Great jumping licensing deals! The Caped Crusader bursts onto the Spectrum
Believe it or not, Ocean have actually finished a game before they've started advertising it (although it's possible that ads may have appeared before you read this review). Not only that, but it's a good one too.
When I heard that Ocean had done a deal to produce a Batman game I was worried that it might end up like the Superman game - highly hyped on the strength of the well-known characters, but an awful game. Comic buffs might have been hoping for a game based on the serious Batman strip of the 70s but Ocean have chosen to capture the lighter spirit of the 60's TV series, which is probably a good decision as this is perhaps more suited to a computer game.
The instructions tell you that Robin The Boy Blunder has gone and gotten himself kidnapped, so our hero, The Caped Crusader, has to dash off and rescue him. But before he can race to the rescue, Batman has to gather together all his Bat-equipment and assemble the parts of the Batmobile that Robin left lying around the Batcave.
If the Batcave looks at all familiar, that's probably because it bears an uncanny resemblance to the spaceship in Ultimate's Alien-8. Fortunately, this game has enough style of its own to fend off charges of being a simple rip-off. The Batcave is full of obstacles and deadly creatures which stand between Batman and the completed Batmobile, and the problems that you'll have to solve are challenging enough to keep you occupied for quite a while. As with most games of this type, you are able to pick up and carry a number of objects that will help you find your way past obstacles. But, unlike some games, here you cannot carry objects from one location to the next which means that often the only things that can help you are just the few objects that you can see in a particular location.
The usual deadly paraphenalia for this type of game is present; conveyor belts that drop you onto piles of spikes, stepping stones that vanish as soon as you touch them, and there are some rooms where only specific objects or the effects of Batpills will get you through.
Scattered around the cave in order to help you out are the "Bat-objects"; these include Batboots, Batbag, Batbelt and Batthruster. The Batbag is needed before you can carry any other objects, and the Batboots allow you to jump - until you find these you can only walk along the floor - so finding these really has to be your first task. The other two pieces of equipment supplement your jumping powers and allow you to reach certain objects which are otherwise unreachable.
Also hidden in the Batcave are a number of Batpills (shaped like little Batman) which have a variety of effects; they can boost your energy levels, make you invulnerable, increase your jumping ability and so on, and there are also a number of 'reincarnation stones'. These are interesting little items which provide you with a Save Game facility. At the end of a game the menu allows you to either start a new game or to return to the previous game at the point at which you collected the stone. This is a nice touch, as it avoids the frustration of getting well into a game only to die after making one little mistake, and it also takes less time than reloading this is such a handy feature that I forgive the authors for the cumbersome method of defining keyboard controls that they use.
The graphics throughout are excellent. Obviously the 3D style is familiar from a number of games now, but a lot of attention to detail seem to have gone into this one and all the rooms and objects are very clearly drawn. Batman himself is an outrageously cute little sprite who tapes his foot inf you leave him standing still for more than a few seconds, and the way that his cape flaps as he jumps is quite comical.
The playing area seems very large, and after playing the game for ages I'ee still only located two parts of the Batmobile. I think that mapping this game is essential (anyone out there got a Batmap that they want to send in?). Still, you do get eight lives which allow you to experiment and get into the game without unnecessary frustration. I don't think that Batman will go down as a classic game - the Alien-8 similarities knock off a few points for originality - but it's one of those games that manages to take an established format and add a bit of character that makes it stand out from the crowd.