The Konami Wave
There was just something about the Konami logo growing up, switching on a SNES, and seeing a pink neon ray fly across the TV set, to reveal the Konami name and glow of the bright orange logo, the chime that sounded only meaning one thing; I knew I was about to play a great game. Konami certainly was the name behind games that were both “fun” and “frustrating”, but defined what great gaming is to me, even as a kid. This was before the “Kojima” fallout, even before Silent Hill and Dance, Dance Revolution catapulted the company even further into heavens of yen. Konami is an older Japanese company, finding its footing back in 1969 as Konami Industry Co., Ltd. Like many older Japanese corporations of bygone days with bygone purpose and products, notably Nintendo, Konami originated as a repair and rental company for jukeboxes before entering the video game industry in the late 1970s/ early 1980s. In 1981, Konami released titles such as Frogger to both popularity and history, and soon found their niche. Quickly, Konami established a relationship with the American industry, introducing their arcade titles to the West very early on and began developing games for the NES library. By the time the 16-bit generation was at war with itself, Konami had developed video games for several Western cartoon and movie franchises, including personal favorites like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Tiny Toon Adventures. So, in my baby brain, I definitely assumed from loving these shows that a video game title would surely be just as good.
How little did I know that I was actually right.
Batman Returns: The Movie (Not to Be Confused With the Video Game)
Another thing I really liked as a crotch spawn was Batman. I have deeply personal emotions for Batman: The Animated Series and am in the school of “Mark Hamill’s Joker is Best Joker” because of it. To this day, I don’t think I have a single greater Halloween costume than the one from the year my two older brothers and I were Batman, Robin, and Catwoman from Tim Burton’s 1992 film, Batman Returns. This was the early 90s and some parents still made costumes from bought cloth and sewing machines. My mother was one one of those.
Batman Returns is the follow-up to Tim Burton’s 1989 incarnation of the Dark Knight, Batman. Returns stars Michele Pfieffer as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman aka Burton’s obvious fondness of BDSM and love of black latex at its finest, and the gem of the Jersey Shore, King Danny DeVito, a revolting baby man penguin as a leader of demented circus “freaks, who smells worse than Frank Reynolds and is viler than Louie De Palma. Michael Keaton is also Batman. Batman has to stop two jerkwads from disrupting the law and order of Gotham City once again but this time it’s Christmas!
Batman Returns: The Game (Not to Be Confused With the Movie)
Batman Returns, the video game(s), was actually developed by several companies, dependent on the console, and unlike the movie, with Burton’s flair seeping into every corner of the screen. Different versions were release on everything from the Sega Genesis to Tiger Electronics handhelds. Konami was the team chosen to generate the Nintendo versions of the game. The SNES game was released in 1993, shortly after the film. Batman Returns, the video game, generally follows the plot of the movie in Batman’s attempts to thwart both the Penguin and Catwoman, with liberties taken in terms of setting and the exclusion of Christopher Walken. The glasses Selina Kyle drops at the beginning of the movie are even programmed into the first “scene” of the game, before she is taken hostage by the clown with the taser. This Cobblepot crony is even the first boss of the game. It is honestly the best adaptation from a movie to a game I’ve ever played and it includes cut scenes and quotes ripped directly from the film.
The game looks, just fantastic. Choices in the palette are clearly made with Tim Burton’s morbidity and macabre in mind. Rather than just punching or slashing through the game, the player must be strategic about which weapons to use and when, causing many moments of trial and error. Platforming in a beat ’em up is usually never a consideration, and if it is, the dynamics are questionable at best. However, Konami pulls it off adequately enough, but, perhaps, not with the same guile as Batman punches enemies. The inclusion of the grappling hook is quite responsive and fun to operate, as the player watches Batman swing across the screen. Batman can also use his Batarang, block, and kick his way through swarms of goons. Some baddies respond better to different attacks, so it is really in the hands of the player to develop an effective method to attack enemies and even bosses.
There is some lazy variation in those same enemies, most of which are the recycled circus “freaks” from both the movie and game’s first “scene” or stage. However, this is balanced through a change in stage perception, rather than the screen-roll of left to right, from scene to scene. For example, in one scene, the player is utilizing Batman’s grappling hook to make his way through Shreck’s department store burning, avoiding both enemies and pockets of fire. In another part, the player is traveling upward to the roof, across window panes, and making use of all of Batman’s abilities, to encounter and takedown Catwoman. Probably the most remarkable of these changes in gameplay style is the scene where you are operating the Batmobile, shooting baddies in your path. With the lack of a multi-player mode, the game is actually quite a challenge, and even on easy, I found myself dying frequently with each new section of the game I encountered. For some, this may be a reason for insinuating rage, but I found the gameplay to be sprinkled with moments of randomization and pattern memorization, looking rad AF as 90s Batman while doing it.
It’s just that…how did the team behind this make such an atmospheric, well-oiled game with such limited hardware and no notable earlier titles to reference? Why do games today fail so horribly at this, with every resource at their disposal? No industry, and products of said industry, take chances anymore. It isn’t profitable. Konami themselves have since bowed out of video games altogether, opting for the even more lucrative business of Pachinko. But, such rarity it is to play releases as refined and attended to detail as Batman Returns, with a perfect balance of nod and ingenuity.
And for that, adult and kid me thank you.