Holy Smoke! High above Gotham City a shaft of light slices through the darkness. But only on man in the metropolis knows its true meaning - it's a call for help that he has answered many times before. Bruce Wayne races to the phone and hears a familiar voice.
Commissioner Gordon: Batman? (For it is he!) Bad news. Robins been kidnapped.
Batman: Impossible! He's down in the Batcave.
Commissioner Gordon: Then this ransom note's a ruse. But...
HaS Robin been kidnapped? Or has THe Boy Wonder wandered off? Can the Caped Crusader come to his rescue? Will the Penguin end up egg on his face? Has the Joker cracked it? Is Catwoman feline felonious? All may (or may not) be revealed by Tommy 'Boy Wonder' Nash as he reviews Ocean's new megagame, Batman.
Wheeeeeee! Batman comes slip slidin' away down the Batpole and he's off on his Robin rescue mission. Yes, that's how the straight-backed, square-chinned superhero of comic strip and silver screen makes his debut into software. Okay, he's a mite chubbier than you may remember him from the pages of DC Comics but his cloak and mask make him instantly recognisable. But now he's on his own - sans sidekick. The other half of the Dynamic Duo has gone walkies, though the exact reason for this hadn't been concocted when I saw the game. At that time, the finishing touches were just being added to the plot though the game itself was a hundred per cent complete. No doubt some perfectly implausible explanation involving one of Batman's arch enemies will have been thought up by the time the game hits your Speccy.
Originally, Robin was meant to have a starring role in the game alongside his crepuscular companion and the programmer's even got round to designing a spritely figure for him. But then they hit a stumbling block. How do you make it easy for the player to control two superheroes simultaneously. It was at this point that Robin was conveniently kidnapped! Batman's first task is to collect the four items that aid him in his mighty powers. But not being the tidiest of superheros, he has to find out where he left the things in the initial rooms of the game that make up the Batcave. He's after his Batboots that allow him to jump; his Batbag so he can pick things up; his Batthruster, to shoot him sideways and his Batbelt, which reduces the pull of gravity on him so he can 'fly' further. The games cleverly designed so that you can't progress beyond a certain stage without these items. With them, the Caped Crusader is ready to go crime-fighting.
Robin didn't go without a struggle. The seven parts of the Batcraft, which he was servicing at the time of the snatch, are scattered all around the Batacombs. And before Batman can rush to his rescue, he must find all the bits so that they can be teleported to the launchpad, situated at the top of the very highest tower. The game ends when Batman's sitting in the reassembled craft ready to rescue Robin and bring the Gotham gangsters who got him to justice. (Note for Batfans: the reason for having a batcraft instead of the Batmobile is that a vehicle with wheels would've taken up too much memory!)
The Batacombs are a complex maze of at least 150 rooms spread over nine floors. Well, it might be 150 but it could just as easily be 151 or even 153. The programmers weren't sure and I wasn't counting! The screens have a definite Knightlorish look about them but the much larger number of rooms means many more puzzles. Batman will test your arcade/timing skills to the limit but it'll also burn your brain out with its bewildering range of tricks and traps.
The Ultimate influence is unmistakable, of course. The game has a similar technique of forcing you through doors if you're not quite lined up. And you can pick up objects in a room and use them there but you can't transport them to other screens a la Fairlight. And the rooms reset to their original state each time you re-enter them. But the game's a definite development from the Knightlore days. Take, for example, the reincarnation pills that allow you to restart the game from the point at which you collected one last - great idea that. And then there's the ability to define a single key that lets you pick up and jump at the same time. Cuts out all the contortions with keys that you had to go through to achieve the Ultimate accolade. And Batman keeps up a constant speed no matter how many objects there are in a room - none of those short, slow steps that held Sabreman back on full screens.
It's this attention to detail that marks Batman out as a true megagame. Hardly surprising then that it's taken ten months to write. You're even given three options for the sound effects. Nasty lets you hear every sound that resounds round the Batacombs; Useful only makes a noise when the caped one crashes into things; arid Late At Night is silent.
The only thing that's missing is the crazy cast of criminals from the original cartoons. If ever there's a follow-up, perhaps the programmers will pick up a Penguin or take the gag out of the Joker's mouth...
How does Batman's mum call him in for a meal? Dinner dinner dinner dinner, dinner dinner dinner dinner - BATMAN!