The Detective Is In
Batman Returns (1992 DOS)
Konami deserves a lot of credit. The managed to crank out not one but two really solid BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. games based on Tim Burton's sequel. Those games, for the NES and SNES managed to take the solid, satisfying beat-em-up action Konami perfected on the TMNT Arcade Game. They were a couple of the most enjoyable Batman games since Sunsoft's sublime NES title.
To get to those games, though, Konami had to experiment and find their ways. That required a visit over on DOS because every console and home gaming system of the time apparently couldn't escape Batman Returns. Konami had released other PC titles for their major franchises, such as ports of Castlevania or the platforming original TMNT: Manhattan Missions. Notably those games, though, weren't very good. And while the effort put on Batman Returns for DOS can be felt, trying to create something new and different from the Caped Crusader, the end results aren't any better than Konami's other PC effort.
At it's core, Batman Returns on DOS is a point-and-click adventure based on the 1992 sequel. Like the other games based on the film, it ostensibly follows the plot of the movie, having Batman go around the city battling circus performers while trying to unravel the dastardly plans of Max Shreck and Oswald "Penguin' Cobblepot. He has to protect the city, try to save the Ice Princess, ruins Penguin's reputation around the city, track down the criminal mastermind's headquarters, and finally stop the Penguin once and for all. Oh, and Catwoman eventually shows up just to die. You know, like in the movie.
If we're being charitable, making a point-and-click adventure for Batman does make a certain amount of sense. He's called the "world's greatest detective", and point-and-click adventures are (supposedly, at least) all about finding and detecting, using the clues around you to solve puzzles and advance the plot. Giving Batman this kind of adventure does play to that aspect of his character, even if the whole "world's greatest detective" aspect was never really on display in Tim Burton's films.
And, at the same time, the game is fairly lushly designed. Because of how it's constructed, with static screens that are explored with a mouse (to find the various objects needed for the case), each scene can be drawn and crafted without requiring tiled sprites to fill the screen. I love spites, don't get me wrong, but there is something nice about the lush, drawn backgrounds this game is able to sport as a benefit of its limited scope and design style. It's eye catching, for sure, if you don't have to play it.
The issues come once you actually have to play the game, though. The first problem is that the pacing is very, very slow. Say what you will about Tim Burton's sequel but it wasn't slow. Clocking in at just over two hours, the movie had a ton of action, or ton of character development, and a huge amount of plot that is breezed through at a snappy pace. Point-and-clicks aren't generally fast or snappy, though, and the pace of this game is far different from Batman Returns. It's slow, it's plodding, and it feels like it takes forever to get anywhere.
Part of that issue is that you have to do things in a specific order on specific days to progress the plot. One day you may have to go to the Mayor's office to get a video tape for evidence, the next day you'll have to go back to grab a photo, or some blueprints. The game doesn't tell you this, mind you, so each day you have to click on each location on the city map to see if anything new has shown up. If you miss anything you can't progress the plot and you have to keep searching.
Now, credit to the game, all your evidence can be taken back to the Batcave and put into the Batcomputer so that you can analyze it and get clues. The game does try to encourage you and give you hints as to what comes next, so you're rarely ever left completely lost. But there is still a lot of randomly searching and clicking just to see if you can find stuff. It's not exactly thrilling. Hell, it's the opposite of thrilling in just about every way you can think of, which is a far cry from Tim Burton's very strange sequel.
To spice things up the game tries to put in some combat, but this also really doesn't work. Instead of directly controlling Batman, the game presents you with basic fight options -- Easy, Normal, and Fierce -- and the ability to throw a limited set of batarangs. All you do is choose your combat stance, maybe through a 'rang at a guy once in a while, and Batman does the rest. It's not really combat so much as an early quick time event cut-scene. Whenever once of these sections game up, I really just wanted them to go away. They felt like padding and not real game play.
Of course, then there's the issue facing any point-and-click adventure: once someone knows what they're doing they can get through the game in no time flat. A skilled speed runner for this DOC game in a half an hour or less. Naturally, the joy of a point-and-click is seeing how well you can do the game while living in the world, but Batman Returns doesn't provide that joy. It's world is pretty, but static. There aren't a lot of rich details to explore or fun characters to meet. And then it's over with minimal fuss and not much fun.
I think what this game proves, via some poorly rendered, nearly whithered kernel of an idea, is that maybe Batman could work as a point-and-click hero (certainly Telltale took that tack eventually with their own take on the Batman point-and-click adventure). Konami didn't manage to nail it but they did kind of show that using the format as a detective story for Batman is an interesting idea. I wanted to like this DOS adventure but there just wasn't enough here to enjoy. It's less than half a game, and almost none of it is fun.