By: James Swift
Needless to say, there were a ton of great Genesis games based on Marvel licenses: The Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Kingpin, X-Men 2: Clone Wars, the arcade port of The Avengers, Capcom’s The Punisher … the list goes on and on.
The heroes and villains of DC Comics, however, weren’t as well represented on Sega’s 16-bit hardware. In total, just eight DC-branded titles hit the Genesis, and all but three are explicit tie-ins to the Bat-flicks of the 1990s and its corresponding Fox Kids cartoon. Still, that doesn’t mean that other DC stalwarts didn’t make an appearance or two on the system. Indeed, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Aquaman all showed up in at least one Genesis title. And with the long-awaited Justice League movie finally hitting multiplexes, what better time to reflect on the cavalcade of DC superhero cartridges available on Sega’s beloved console?
Batman: The Video Game (1990)
Batman is a fusion of the acclaimed NES game and the semi-forgotten 1990 arcade game developed by Data East. Like the beloved Nintendo title, platforming is the emphasis here, although there’s a bit more beat-em-up action than Ninja Gaiden-esque projectile throwin’. This game also affords you something the NES game didn’t: shoot-em-up levels where you get to control the Batmobile and Bat-Wing! Unfortunately, it’s marred by a clunky control setup that makes pivotal evasive maneuvers all but impossible, and a scant six stages that novice gamers could complete in less than an hour. Still, Batman‘s a fun ride while it lasts, and Naoki Kodaka’s soundtrack – as expected – is totally awesome.
Batman: Revenge of the Joker (1992)
This is one of my all-time favorite Sega Genesis guilty pleasures. While Revenge of the Joker is nominally a Batman title, the gameplay itself feels more like a classic NES action-platformer, like Mega Man or Power Blade. You still punch and kick the crap out of bad guys, but this time around you’re equipped with a laser weapon that can be upgraded and switched out, a’la Gunstar Heroes. Oddly enough, The Joker is the only canonical Bat-villain to show up in the game; the rest of the bosses consist of sunglasses-wearing, mustachioed dudes and a giant ice robot that looks like a rejected member of GWAR. Revenge of the Joker is notorious for its difficulty, and for good reason: this is easily one of the hardest action games on the console. Thankfully, the fantastic Tommy Tallarico soundtrack and the beautiful Neal Adams-inspired artwork is more than enough incentive to, as the kids today say, “git gud, son.”
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a… really uninspired Rush’n Attack clone? You’d think a character with as many iconic powers as Superman would lend himself perfectly to a video game, but as evident by this ho-hum Sunsoft offering (among many others), there’s quite a bit of Kryptonite in the software code. For the most part, Superman is a straightforward action platformer, although there are a few horizontally and vertically scrolling levels wedged in there. A lot of Superman rogues that don’t get much ink outside the comic book are prominently featured (if I’m not mistaken, this is the only video game appearance of Mr. Mxyzptlk to date), but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The enemy A.I. is terrible, the controls are stiff, the chargeable power moves take forever to reload and, despite being able to canonically sneeze hurricanes and fart tornadoes, *this* incarnation of Superman can’t do much besides throw ineffective haymakers.
Batman Returns (1993)
Developer: Acme Interactive/Malibu Interactive
Publisher: Sega of America
On one hand, Batman Returns is a solid platformer, with well-designed levels and a lot of open space to explore. It does a bang-up job depicting Burton’s polarizing second Bat-flick, complete with the inclusion of suicide bomber penguins (although I don’t recall the part in the movie where Batman was attacked by sentient gargoyle statues and crude, spear-tossin’ caricatures of indigenous peoples). That said, it also has some major hit detection problems. There are spots where your enemies basically become invincible for upwards of ten seconds, and there’s no possible way to defend yourself. Batman Returns can be a fun (albeit frustrating) game, although I think the SNES iteration by Konami and Sega’s own scaled down version on the Master System are vastly superior titles.
The Death and Return of Superman (1994)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Death and Return of Superman reeks of early 90s DC, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Based on the notorious story arc/publicity stunt from 1992, this game has you playing not one, but five different versions of Superman, including Superboy, The Eradicator and Steel (yep … from the infamous Shaquille O’Neal movie.) About 90 percent of the gameplay is pure button-mashing, beat-em-up action, though there are a few vertically scrolling shooting levels. The presentation is really good, and the sprites look great, but the combat system is just too unrefined to warrant anything more than a quick playthrough. Worst of all, Death and Return… commits the number-one sin any side-scrolling brawler can commit: it’s one-player only.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994)
Developer: Clockwork Tortoise
If you’re looking for an insanely difficult Genesis game, step right up to Batman & Robin. While the SNES version developed by Konami was a typical action platformer, the Genesis iteration is a run-and-gun shooter a’la Contra or Gunstar Heroes. Rest assured, Batman & Robin has no problem tossing enemies at you left and right; his game might be as close as the Genesis got to a Metal Slug-like “bullet hell” platformer. The animations are fantastic, and fans of “Batman: The Animated Series” will definitely get a kick out of all the allusions to the program’s best episodes. The controls take a long time to get accustomed to, but the fast and frenetic two-player mode is definitely worth checking out. Consider yourself “elite” if you and a partner can make it longer than five minutes without hitting the “game over” screen.
Batman Forever (1995)
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
The general premise of Batman Forever is promising: a Batman action platformer using the same fighting engine and the same style of digitized sprites from Mortal Kombat. But Batman Forever has a sour reputation for a reason: this game has some of the worst controls you’ll ever experience on the Genesis, with a convoluted setup that often forces you to hit three buttons at a time to perform even the most rudimentary actions (say goodbye to the ability to pause – the “Start” button is used for blocking). The game doesn’t look or sound nearly as good as the SNES version, and, somehow, manages to play even worse. Even the most hardcore Bat-fans should steer clear of this one. It’s easily one of the worst Caped Crusader games on any console.
Justice League Task Force (1995)
Developer: Condor, Inc.
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
More than a decade before Injustice came along, this Acclaim release gave comic nerds an all-star fighting game jamboree featuring a who’s who of D.C. heavyweights. Unfortunately, there’s only six players to choose from (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Green Arrow) and the fighting engine… well, it’s no Street Fighter II. The controls are awful, and there’s no excuse for the animations in a Genesis game that came out in 1995 to be so lackluster. The special moves are ridiculously hard to pull off, meaning just about every fight you’ll have will come down to a pure-luck long distance kicking contest. The concept is cool, no doubt, but the execution is substandard. Stick to Eternal Champions and just pretend Jonathan Blade and RAX Coswell are Green Lantern and Cyborg, respectively.
Of course, there were many more DC branded games on the Master System and Game Gear. Probe’s The Flash appeared on MS, and the versions of Batman Returns and The Adventures of Batman & Robin on the Sega CD were totally different (both games were feature-length Batmobile driving simulators, in case you were wondering). And yes, there was a fighting game based on the cult character Lobo in the works, but it never got beyond the prototype phase (although a playable ROM is floating around out there, I’ve heard). Ditto for Swamp Thing, which from the looks of it, doesn’t appear to be more than a thinly veiled Pitfall ripoff.
The DC offerings on the Genesis aren’t worth going out of your way to experience, except for maybe Revenge of the Joker, although just about all of ‘em except Batman Forever and Justice League can be fun in short bursts. On the plus side, absolutely none of the games feature Ben Affleck hamming it up nonstop for two hours. It’s the little things, eh?
*thanks to blog DC in the 80s for the beautiful Revenge of the Joker ad.