The most popular movie of 1989 - and perhaps the decade - was Warner Bros. Batman. With Michael Keaton, an unlikely choice as a Superhero to many, in the title role and Jack Nicholson as evil Gotham City gangster Jack Napier, better known as the Joker, the stage was set for a wild confrontation.**
Now Sunsoft has taken the premise for this first Batman film and turned it into a fast-paced game pak for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which should be released to stores by the time you read this.
The Making of Batman
We spoke to Jay Moon, Sunsoft's software development manager, who told us a little about how the game came into their hands and the delicate nature of converting a big-time movie hero to the video-game arena. Particularly with a major trademark like Batman, all aspects of the game's design were scrutinized by Warner Bros, for accuracy. In fact, all characterizations had to go through Keaton, Nicholson and, in some cases, Kim Basinger (who played the part of Vicky Vale, Batman's/Bruce Wayne's love interest in the film).
Development of the Batman game began with the first storyboards - the sequence of drawings that outline the proposed action - being created in October of 1988. Two months later, Sun Electronics Corporation, Sunsoft's Japanese parent company, started working on programming the game at their Konan City, Japan, office under team leader, Mr. H. Suzuki. By the end of the project, the team numbered seven members (between the ages of 20 and 26), though most of the work was done by one programmer and two graphic designers.
"When I went to visit [the Batman programming team], it was obvious that these kids took pride in what they were doing", Moon said. "And the final game shows it".
By far the most difficult aspect of designing the Batman video game was that the movie hadn't been released at that point and was extremely top secret, so information was at a minimum. For this reason, the designers frequently had to work off sketches and photos, and all aspects of the game bounced back and forth between Japan and Wood Dale, Illinois (Sunsoft's American office), as well as between Sunsoft, DC Comics (in New York) and Warner Bros.
Luana Chambers, software licensing manager for Warner Bros., relayed to VG&CE their satisfaction at the final product. "Batman required an enormous amount of teamwork between Warner Bros. and Sunsoft. Sunsoft's tremendous dedication to this property has resulted in an outstanding videogame program. We couldn't be happier".
Interestingly enough, other video- game versions Batman will be created by Sunsoft - most notably for the PC Engine, Mega Drive (the Japanese counterparts of NEC's TurboGrafx-16 and Sega's Genesis, respectively) and the Game Boy. Only the Game Boy will see the light of American stores, as the contracts limit the systems that Batman will be released on in America. As of this writing, the Game Boy version of Batman is finished and is being looked over by Warner Bros. for final approval. No firm release date has been set, though Moon guesses it will be available in mid-1990.
What makes the situation more interesting is that all three video-game console versions of Batman were developed by different design teams, to prevent any crossover of concepts and designs, and to ensure that each product stands apart from the others. Moon feels that the NES version is the best of the trio.
Also holding that opinion is Bob Bernstein, Sunsoft's vice-president of sales and marketing, who noted "Batman has been a tremendous undertaking [for Sunsoft] from the very beginning. There were many obstacles to overcome during the development stages of the game. However, we are ecstatic with the completed program and anticipate nothing short of a blockbuster hit with the Nintendo community".
Batman: The NES
Again, the Sunsoft version tries to stick to the movie as much as it can, highlighting Batman's trek toward a final meeting with the Joker. Similar to Blaster Master, another of Sunsoft's popular NES cartridges, you have to move Batman through various scenes, gathering weapons by battling the enemies that cross your path.
After an adversary has been defeated, he'll change to an icon that will either build your arsenal of weaponry (featuring a Batarang, a spear gun and a tri-directionally firing dirk, in addition to straight fisticuffs), Batman's life force (through the acquisition of hearts) or bonus points (designated by the "B" icon).
As you go on with the mission, you'll face 15 different types of enemies and five bosses through five levels that increase in difficulty and seriously test your control-pad prowess. By no means is Batman an easy game.
The game begins with Gotham City planning their 200th anniversary festival, though the city is corrupt with crime that goes right up to the highest offices in government. Who else but the Caped Crusader can clean up Gotham City's act?
From the streets of Gotham City, the action moves into Stage 2, the Axis Chemical Factory, the control center for the Joker's crime reign. It's here that Batman must maneuver around the liquid-waste floor, the spark floor, the conveyer belts (which move the Joker's