Monday, 10 October 2011
Batman, the 8-bit incarnation of the seminal Tim Burton film, was well received when it debuted in the closing weeks of 1989. The game garnered accolades for its satisfying side-scrolling gameplay, a very competent mixture of platform and enemy challenges bookended by confrontations with a curious array of Batman foes including Killer Moth, Firebug, and the Electrocutioner — all of them, along with a variety of rolling, jumping, and projectile-launching enemies, hired by the Joker in a plot to derail Gotham City's 200th Anniversary Festival.
Nintendo Power, that hard copy bastion of video game wisdom and wizardy, had this much to say: "The ominous graphics capture Batman's smooth agile movements and unique super hero action. The finely honed physique, billowing cape, and graceful movements which have long been associated with Batman highlight the adventure." Mean Machines, the U.K. equivalent of Gamepro, dubbed it "a visual treat," and warned Nintendo players to "miss this game at your peril." Julian Rignall, chief editor of the magazine, called it "a first class cart deserving of any Nintendo owner's collection."
But it was apparent to all those who'd followed the game's storied development that all was not right in the land of Batarangs and emotional baggage. Sure, the finished product featured some pretty spiffy animated screens, including a pair of memorable Batmobile animations. But where were the Ninja Gaiden-esque cutscenes promised in the pages of Nintendo Power (September issue, 1989)? Where was Firebug's bad-ass intro as the Joker's right hand man? And what had happened to Vicki Vale's abduction and subsequent rescue, the very reason for the whole 8-bit Bat-quest in question?
You could almost hear Thom and Martha Wayne rolling over in their graves.The mystery of Batman's lost cutscenes ranks right up there with other infamous Nintendo-era conundrums, such enigmatic tales as the much grieved cancellation of California Raisins: The Grape Escape, over which several emotionally stunted adults of my acquaintance are still rattled, and Taito's odd RPG version of Hit the Ice, victim of a similar fate. (A good thing, in this case.)
But Batman was different. Here we had a completed game, and a damn good one at that. These "cinema-graphics," the ones mentioned in Nintendo Power and fawned over by the editors of Mean Machines, were already designed and realized. Pre-release beta copies of Batman showcased them to great effect.
After pressing the Start button at the title screen, Batman would shake down a nameless punk for info and then set out on his journey with purpose. Vicki Vale would fawn over him after her rescue and then, with matching lip sync, proceed to direct us to the AXIS Chemical Factory. Batman would streak across the sky towards his next challenge. And a seated Joker, his features gaunt in the half light, would taunt old "Batbrain" before the final boss fight — a most dastardly act, coming as it did after the ludicrously difficult belltower climb of level 5.
Alas, none of it would make it to the final version. The reason was never publicly revealed. Was Sunsoft antsy about releasing a licensed game whose storyline didn't match that of the film it was based on? Even in its released form, the game had precious little in common with its big-screen counterpart. Was the shameless act of expunging the cutscenes really going to make this fact less noticeable? Or were the designers acting under pressure from the movie studio? If so, what exactly was the complaint, and why was the deletion of these beautiful animations even considered as possible appeasement?
We may never know. The lost Batman beta and its cutscenes never saw official release.