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Holy Thanksgiving, Batman!


Possibly the most intimidating title screen in the history of video games.

As we're all aware, today is Thanksgiving.  On this day, it is customary to give thanks for all of life's little joys: friends, family, health, wealth, happiness, Corps, country, Kris Kristofferson, Chuck Norris, the solar system, trans-dimensional travel, Norman Bates and his mother Kathy Bates, Hollywood, Bollywood, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, ninjas, and everything else that makes life worth living.  This Thanksgiving, I, too, wish to give thanks--for my great family, my good friends, my amazing girlfriend, and--most of all--for Batman!

Yes, Batman.  Do I really need to explain myself?  Not only has Batman saved Gotham City from the evils that inhabit Arkham Asylum more times than can be counted (though DC Comics has tried), he's also saved the earth from multiple alien threats during the 1950s and 1960s and, recently (within the last year or so), he made the ultimate sacrifice and gave his life to save the universe from the evil Fourth World god Darkseid during an event called Final Crisis (well, he's not technically dead per se, only caught in prehistoric times with the ancient superhero known as Anthro, but everyone is supposed to think that Batman is dead).  So, on this, a day when we give thanks, I offer my thanks to and for the Dark Knight Detective.  And, because I'm the Cleveland Classic Games Examiner, I specifically offer my sincerest thanks for the NES game, simply titled Batman (tm).  Based on the 1989 film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton in the role of Gotham's dark avenger and Jack Nicholson in the role of the dastardly Joker, the NES game is...unique, to say the least.  Allow me to explain.

 

The mean streets of Gotham.  Man, it feels good to be Batman.

First, the game begins in medias res--in the middle of things--during the Gotham centennial celebration.  During the festivities, the Joker released toxic nerve gas contained in parade balloons, which Batman promptly destroys in the prologue.  Though the deadly crisis has been averted, the Joker's henchmen take to the Gotham streets, causing chaos and terrorizing citizens.  So, the first level places the player as Batman on the streets of Gotham, right in the middle of the riot.  Sounds close to the movie, right?  Give it time.

The first thing that one will notice is that Danny Elfman's brilliant Batman score is absent from the game.  Completely absent.  There aren't even chords of it in any of the level themes or cutscenes.  That said, the soundtrack for the game is still very action-packed and fits the atmosphere of the game fairly well, especially that level themes for the first and third levels.  Also, the player will notice that the gameplay is very action-oriented, which is ideal for a sidescroller based on and Batman property.  The difficulty in the first level is quite the same throughout the game--that is, the game is difficult, but not unfair as long as you keep your wits about you.  Also, when Batman punches enemies, they burst into flame and explode.  While my memory isn't what it used to be, I don't think that happened in any of the comics (ever) or in the Burton film.  But I digress.


In the sewers, fighting what appears to be a Ninja Turtle.

Back to the plot.  So, Batman fights his way through the Gotham streets to the bottom of Gotham Cathedral.  As in the 1989 movie, the Joker is hiding out in the cathedral (the subplot with Vicki Vale is almost completely removed from the game).  So, after beating the boss of the level (comic book Batman villain Killer Moth), another cutscene reveals that Batman jumps into his Batmobile, leaves the cathedral, and drives to Axis Chemical plant to stop the Joker's production of deadly chemicals.  Now, anyone who has seen the film will note that this causes a continuity error, as Batman was supposed to have taken care of the chemical plant earlier in the film.  Not only that, but why would Batman leave the cathedral when he's so close to catching the Joker, only to destroy a chemical plant and risk the Joker getting away?  And the third level makes even less sense.  In the first half of the third level, Batman is fighting his way through the sewers until he gets to a cave, which is the second half of the third level.  Now, one could rationalize that the second level takes place as a flashback, as does Batman's escape from Axis Chemicals into the sewers and, eventually, back to his Batcave (which has now somehow been overrun with the Joker's henchmen and the Electrocutioner, a Batman villain that appeared for about one page in one Batman comic in the late 1980s), but one would have to be more insane than the Joker to do so. 

 

A television studio as designed by H.R. Giger.

After fighting his way through the most dangerous cave in existence, Batman heads to the television station for some unknown reason.  Though I love the level design in this game, I have to note that this is the creepiest television station I've ever seen.  The angles, cords, and freakish machinery are Lovecraftian in design and, beyond that, I can't come up with a single reason as to why Batman would ever go to the television station in the first place.  It never happened in the film, so why would it happen in the game? 

 

The Joker, demonstrating a technique he learned from Maxie Zeus while in
Arkham.

After working through the television studio, Batman finally decides that he should return to the cathedral and take down the Joker--who now apparently has the ability to call forth lightning from the heavens.  A little weird, yes, but the Joker still carries his long-barrelled joke gun, so I can forgive the programmers for imbuing the Joker with the powers of God.  After defeating the Joker, Batman (as he does in the film, though perhaps a bit less directly than in the game) tosses aside his "no killing the bad guys" attitude from the comic books and throws the Joker over the railing and to his death, citing that now the Joker will "dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight."  Batman is totally rad.
 

Normally I'm a stickler for accuracy, but honestly, the NES Batman game is so cool that I can't help but love it.  Though the game was removed from the film (which was in turn removed from the comics), it remains a good, challenging side-scroller that stands up even today.  Plus, it stars Batman.  That's something for which we can all be thankful.

With that, I hope that everyone has a safe and joyous Thanksgiving!

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