A Real Lost Episode

The Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994 Sega CD)

Going through any fleet of 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 reveals all the weird ways game companies have tried to adapt the license. The tendency seems to be that they'll take a property and bend that around what they already know how to make and not, say, actually try to make a game that fits the license perfectly. Konami, by nature of all the solid beat-em-up games they made in the NES and SNES era, turn Batman Returns and Batman: The Animated Series into a set of brawlers. Sega, meanwhile tried to craft platformers, action games, and super-scaler shooters. That's what Sega was good at, so it's what they made. Never mind that Batman doesn't use guns and wouldn't really fit in any kind of action / shooting adventure. Sega knew what they could make so they made the license fit.

The Adventures of Batman & Robin

Case in point is their Sega CD adaptation of The Adventures of Batman & Robin. The company followed a similar pattern for their releases that they used for Batman Returns, turning Batman into an action hero on the Genesis, giving him beat-em-up stylings on the Game Gear, and then, for some reason, making him drive and shoot at bad guys on the Sega CD. The Sega CD version of Batman Returns was a strange entity. Technically it was the Sega Genesis game, but then it had driving sections interspersed (grafted on, really) to that base game, making for a weird, bifurcated feel to the game. Well, the Sega CD Adventures of Batman ↦ Robin takes that driving engine and builds a game around just that... and not much else.

Okay, to be fair, the game is basically setup as half driving game, half episode of the animated TV series. The game inter-cuts sections of animation, all drawn and voiced by the animated series team, with the parts of the game where Batman drives (and flies) through the streets of Gotham (among other locations) to find the bad guys and take them down. If you liked those sections of the game from the Sega CD Batman Returns then this game is for you, as it's all that and nothing else. It's basically an unofficial sequel to that game, in all but name.

As you will know, if you read my review of that game, I did not like the driving sections of Batman Returns. I found them to be overly long and incredibly clunky. Sega has a number of superscaler games that are quite popular -- Hang-On, OutRun, After Burner, among others -- so one would think that the company would be good at crafting these kinds of games for the Batman license. But, after two attempts at it, between this game and Batman Returns, I have think Sega just couldn't do it with the Sega CD. Not for this license, anyway.

The game starts you off in the Batmobile, driving through the streets of Gotham, avoiding cars while you try to catch up, and take out, two of Poison Ivy's goons. It then presents a cut-scene of Batman finding Ivy, battling one of her plant creatures, and then running off after her. We then move back to driving, where Batman chases Ivy down to take out her truck and stop the villain from escaping. Play then proceeds on in this format, cutting between driving sections and animated cut-scene, back and forth, until you've finally taken out all the villains and won the game. Basic, but you can see what they were going for.

The weird thing is that, where in the Sega CD version of Batman Returns I felt that the whole setup was weird and not very consistent, here I kind of wish we had more than just the driving sections because the game feels like it's missing something. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the long cut-scenes to set up story and plot. That is appreciated. But there are sections of those scenes were Batman (and sometimes Robin) ends up fighting the villains or their goons and you really just wish that instead of the game showing you the fight it'd let you actually have the fight. But that would require putting in any kind of brawling or platforming engine, and the team behind this game, Clockwork Tortoise, simply didn't make that happen.

When the driving sections were grafted onto the Genesis game, it created a really weird, bifurcated feel. "Go drive this section, and then play the same thing over again, in effect, in a platforming stage." But this game was built, from the ground up so it's possible for Clockwork Tortoise to have put action sections into this game, one way or another, and cut between animated scenes, driving, and platforming for a fuller feeling experience. Hell, this team also designed the Genesis version of Adventures of Batman & Robin. They had to chops to do it. For whatever reason they didn't and it makes the game feel just a little emptier.

Now, in fairness they did make the driving sections slightly more tolerable. Still not great but not as completely awful as they were in Batman Returns. For starters they made most of the sections easier to get through -- shorter sections of driving between checkpoints and more time available on the clock. This makes for a driving game that doesn't feel "arcade hard" in its construction (unlike Batman Returns). Sure, the difficulty goes up the deeper you go into the game, and it can get pretty frustrating by the last couple of chapters, but at least the learning curve is better, and more fair, this time around.

With that said the vehicular combat is still clunky and awful. Because of the position you have to have behind the Batmobile to be able to aim it and drive it around (practically center of the screen), it's really hard to see all the objects (and obstacles) that will come at you as you go along. You're going to end up hitting more things, and taking more damage from enemy attacks, then you're going to think is fair. And it's not just position as there's plenty of times where the pop in from scaling graphics simply doesn't give you any time to react. Soaking damage often is the easier choice than trying to play the game safely, even if it means you'll die from time to time.

I feel like the best way to fix this would have been to change the perspective of the vehicular combat. Move the car lower, space the danger out further, and allow more time from when things appear to when they come at you on screen. Of course, this all could be limited by the engine and the hardware and, realistically, there might not have been a way to make this work, but that then speaks to the fact that maybe, just maybe, this wasn't the right game to release on the Sega CD (let alone twice over, in effect).

Many fans of the animated series consider this a lost episode, and I can understand why. The artists, writers, and voice actors all participated in this work, making cut-scenes that would feel perfectly at home in the series. But around that is a half-baked driving game that really doesn't come together anywhere near as well as it should. Driving sections in a larger action game are fine, they help to break up the action. But when the whole game is basically just driving, it will live or die on that driving action, and the Sega CD Adventures of Batman & Robin absolutely dies. Great cut-scenes can't carry otherwise mediocre driving game play.