Reflecting on its 25th Anniversary, there are few television shows, animated or otherwise, that have had an impact on popular media like Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). But, there are even fewer games like The Adventures of Batman & Robin for the Sega Genesis that have been able to successfully twist a licensed adaptation into a unique and self-sustaining adrenaline-filled, fight-pumping force to be reckoned with.
Developed by Clockwork Tortoise and published in 1995 by Sega, The Adventures of Batman & Robin for Genesis is the definition of a hidden gem. While other games of the same name were made on different consoles at and around the same time, none came close to the level of extreme weirdness captured in the Genesis game. This surprisingly atmospheric 2D shoot-em-up/beat-em-up platformer takes all it can from the dark roots of its animated show license (while crafting it into one of the best visuals for a game released on the Genesis), and turns it on its head into one of the most challenging games you will ever play in your life.
The game tries to emulate the visuals, tone and style of the original show, with a lot of success, while also changing enough elements of it to fit its own specific goals. Enunciating the darkest elements of the show, the opening is a scary, somber warning of the events to come, which goes from the streets of Gotham, to the skies over it, and finally into a psychedelic science-world courtesy of the game’s main protagonist, Mr. Freeze.
With each level, there is a certain element that feels like a set-piece, whether it’s a 3D crane coming in and out of a level’s area to try and knock you over, or Two-Face throwing dynamite from a blimp/airship as you battle him on top of a falling skyscraper under construction.
It all just comes together to create an atmosphere that respects the original property while establishing its own individual identity. Plus, the explosion effects look really cool.
Yet, somehow, it fits the gnarly harshness, dark shadows and overall chaotic visuals of the game as you go room to room (mellowing out in a chilly way where needed), fighting your way through an insane body and bullet hell, all on top of background art and animation inspired, yet perfectly deviated where it matters, from the show its content is meant to mirror.
Above all else, though, the game’s soundtrack is what has stuck with me. Composed by Jesper Kyd (known in recent years for composing scores for games in the Hitman, Assassin’s Creed and Borderland series), the soundtrack sounds nothing like what you would expect based solely on your knowledge of the animated series.
A friend once described the score as “Batman goes to a 90s goth techno club”, which is funny, but also sorta accurate. These songs could be sprinkled within any popular darkwave-ish rave mix even today and nobody would be none the wiser, when many games at the time had scores that sounded like they belonged only in that game and not outside of it.
As a kid trying, and failing, to beat this addictive game, the soundtrack must’ve subconsciously melded within some deep ridges in my brain. A lot of my sonic music interests stem from the same birthplace as Jesper Kyd’s on this score.
Looking back, I can’t believe that this was allowed to be released. The game should have come with a warning reading something like “This game’s soundtrack is an insane beatdown that might kill your child”.
Needless to say, it didn’t kill me, though it did help increase the number of my countless in-game deaths.
It’s downright unforgivable that Jesper Kyd’s wonderful oddity of a soundtrack is not widely known today, and perhaps a bigger crime that the game itself (which I believe to be superior in every way to its SNES, Game Gear and Sega CD brethren) is often overlooked as just another 90s Batman-themed title.
In a way, it complements the diversity of ideas brought on by the popularity of Batman: The Animated Series. While I liked all the show’s merchandise goodies like fountain pens, lunch-boxes and mugs, I find this particular game to be the epitome of a good licensed product.
Sure, the Batman Arkham games take very direct visual and story cues from the animated series, but there’s something to be said about making good use of a specific property’s license on a solely superficial level (unless I’ve missed the animated show’s episode where Batman goes around throwing a billion batarangs at a billion goons while collecting power-ups).
A game like this, with a score like this, could have only been made in the 90s. This isn’t a bad thing, as the market today values other aspects of what a game can be than what was expected back then. In a sea of weird licenses back in the day, with very unrelated gameplay serving as the only tie in between an adaptation, it’s always great to see something like this stand out.
I hope one day this game and score gets the recognition it deserves in the annals of gaming history. Until then, though, I’ll be blasting the living hell out of this music in my made-up Batcave.