Michael Keaton’s return as Batman in the DC film/television universe has rightfully caused many fans to fondly recall the actor’s golden days as the caped crusader.
One element of the Keaton era of Batman that is sometimes unfairly overlooked, though, is the surprising quality of the games based on Michael Keaton and Tim Burton’s Batman films. You’d think these games would be much more fondly remembered given the generally poor quality of adaptations at that time, but too many of them remain strangely forgotten.
Even if you do remember those games, you almost certainly don’t know these facts that showcase just how wild and weird those titles really were.
The First Batman Game Based on the ’89 Movie Wasn’t The Infamous NES Title
The first game based on Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie most of us played was probably the notoriously difficult NES adaptation (more on that in a bit), but that wasn’t actually the first video game based on that movie.
That honor goes to the Batman game released in 1989 for Amiga, Commodore 64, and other platforms. It’s actually a pretty clever adaptation that features different gameplay segments (including a puzzle level) based on scenes from the movie. Honestly, it might have been the best video game adaptation of a movie released until that point.
Batman NES Was Initially Even More Different From the Movie
With its crushing difficulty level, acrobatic movement system, and bizarre enemies/level design, many gamers have long speculated that the ’89 Batman game for the NES may not have even initially been developed as a Batman game.
While that doesn’t seem to be the case, it’s worth noting that the early version of the NES game was significantly different from the retail version and even further from the movie it was supposed to be based on. The initial art style was much closer to the comics and certain cutscenes were altered entirely shortly before the game was released. The Joker wasn’t even the final boss in that version of the game!
It’s believed that the working build of the title was rejected for being too different from the movie, but there’s never been any confirmation that’s what actually happened.
Batman Tries to Kill The Joker In a Sega Genesis Game
One of the most memorable scenes in the ’89 Batman movie sees Batman try to save Jack Napier from falling into a vat of chemicals. He fails, but it’s a nice little reminder that Batman doesn’t want to kill his enemies.
That reminder is thrown out the window in the Genesis version of Batman. An early boss fight sees you end the battle against Jack Napier by triumphantly knocking him into a vat of chemicals. It’s a reminder that video games of that era weren’t exactly great at telling even slightly subtle stories through gameplay.
Batman: Return of the Joker is Somewhere Between a Sequel and a Spin-Off
1991’s Batman: Return of the Joker is a bizarre game. It was developed by the same team who made the ’89 NES game, and its title certainly suggests that it follows the events of that title. Yet, its art style and gameplay are entirely different from the previous game.
So is Return of the Joker a sequel or spin-off? Well, it’s a sequel to the game, but it feels like a weird trip into an alternate dimension where the end of the ’89 Batman movie led to a more “comic book” universe. It’s definitely an oddity.
Batman Returns for Sega Master System/Game Gear Featured a Unique Level Selection System
At a time when a game released for multiple platforms could vary wildly (again, more on that in a bit), the Sega Master System/Game Gear version of Batman Returns features a unique mechanic that has unfairly been forgotten about over time.
Basically, the games let you choose which “path” you would take through a level. Along with being visually different, each path offered a different difficulty level that varied from “Easy” to “Hard.” It was basically an early attempt at dynamic difficulty that offered two different games (at the very least) based on your challenge preferences.
Batman Returns For DOS is a Unique (and Fascinating) Adventure Game
While the Sega Master System/Game Gear version of Batman Returns is fairly different from its counterparts, the DOS version of the title is an entirely different beast.
Essentially an adventure game, the DOS version of Batman Returns sees Batman try to uncover the Penguin’s scheme over the course of several days. While the game does feature action sequences, the bulk of the experience focuses on information gathering and puzzle-solving.
While the game honestly isn’t that good, it’s one of the few attempts at a (mostly) pure Batman detective game.
Updated. Original publish date Jan. 5, 2021.