman: Return of the Joker is a rather disappointing platformer in the NES library, and definitely one of SunSoft’s worst titles, if not the worst of all of them. It’s amazing when a company known for so much awesome can come out with something that looks good on the surface but has about as much depth as a 1/6″ puddle. It offers no challenge, and nothing I’d really suggest you take the time to check out. The graphics are pretty cool throughout most of it, but that’s not what makes a game a game. That would be the same as saying all you need for a painting is paint. No, and those that tried that angle soon found the error of their ways.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 4.5
Creativity: 5.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 5.5
Final: 6.4 out of 10
Written by Stan Stepanic Write a User Review