As ‘Arkham Knight,’ the next big Batman game from Rocksteady Studios officially launches this week, I thought it would be fun to go back and revisit one of the Caped Crusader’s older titles that I never had the opportunity to try out. Batman Forever: The Arcade Game is a side-scrolling beat’em up that was originally released as an arcade coin-op. Although, the copy that I managed to get my hands on is the ported version for the original PlayStation. I should also mention that this game is completely different from the version released on Mega Drive and SNES. This was the true arcade port for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and PC, whereas the 16-bit consoles received entirely original games.
The first thing I noticed about the game were the photo-digitized characters, but this came as no surprise given it was developed by the team at Acclaim – who are well-known for their ports of the NBA Jam series and earlier Mortal Kombat games. Funnily enough, I went in thinking: “Wow, I hope this game plays like Streets of Rage or Final Fight”. Why I set the bar so high, I don’t know; my only guess is that I love my beat’em ups so, so much, and especially how they rekindle that nostalgic arcade experience. I booted up the game with anticipation, waited through the company logos and then the music hits with an impressive title screen – so far so good, my hopes were still high.
The Batmobile drives from off screen, roaring across the cityscape and ready to fight some crime. Sadly, however, everything quickly turns sour as soon as the dark knight jumps out of the car. The combat immediately felt uninspired, with only a punch, kick and jump at Batman’s disposal. The punches and kicks make up combos that are great, but each attack looks exactly the same with no real diversity. I could accept this from an 80s game, no worries, but for a mid-90s game – it’s blasphemy! At least both Batman and Robin have their styles of combat; Robin can perform a fast spinning roundhouse kick while Batman delivers punching attacks that send his foes flying. One neat thing is that you can throw villains into the screen much like in Turtles in Time, and there are plenty of item pickups to help you out.
Some pickups include explosive batarangs, shockwave bombs, taser guns, grappling hook attacks and bat coins that fill your special attack meter. The special attack itself is quite useful when defeating a wave of enemies, but is often rendered useless as it’s activated as soon as your bar is full and will frequently trigger when you need it the least.
The special attack also looks somewhat comical when executed; both Batman and Robin hover off the ground and summon some lightning or energy to defeat their foes. Whatever it is, it looks utterly ridiculous – I don’t remember Batman or Robin having super magical powers, I must have missed that in the comics. I guess this game doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is fine; staying true to Batman Forever, and unlike anything gritty seen in Nolan’s trilogy.
Notably, the game runs at a quick pace when enemies attack you, so it’s very easy to get cornered in a never-ending combo and die without a chance. It’s such a cheap and cunning way to keep you popping dollars at the arcades, but it should have been altered for the console version. Better yet, they could have added a block button! Should you reach the end of a stage, you’ll see your total score and receive a special powerup as a reward. Some of these power-ups are even stranger than the special moves, believe it or not. You can make Batman and Robin extremely tall or tiny, but the best upgrade is the duplicated player where you receive four extra “Batmen” that will strike when you do.
At the very least, the presentation isn’t too bad. The level backgrounds were created from images of the actual movie sets, which look decent for the time of release, and the enemies look somewhat interesting and colourful, which is consistent with the tone and style of the film. In addition, there are sound clips littered throughout the game with quotes from the movie using the true voices of Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones. You’ll hear The Riddler say, “Now that’s impressive!” after performing a high ranking combo – although, that happens way too frequently. Pre-warning.
Overall, this is a silly game that doesn’t set out to be a favourite; instead it’s a money-grabbing attempt to cash in on the Batman brand. The gameplay is repetitive, and it is unquestionably meant to be played in small portions at the arcades. For a home console port, Acclaim should have at least given the game some longevity, but you won’t find any of that here. The game is a little better with two players, but not by much, and mostly because you have someone else to grumble about the game with. I should have known better that movie tie-in video games are notoriously bad, and Batman Forever, without question, sits right on top of that dreadful mountain of poor quality film to game titles.