The history of Atari is an incredibly confusing one. Once a mighty corporation that, for all intents and purposes, kicked off the arcade game business in the first place, it eventually saw itself split in half (Atari Inc. and Atari Games), dabbling in illegal reverse programming of the NES (hello, Tengen Tetris), bought out by Hasbro (and then started 're-imagining' its old games, leading to the farcical remake of Breakout, which adds a story to the battle between Bat and Bricks) and then had their name pinched by Infogrames, who thought it looked nice, who went on to publish one good game (Ikaruga for the Gamecube) and, er, publish average stuff ever since. Then, the original Atari, as Midway Games West, were shut down, and a legend finally met its end. Well, that's the abridged version, but my point remains the same- they were the kings of the arcade, with hits like Centipede and Tempest, but then it all went to hell.
Oh, Atari, where did it all go so wrong?
Perhaps a look at the 90's is in order?
Ah, maybe it's this sort of thing that helped kill Atari.
OK, that was a bit of a cheap shot... Released in 1991 and apparently coded by 'The Numega Team' (but still with Atari Games on the title screen), the Batman arcade game is a tragic case indeed. First off, it was trying to win a losing battle, and be a tie-in to a film released two years earlier. Furthermore, it was saddled with Atari's name, specifically the bizarro version of Atari from the 90's. There may have been time for Klax back then, but almost all Atari games released at this point in time were dreadful. I'm not even talking an acceptable amount of dreadful, I'm talking shit-storms like Guardians of the 'Hood and ThunderJaws. If you're fortunate to have never heard of either of these games... Count your blessings. Perhaps it was this dark, dim era for Atari, with a lack of any decently-coded games that led to their doom... Who knows?
Now, you may be wondering exactly why I've taken the time (57 minutes, to be precise) to play through this game and report back to you. Most movie licenses are terrible! We all know that, right? Well, that's true, but while the Batman arcade game isn't the greatest game in the world, it had potential. It's a shame, then, that the entire game is filled with more bugs than a flea-bitten dog. While there aren't any game-breaking glitches, the various bugs that it's riddled with are really a sight to behold. Admittedly, some of them don't come off well in pictures, but I'll be doing my best to catalogue the worst ones. It's like it was coded late Friday night, and the head programmer got the whole team together, and announced, "Right, everyone. This is going nowhere fast. Let's just pull some code out of our asses, get it sent to head office before the morning, and them I'm off to the pub. Last one there's a wanker!"
So, let's get to it, and have a look at this game. To its credit, it follows the movie very closely, and all the major bits are there- After you push Jack Napier into a vat of chemicals, he becomes The Joker, and starts being a menace to society. So as good old Batsy, you have to, uh, stop him. You'll rescue dames from museums! Collect balloons filled with poisonous gas! And you'll almost certainly beat up a lot of people along the way, because that's how The Batman rolls!
The controls are yet another example of taking the basic framework from Rolling Thunder (seriously, I keep playing games that are almost exactly like Rolling Thunder. If you haven't played it already, do it) so you've only got two buttons- Shoot and Jump. You can also hold Up and Jump to leap up to higher ledges, but that's as advanced as the controls get. When you don't have any weapons equipped, you punch instead, which you're constantly reminded is worth 3 times as many points. The punching controls seem to be context-sensitive, as sometimes you'll punch straight, other times you'll do a Mortal Kombat-style uppercut... Even stranger, tapping the Jump button in front of an enemy lets you perform a Flying Leg-Kick, which is useful, but not so much when you actually want to jump. Because of all this context-sensitive nonsense, the controls are twitchy and unreliable, so you'll have to learn to adjust to them.
The Batman is a pretty sturdy guy, so he'll usually take about 2 or 3 hits before he snuffs it, but the way your health is displayed is very strange- it's represented by the Bat signal at the bottom of the screen, but only the one furthest to the right, as all the others are just your extra lives. Furthermore, The Batman is not alone in his mission, as he can pick up not one, not two, but three amazing weapons along the way! They're super useful! They're very difficult to get a screenshot of while they're being used, though, so you'll have to make do with the actual icons instead.
The Batman's signature weapon, of course. You throw them. People die. That's it.
The Bat Rope
Probably the most useless weapon in the game, even though when you first pick it up, the game goes in a flap and delights in telling you precisely what it does. Even I thought, for a second, "Oh boy! This must mean that we get this as a permanent weapon, how awesome!" and then, seconds later, I picked up a Gas Cannister, completely replacing it. Gah. Its purpose is to help you up on to ledges that are a few pixels too high for you to jump to, but there's only two places in the entire game where you'll actually need it. Honestly. This can also be used as a weapon, but it's very slow and you'd better not waste it.
The Gas Cannister
Terrible screenshot, you can see the cannister on the ledge to the right. There's not much to say about these either. They can be a little awkward to aim, as they arch their way to the ground rather than going as straight as an arrow. They're not as useful as the Batarang, which goes all the way across the screen, but they seem to do slightly more damage, and they make pretty explosions, which is lovely.
I'm glad the opening spiel is out of the way. Fortunately, the game is amazingly short, even for an arcade game, so let's get into the spirit of things. Get your cowl and cape, and practise your deep, gravelly voice; let's play Batman!
On the next page: everything goes a bit batty. Ohohoho!