Batman: The Caped Crusader DOS review

Do you know what day is today? It’s Batman Day! That’s right. And I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to review a DC Comics licensed game (since I’ve already reviewed Marvel games). And I’m reviewing the first game ever to be released on the PC of my favourite DC superhero: Batman.

Batman: The Caped Crusader is an action-adventure game developed by Special FX and published by Ocean in Europe and Data East in the US. It was originally released in 1988 for the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. It was re-released the following year for DOS.

Although this is the first Batman videogame released for the PC, it’s also the second Batman game ever made (the first one being Jon Ritman’s Batman, published in 1986, also by Ocean, but never released for PC). These two games, along with Batman: the Movie, are part of Ocean’s Batman game trilogy.

But, like always, let’s first take a look at the bat-cover:

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Not going to lie, the cover art looks great! It really looks like a comic book cover, with Batman fighting the Penguin with laughing Joker cards in the background. It’s probably more action-packed than the game itself (as you’ll see in a minute). And one might think that such cover was made by a comic book artist, seeing that the art style is very close to Neal Adams’ but it was actually made by the late Bob Wakelin, one of the best video game cover artists of the 80s.

But it’s about time to boot this bat-sucker:

The game is divided in two independently bootable sections: A Bird in the Hand, where Batman must stop Penguin’s robot penguin army and A Fete Worse than Death, where Batman must find and disarm the Joker’s bombs and then find and save Robin. In each section, we’re treated to probably the worst title screen I’ve ever seen. When I first saw it, I thought it was a pre-title screen. And I recommend reading the manual before playing as it not only has the backstory but also explain the menu icons and the control scheme.

The action occurs on screens of different sizes, reminiscent of comic panels. And every time you move to another panel, the new panel appears on top of the old one. It’s a novel presentation that would appear on some later comic-inspired games. But because a lot of panels are very similar, it’s very easy to get lost. I recommend drawing maps to avoid it. The art style in the game is very reminiscent of the Silver Age Batman with some Bronze Age elements here and there.

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“I am vengeance. I am the night. I AM BATMAN!”

Both sections are very similar gameplay-wise. You control Batman and you have to grab items lying around the floor and use said items to solve puzzles to progress through the sections. But your health is constantly depleting and Batman can only carry up to 10 items. I guess Penguin and Joker must have poison Batman and stole his utility belt before the game. To replenish your health, you need to eat food. You can find it lying around or you can defeat enemies, of which some drop food. However, food dropped by the enemies only replenish some health, unlike the other food you’ll find that fully replenish it.

You use the directional arrows (or pad, if you’re using a joystick) to move Batman and an action button along with the arrows to fight, grab objects and access the menu. In the menu, you can check Batman’s health at the bottom (where it slowly turns into a skull), your progress percentage on top, your inventory on the sides and other options in the middle. Like I said before, I recommend reading the manual to understand the meaning of each menu icon.

One of the first objects you can grab is the batarang, which I highly recommend because it’s the best way to confront the enemies. And talking about the enemies, there isn’t a lot of variety (usually henchmen and smaller enemies, apart from the Joker and Penguin) and every time you defeat one, another one appears when returning to the some panel. Unless you need to get food from enemies, most of the times is just easier to avoid them and concentrate on solving the puzzles.

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“What are you?” “I’m Batman!”

The puzzles range from easy to hard and personally I found the Penguin section easier than the Joker section. On the top of some of the panels, there’s a short description which not only provide some clues but also helps distinguish similar panels and make for good references. But sometimes the clues aren’t enough to solve the puzzles and because of the limited inventory space, you’ll end up backtracking a lot (especially in the Joker section). And of course the debilitating health makes the game even harder! Is almost like the developers added this last feature to increase the difficulty tenfold.

And of course, if your health reaches zero, it’s back to the start of the section. There isn’t a save option nor checkpoints throughout the game. And I did found a point of no-return near the end of one of the sections. Meaning that if you reach that point and you don’t have the necessary objects to finish said section and enough health left for it, you might as well restart the entire section. At least, every time you solve a puzzle, you can drop the object used because you won’t need it again.

Graphically wise, the game looks nice, albeit with some small sprites (especially of the objects lying around) that almost blend in the background. They are also quite colorful but I wish there would be more variety with the sprites because, like I said before, most of the panels are very similar to each other. The animation is okay, but I wish there would be more of it during the action to know when we’re being attacked and Batman walks too slow, which sucks in a game with constant debilitating health.

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The title music isn’t bad but because it’s in a continuous loop, it gets old very fast and I don’t blame you for turning it off in the menu screen. The sound effects are almost non-existent, with some sounds when using the objects correctly when solving puzzles and the sound effects during the action.

The best part of the game for me are the controls, of which the keyboard is actually quite responsive, although Batman needs to be in the perfect position to go through doors or climb stairs, but apart from that, I didn’t had any problems controlling Batman. I don’t know how the joystick scheme is because I couldn’t configure my gamepad.

So, in conclusion, Batman: The Caped Crusader is a game that although it had a good success when released (mainly because there was only one other Batman game), it aged quite poorly. It isn’t very action-focused, with the real focus on the puzzles. Yes, I know that Batman is DCU’s greatest detective, but he’s still a superhero and I think there should be more action in the game (ironically, this wouldn’t be the last Batman game with puzzle elements, and I’m not talking about the Arkham series). And the constant debilitating health is an unnecessary feature. Some of the puzzles are hard as they get without the need to add more frustration to it.

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“Who the hell do you think I am? I’M THE GODDAMN BATMAN!” – Crazy Steve

So if you’re a Batman fan, you might feel some curiosity towards Batman’s beginnings in the videogame realm, but honestly I can’t recommend it. I haven’t played any of the other versions, but the Amiga and the Atari ST versions have better graphics, sound and music and the Commodore 64 version is considered by some the best version out there.

In 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman would be released in cinemas worldwide and it had such a success that inspired several games in all platforms (home computers, consoles and arcade) that would overshadow all previous Batman games and begin a slew of action-oriented games (albeit with at least one exception, which we’ll take a look at a later date).

I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and I hope you have a great Batman Day. Until then, prowl the night and keep on playing!

Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal DOS review

The culmination of 10 years of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally arrived at the cinemas with Avengers: Infinity War. And to celebrate such occasion, let’s take a look at the only game released for PC featuring the Avenger that started the MCU: Iron Man (and some other character from Valiant Comics)! I’m talking about Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal.

And yes, I know that Capcom made two games based on The Infinity Gauntlet comic (which inspired the Infinity War movie): Marvel Super Heroes for Arcade and Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems for the SNES/Super Nintendo. But those games were never released on the PC, so they won’t be featured here at Retro Freak Reviews (but they’re awesome BTW!).

Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal (what’s with Marvel-licensed games and long titles?!) is an action game developed by Realtime Associates and published by Acclaim. It was originally released in 1996 for DOS, Game Boy, Game Gear, Playstation and Saturn.

Due to the success of the MCU, everybody and their dog knows who Iron Man is, but unless you’re a big Valiant Comics fan, you might not know who X-O Manowar is. He’s basically an ancient viking who was abducted by aliens, got his hands on an experimental alien armor (called X-O), used it to come back to Earth, but due to time dilation, he came back to modern times. So he became a reluctant superhero while fighting aliens and other supervillains. I love you Tony, but a viking wearing an alien armor it’s just about as cool as it gets.

But before looking at the game, let’s look at the cover:

112457-iron-man-x-o-manowar-in-heavy-metal-dos-front-coverThis cover looks a bit weird in my opinion. Here we have Iron Man and X-O Manowar looking menacing in a typical superhero pose, but what makes the image weird is the background perspective. It looks like both heroes are standing on the side of a building with two other characters behind them (and apparently also behind the glass window where they’re standing on). But then I noticed that the heroes are actually flying towards the two female characters and the background is actually the reflection of said window (still a very confusing perspective).

And the back cover adds to the confusion, even though it makes more sense:

112458-iron-man-x-o-manowar-in-heavy-metal-dos-back-coverIn here, it looks like the females switched places with the heroes and are now standing in front of a window (which is reflecting the heroes this time). The perspective in this image is a lot better than in the other image, that’s for sure. The two females pictured above are Mistress Crescendo from Vaillant and Titania from Marvel. Mistress Crescendo is one of the main villains in the game, which justifies her presence here but Titania isn’t (she only appears once as a boss), although one might assume that she’s a main villain, based on this image alone.

But as always, it’s time to boot this sucker:

I found the intro very lacklustre (although rocking a hell of a theme music) but to find out the backstory, one has to read the manual, which has a rather good comic to explain all of it: Mistress Crescendo and Baron Zemo (not a traditional Iron Man villain by the way) joined forces to try and reform the Cosmic Cube (imagine a Macguffin and a Deus-Ex Machina combined into one) with the goal of using it to take over, not the world, but TWO worlds instead (Marvel and Vaillant). A pretty standard backstory for a superhero game, but it serves the game adequately.

A small disclaimer: I have only played the single-player mode. I have no idea how’s the co-op mode.

You choose between Iron Man or X-O Manowar and have to go through several levels and face down several villains from both comic universes. You go through 7 areas divided in about 3 levels for each area with most of them with a boss (always a supervillain from the comics) at the end of each level. Both heroes control more or less the same; with a melee attack (two for Iron Man and a energy sword attack for X-O), a range attack, a recharge attack that spends one weapon bar and temporary flight (by pressing jump twice). Although both characters move at the same speed, X-O has a little more trouble dodging attacks because he’s bigger (but he can block attacks).

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“I AM IRON MAN!”

Surprisingly, the melee attacks are more powerful than the range attacks, even after fully upgrading them. But at full power, you can even get a seeking attack that automatically targets the nearest enemy, which can be very useful. However, if you lose a life, you’ll also lose one upgrade. The armor bar (which is basically the life bar) doesn’t replenishes between levels, but at least, you keep any upgrades you caught previously. There’s also boost upgrades that extends the flight period, which can be used to reach high platforms or simply fly above dangerous areas (or enemies).

And although you can only move in four directions, there’s a background plane from which enemies can came from but luckily both heroes have an attack that targets specifically the background. You can even blow up background objects to get upgrades and health items.

And speaking about the levels, they’re probably the best part of the game. With great graphics, good design (although the later levels can be a bit labyrinthic), good variation of enemies and no time limits (except for one awful boss battle). And although the game’s in 2D, there’s a pseudo 3D perspective as you move along and even a zoom effect during the boss battles (although it tends to pixelate the bigger enemies when zooming in). The levels can be a bit small, but there are so many of them, that the game is quite lengthy.

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And the boss battles are in their vast majority great. With challenging and not too frustrating bosses (except for the one I mentioned before).

But unfortunately there’s also some drawbacks: the sound effects are okay and the soundtrack is actually quite good (for a game titled Heavy Metal), but the music themes are short and on a continuous loop, which can become a bit grating after awhile. But for me the worst part are the controls (which are both bad, whether you’re using a keyboard or gamepad, although I recommend the latter) and the animation, which is too slow for most of the game. It only speeds up when the screen’s empty. And for such a fast-paced action game, these two elements’ quality should be above all else.

And it’s due to these two elements that Heavy Metal is one of the hardest action games I ever played on a PC. Bad controls and slow gameplay make this game unnecessarily tough, even in the easiest setting.

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Playing with X-O Manowar

So in conclusion, I don’t consider Heavy Metal a terrible game, even with its drawbacks. Yes, the controls could be better and the animation more fluid, but the graphics and level design are good. If you’re a comics fan (especially of these  two characters), you might want to give it a shot, but there are better action games out there.

I haven’t played any other versions, but the Playstation version seems faster and more fluid in comparison with the DOS version. And apparently there’s also an entire mini-series that tells the story of the game (probably where the comic in the manual comes from), but I also haven’t read it.

So, are you excited to see Avengers: Infinity War? I know I am! And I know these two reviews weren’t very positive, but the next review is from an action title that was requested a few months ago by a watcher from my Twitch channel. And I promise it’s a much better game than these two last. Until then, keep on playing!

Wild Streets review

So, the Black Panther movie is currently showing at several theatres around the world and to celebrate the first Marvel movie starring an African superhero, I decided to review a retro title with a black panther in it and the only one that came to my mind was Wild Streets.

Wild Streets is an action/beat-em-up game made by Titus and originally released in 1989 for the Amstrad CPC and Atari ST. It was ported the next year for Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64, DOS and ZX Spectrum.

But as always, before tackling this beast, let’s look at the cover:

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Well, it looks like an 80s martial arts B-movie poster and maybe that’s the vibe they were going for. And Titus really wanted the black panther to be the focus of the game, but it really isn’t that important in the actual gameplay itself as you’ll see next. Not a great cover, but I’ve seen worse.

It’s time to boot this beast:

As you can see, the intro isn’t all that much, as it consists of an empty title screen then a recreation of the box cover. It really isn’t that great of an intro, to tell the truth. But the backstory is unnecessarily long and complicated (at least in the manual it is): in the distant year of 1998, New York is controlled by several streets gangs and somehow they end up kidnapping the director of the CIA, simply called “The Boss” (no relation to Metal Gear Solid 3‘s The Boss, I think), so you’re dropped in New York along with your Magnum gun and your trusty black panther to face the gangs and save “The Boss”. The manual even has profiles of all the characters, including the gangs and the bosses themselves. But I find it unnecessarily complex for a simple beat-em-up game.

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Anyway, you (and your panther partner) begin in the suburbs, armed with your Magnum with only six bullets in it and immediately have to face off endless waves of mooks. The objective in each level is to simply walk from left to right, defeating or avoiding all the mooks until you find the boss and defeat him (the levels actually end when you walk off screen after defeating said boss, which means you can still die even after defeating him). And to defeat the enemies, you kick their asses or simply shoot them with your gun. Luckily you can pick up extra ammo along the way. And you only have one life and one health bar (that replenishes at the end of each level) for such task.

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You control your character by using the directional keys (or pad if you’re using a gamepad) and only one button, which must be combined with one of the directions to attack. However, you can’t control your panther as he simply strolls along until he decides to attack someone, although he can instant-kill any mook, except for the bosses.

With just five levels, this game is extremely small and almost all enemies are very easy to defeat or avoid, even in the later levels. The bosses are the only enemies that can give you a proper challenge, although if you save your bullets or obtained more, then you can simply shoot them and be done with it.

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Anyway, how’s the game technically? Not great, actually. More like awful, to tell the truth. The graphics are average at best, the sound effects are almost non-existent, the only music available is the title theme and it’s equally average. The controls are garbage, whether you’re playing with the keyboard or a gamepad and the animation is also garbage. Wild Streets might actually be the worst beat-em-up I ever played! Yes, even worse than Ninja Rabbits! Hard to believe that the company behind good platformers like Fire & Ice, Prehistorik and Titus the Fox developed this atrocity. But then again, they also developed Superman 64

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So, as you can imagine, this is one game that I have to tell you to avoid. I think Titus wanted to capitalise after the success of Sega’s Shadow Dancer and made a beat-em-up with an animal companion in it. But it ended up being an awful game that the only element that might get some attention is the black panther itself. But unless you can actually control said panther (which would probably make a better game if it was the protagonist, or at least, a better premise), you can’t simply make a game around it. In case you want to try it though, then you can find it here and play it in your own browser.

Well, at least the Black Panther movie promises to be a good one, right? And I promise to try and find the best PC beat-em-up game, because it’s one of my favourite genres. So, do you like beat-em-ups? If so, tell me which is your favourite by commenting below, on our Facebook page, on our Twitter feed or on our Steam group.

Well, if you’ve been paying attention to the blog or our Twitter feed, I made a pool for the upcoming developer month and you all chose Bullfrog, so unfortunately, there won’t be any more reviews or posts this month, in order to prepare the retrospective for next month. So be sure to catch it at the beginning of March. Till then, let’s make our streets more civilised and continue on playing. See you around!