The Completist Presents: Batman and the Bullies of Gotham
A gentle breeze whisked through my hair. The sun hit my face like a kaleidoscope of warmth, shifting through the gently blowing leaves all around me. I was 50 feet high, at the top of a giant oak tree which sat in the front of my friend Bryan’s heavily wooded lot. Like Batman on his dark Gotham spire, I was perched atop my tower, watching for the half baked criminals of my neighborhood to wander from their dark corners and into my sight. I was Batman and I was ready to pounce. Or so I thought. Because honestly, when your 10 years old, you are a super hero in your own mind.
My rude awakening came moments later when I saw five indistinct forms in the distance approaching on bikes. They were headed our way, via the road from the south. My friend Bryan was a couple feet below me and he saw them too.
“Oh crap, it’s L^c0n+e and his crew, what should we do?” Bryan said.
L^c0n+e was the gang leader of the neighborhood bullies, a fearsome bastard who took pleasure in the harassment of nerdy types such as ourselves. This was especially true when said nerdy types liked to play Nintendo and pretend to be Batman while swinging from the trees. A particular occasion that came to mind for both of us was when L^c0n+e and his goons tied Bryan to a tree that just happened to be surrounded by a massive mound of fire ants. Needless to say Bryan was savaged by the little red bastards and they left an inferno of nasty bites all over him. So you could probably forgive us for wanting payback.
“Let’s climb down and ambush them.” I said.
We hurried down our oak tree and headed for the palmetto bushes by the road. The palmettos were sharp and thorny and would provide protection from the approaching dark hoard. I looked around me for some sort of weapon. I knew Bryan had a BB gun in the house, but Batman never used guns, so that was out. I tried to break off a palmetto branch, but it was too thin to do much damage. However, there was a fairly large cabbage palm tree to my right and it had good sized branches so we both decided to grab one of those. They were long and sharp and somewhat durable. Perfect.
As we sat in the chigger infested palmettos, we laid out our plan of action. When they got close, I would run out into the road as a distraction, then Bryan would spring from the bushes and attack them from the side. If we timed it right, we could teach these criminals a lesson. Time was running out though, so we had to act fast.
Five against two, our odds weren’t great but there was no turning back now. They were 100 feet away, 75, 50, 20, I leapt from the underbrush, my war cry rivaling Mel Gibson’s. I startled them enough for their tight knit pack to scramble and scatter across the road. Bryan came in from the side, palm spears in hand. He leapt for L^c0n+e’s bike and jammed a spear through the front tire spokes sending his bike into a flip. L^c0n+e flew over the handle bars and crashed into the hard asphalt. Seeing that the leader was down, I hurled my spear at one of the other cohorts and hit him square in the back, the spear bouncing off his blubber and doing little damage. The other three who had stopped dead in their tracks from pure shock, suddenly saw their advantage in numbers and started pedaling furiously in our direction.
Now, what would Batman and Robin do if they were surrounded and grossly outnumbered? Stay and fight? No, they would leap for high ground (at least I like to think so). They would fire their grappling hooks up into Gotham’s smoky concrete canopy, grasp a convenient beam and fly up to safety. We didn’t have buildings or grappling hooks, but we did have trees. About 30 yards off was a cabbage palm that would suit our needs. We turned and bolted for the tree. L^c0n+e had recovered and was hot on our tail along with his four henchmen, ditching they’re bikes in the process to pursue us on foot through the woods. Time was running out.
What seemed like minutes later we finally reached the tree and leapt into the jagged branches covering its outer trunk. They made for a perfect ladder straight for the top. Except that the branches were old and sharp. About half way up a branch snapped and I fell a couple feet colliding into Bryan and causing an avalanche of broken branches and palm fronds in my wake (very un-Batman like). We quickly recovered and flew straight to the top, perching in the protection of the dome like head of large, green leaves.
Moments later, L^c0n+e and his crew arrived at the base of the tree. Would they dare climb up after us? There wasn’t enough room for them up here and the branches wouldn’t likely hold the hefty one. No, instead they did what most cowardly bullies do, they scoured the surrounding area for every rock they could find and then began hurtling them skyward with Dick Cheney precision. Bryan was hit, then me, then again and again. These rocks weren’t soft and they hurt like hell. No Batman body armor here, I began to yell for them to stop. I pulled one of the large fronds down to use as a shield and managed to catch a few rocks and hurl them back, but to no avail. Bryan was bleeding, so was I. If we could just hold out long enough maybe they’d give up, or an adult would appear in a puff of mist and break up this whole nightmare.
We hung, for what seemed like enough time for the tree to grow back it’s broken branches, but then, finally, mercifully, the rocks stopped. Maybe they ran out or maybe they just got tired but the dark horses congregated into a circle and the leader emerged.
“We’re done wasting time with you pussies.” L^c0n+e said.
“You little shits ever try anything like that again and you’ll wish your mother had an abortion.”
And just like that, they stalked over to the road, grabbed their bikes and were gone, leaving me and Bryan broken and bleeding at the top of the tree. As we slowly descended from our pseudo safe house, I couldn’t help but feel defeated. It had all happened so fast I wasn’t even sure who ultimately had won. We got some good shots in but they hit us hard in that tree. Either way, Bryan and I got the last laugh in high school when we continuously and recklessly smashed all five of their mailboxes time and time again. It brought us a nice sense of accomplishment to see our vengeance complete, even if they never knew who hit them. Hopefully the statute of limitations is up on that little confession.
At any rate, my good friend and I had had a rough day. Once we made it back inside and Bryan’s mom cleaned us up and thoroughly grilled us on what had happened, we settled down to watch our hero on good old VHS: BATMAN! Did we watch the old cheesy 60’s TV show? Sometimes, but more often we watched Tim Burton’s brilliant, dark and weighty 1989 Batman movie. My mom wouldn’t allow me to see it, anything that was PG-13 was off limits, but I watched it anyway and enjoyed the hell out of my little guilt ridden cryptic rebellion. I really had no choice. I had to see that movie. Batman is one of those high flying, crooked figureheads that every kid can appreciate and relate to, especially ones that get attacked by bullies.
Which reminds me, this article is ultimately about Batman the video game, the brilliant original NES version to be precise. Bryan, myself and our brothers spent many an afternoon as kids playing this fantastic but extremely challenging game. It was our little emancipation after a rough day in the woods. It was a wonderful escape to Gotham City where we could take on that real life band of dolts on our own terms. It was our way of getting some of that negative energy out in an acceptable and constructive way. Here I could pretend that L^c0n+e was the Joker, and I was gonna take him down.
Now, this particular Batman game is notable for a couple of reasons. The first is that it is of course based directly on Tim Burton’s movie. And you can probably count on one hand the number of PASSABLE movie-to-game conversions (much less actual GOOD ones) that have been created over the years. It’s always been a joke……r (har har), for as long as I can remember. A great movie comes out and a piece of trash, thrown together hodgepodge of manure licking molasses of a game follows it. Such a stigmata! And it hasn’t changed even to this day. Which is why it so unusual to have a game like Batman on the NES. It shouldn’t have been good! But it is!
Another thing about Batman that I really appreciate is that the game is truly “Nintendo-Hard.” Is it as hard as the last game I covered? No, but parts of it, particularly in the last two areas, border on sledge hammering your NES polo. Meaning, be prepared for a long slog and a lot of practice. In all the years we played this game as kids I’m pretty sure none of us beat it. Lack of a password feature made it incredibly tough to get through it in one sitting. You either got lucky and made it to level 4-1, or the game punished you by making you think you were as good at wall jumping as Batman (and believe me, you aren’t). The games difficulty ramps up to extreme levels when you get to the third area and let me tell you, it doesn’t look back.
So how well does this game follow the movie? Let’s have a look shall we:
Ahhh the classic Gotham skyline with Mars bright in the sky. That is Mars right? Because it’s big and red.
Apparently no one lives in Gotham because it’s deserted? I do remember something about a celebration in the movie though. Kudos for that.
Poisonous gas, yep that was in the movie. But wait, they called Gotham a city and a town in the same paragraph. Make up your mind!
Yeah, like most lousy portrayals of women in movies Vicki Vale is helpless. And this head shot is all you see of her the entire game. Why do they even mention her at all?
This paragraph is just hilarious. FULL FORCE!! And apparently the Joker is very worldly and Batman must avenge his parrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrents.
Alright, so it does a VERY brief summary of the movie and gets a few things right. But this is a NES game and we have to forgive that. This game can’t reach the epic heights of Ninja Gaiden’s dialog, but that’s ok. I’ll take as many NES cut scenes as I can get. The world is a better place with them.
And so the game starts. And it starts with a sweet tune. There are some great remixes of this Area 1(and 5) song floating around the internet. But here is the original for your listening pleasure:
“Streets of Desolation”
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Stage 1-1 is a straight line to the finish through a bunch of DON’T WALK signs. Maybe it says don’t walk because Heatwave with his flame thrower is at the other end of the street. No matter, you have four weapons at your disposal. Your batarang, bat spear gun, and bat disk. And of course you have your good old face pounding fists which I always prefer. It’s just more fun bashing people’s faces in. Either way it’s too soon to waste ammo on these early game chumps, just fist them to death and move on.
In stage 1-2 you enter a building which is more of the same, but with a twist. It is the first area that gives you the choice of wall jumping. And what is cooler than Batman wall jumping up a narrow crevasse? What’s this you say? You can do that in Ninja Gaiden also? Damn… Oh well it looks way more nifty when Batman does it. So to hell with you Ryu.
Speaking of Ryu, he managed to sneak into this game. Towards the end of the level there is a dark ninja menace lurking in the shadows. Blink and you’ll miss him. Also blink and he’ll kill you lickity-split. Batarangs are your friend. He’s worth wasting them on (the aforementioned guy is actually KGBeast because he apparently appeared in the movie too).
Dispatch KG, I mean Ryu and you are on to the first boss. Who just happens to be…… Killer Moth! Remember that scene in the movie when he flies all over the place with his jetpack and blasts Batman from the air with his four meteorites? You don’t? Well then you must also not remember when Darth Vader turned into a Scorpion in the original Star Wars movie! I have proof! Right here:
Star Wars aside, I will have to say though, they made Killer Moth look like a total bad ass in this game compared to the comics. Too bad he’s a total stooge. Just stand in the far left corner and his meteors go right over you. Drill him hard with batarangs as he dives your way and he’s dead before sun up.
On to Stage 2. The chemical factory! Yes! We’re starting to follow the movie now:
Blast your way into the factory with the Batmobile and you find yourself in a pretty familiar looking place. It at least somewhat resembles the scene in the movie complete with dripping acid, nonsensical plumbing, big billowing exhaust fans and a guy that looks like a mutated Wolverine. Actually, it’s Nightslayer. You know, the Nightslayer from the comics that is supposed to be quick, agile and stealthy. Well, not this one. This has to be the slowest moving dude in the entire game. Oh well, so much for accuracy. Finish up with a little platforming over some nasty acid pits and past your flame thrower friend Heatwave and it’s on to a level that has absolutely nothing to do with the movie.
It’s electric! Apparently the Joker has electrified an entire building just for Batman to traverse through. And it is quite a traverse. This is the first level in the game that really starts to test your skills, especially with Batman’s insane ability to leap from wall to wall. It isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun but I discovered over 20 years ago that if you are going to beat this game, you have to get as good as Batman at wall jumping. This level is a practice run for what this game throws at you later. And oh man, does it punish you.
Wall jump your way around the electricity and you find yourself on to level 2-3, or what appears to be an underground warehouse. Ok, we just have to forget about continuity now and go with the flow. And this level is all about flow or more precisely, messing up yours. There are conveyor belts and spinning spikes galore and they are annoying as anything you have encountered thus far. The real surprise comes at the end though when you encounter…… Maxie Zeus! Although you wouldn’t know it by looking at him, he looks nothing like the comics. He also has no attack except to run at you like the mindless antiquated AI that he is. Punch him in the nuts till he pops and its boss time.
Now, this isn’t so much a boss as it is a trio of torment. Three machines that all require slightly different approaches. Which all involve your bat spear gun. I remember spending many an afternoon in my youth trying to take down this pain-in-the-fifth-extremity and it wasn’t easy at first. None of it makes any sense and all I know is that years of practice have made this boss a relative breeze, like riding a bike. The reflexes are just there. I’m sure in reality it is a harder feat. Just shoot your spear gun at the three sweet spots and its burnt toast.
And that brings us to stage 3-1, straight to the sewer (wasn’t that Batman Returns?) and where this game officially becomes: NINTENDO-HARD! Yes, the difficulty ramps here to the point where the game becomes a “Roguelike” and you’d think you were playing FTL. At least the level is completely straight. Although you’re main problem is trying to line yourself up with the mutated jumping baboons that there seems to be an endless supply of. The Joker apparently made them especially for Batman and specifically to jump on you to death. Get jiggy with them back and forth a couple times, get some select punches in and…. next!
On Stage 3-2 the water officially gets dirty. I guess the deeper in the sewer you go the more rotten broccoli poop sinks to the bottom. This level spans more vertically than horizontally and there are plenty more baboons jumping around. The last span has you bat climbing the wall again which is a nice foreshadow of things to come.
Stage 3-3 finds Batman in a cave. No, not the Bat Cave, just an ugly, red, clay colored one filled with tanks, homing mines, Heatwaves, and the (thus far) worst Bat climb yet. As a matter of fact, I remember this Bat climb well from my childhood. It took us years before we could pass it and Bryan’s brother Derek was the only one of us who managed to finish it and then actually take down the boss afterwards. Because in typical Nintendo fashion; lose on the boss and it’s all for naught. Back to do it all over again. Oh the joy of insanity!
Which brings us to boss #3, or as he is called in the Comics: “The Electrocutioner.” That really is the greatest name ever, really. The “Electrocutioner” is apparently “a self-electrogenic man and the strongest warrior on earth” (straight from the instruction manual’s Shakespearean narration). If he is the strongest warrior on earth why the hell isn’t he the final boss of the game? Well at least it explains all the hydro electric weirdness of the last couple levels. He uses it for power! He must be a liberal… damn green energy. No matter, consult GameFaqs, trap him in a corner and fire your dart gun till he blinks out like an energy inefficient, incandescent light bulb.
Stage 4-1 awaits and yes, the difficulty continues to ramp. This is apparently the ruins of some sort of laboratory the Joker uses to genetically engineer creatures to kill Batman. Because that was in the movie, too! Either way this is another straight forward level to the terminus with the Joker cackling on giant jumbo-trons the whole way. Just ignore him, concentrate on the mutants and move on.
Ahhh now the true lunacy begins. Stage 4-2 is a minor nightmare of somewhat epic proportions. Notice I say minor because it gets much, much worse. Honestly though, compared to the next one this level is a breeze. Next!
Let the true trials begin! Let me clarify here, I was on vacation last week. I played this game on my Galaxy S3 with a Bluetooth MOGA controller. For further clarification, here it is in all its geeky glory:
It took me two solid nights of pure, totally dedicated gaming to finally finish this completely unforgiving and utterly punishing level. It’s just, total bat shit crazy (no pun intended). First, you fall down through a shaft loaded with random electrified beams shooting across. Think Quick Man’s stage from Mega Man 2.
Then, you must make a total of 20 jumps, yes 20, all over a fire pit.
Not only that, but half of them are about 2 inches wide with a conveyor belt spinning around them so that if you take one step you immediately fall into the fire to start it all over again.
If you manage to pass that then you must face dual tanks, flame throwers and then right at the end when you think everything is safe, Nightslayer shows up. As a matter of fact, two of him. So yeah, there is no nice in this dirty level. I finished it, but it damn near took the life out of me.
So you get through it all and what could possibly come next? Apparently, a “Dual-Container Alarm.” Thaaaa fuhhh? Ok, two containers that move around a room and try to crush you. Once again, a scene I remember well from the movie. Tim Burton spent a fortune on that scene I’m sure. It kind of reminds me again of a Mega Man game. I know there was a boss somewhere like this in one of those first 6 games. Thankfully though, this boss is a picnic. Sit still and punch until the alarm is silenced.
Oh merciful heaven! We made it to Stage 5! And better yet, stage 5 only has one area! Bad news though, the level is damn near insurmountable. It’s a long, wall jumping slog to the top of this damned tower. Yes, another tower! Didn’t Ninja Gaiden end with a tower also? And didn’t it also have a nearly impervious level towards the end? Two of those kinds of levels in a month’s time is enough to give anyone a full on panic attack.
There are two things you will do on this stage, climb up walls and dodge the endless gears that this stupid clock apparently has. How many flipping gears does it take to run one clock? Or is it a bell tower? So it makes even less sense. At any rate, the level is so unfair at certain points that you basically have no choice but to take damage to continue. Unless you are Superman, which you clearly are not. Batman is but a mere mortal here! But acrobatics are all you’ve got and you’d better be bred of Olympic quality if you want to actually finish this asylum of a level.
The pinnacle has been reached. There is no turning back now (unless of course you lose, then you get to replay the entire infernal tower) because Firebug awaits! And Firebug, as his name suggests, throws giant fireballs at you with incredible speed. Staying in the corner and hitting him with batarangs when he charges is your best bet. Use pretty much all of them and he explodes in a firefly orgy of light. The Joker awaits.
Somewhere along the line the joker grew a few inches and apparently learned some mage skills because not only is he HUGE, but he can summon lighting. Sure, why not. If Darth Vader can turn into a Scorpion why can’t the Joker cast “Bolt3.” Just make sure he doesn’t hit you with it. At least he kept his lanky gun from the movie, even if he didn’t end up using it to shoot down the Batwing.
Just punch him to not-quite-death so that Batman can finish him off by tossing him off the building! Yes, he actually just throws him straight off! Not only did that not happen in the movie but Batman doesn’t generally kill people intentionally and for pure vengeance! What the hell were you thinking Sunsoft? You can witness said atrocity below:
So in conclusion, other than Batman now being a cold blooded murderer, what else did I take away from my 20+ year experience with this game? Am I a better person? Did pretending my enemies in real life were enemies in the game make me just as bad as a murderous Batman? Was it worth the torment of finishing this game, just so I could say I defeated the bullies in my undeveloped youth? I would have to say yes to all. Nothing is better than seeing a positive quest through to completion, even if it has bumps along the way. It’s a satisfaction that far outweighs any superficial feeling of revenge you might feel if you were to actually hurt someone in the flesh. And they say video games are bad for society. Bah, I’ll leave it to my pal Data to end this essay:
“I would gladly risk feeling bad at times, if it also meant that I could taste my dessert.”