Nanananananananananana-ananananana Batman-a-a-a-a-a-a-n! Of course, if anyone ran around in a bat suit with an enormous cape in the middle of Derby, he'd probably get arrested. But in Gotham City, anything seems to go. They happily tolerate villains, for example, that any other city on the world would just bung them in the funny farm and be done with. And for senior policemen, they have in Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara two men with the combined brainpower of an ashtray. No wonder they need the Caped Crusader and his 'friend' the Boy Wonder.
Of course Batman is probably better known in these parts for his role in John Ritman and Bernie Drummond's first stab at the 3D isometric genre a couple of years back, which paved the way for what i still think is the best Speccy game of them all, Head Over Heels. Batman 1 was a brilliant game to be sure, and kept me virtually padlocked to my Speccy for about six weeks, but even its greatest fans would have to admit that it didn't have an awful lot to do with Batman. Ocean, I got the feeling, was a little concerned about this too, so when it decided to put together a sequel it was generally agreed that an entirely different approach was called for. Step in Special FX, the Liverpool-based programming house which has already provided hits for Ocean in the shape of Firefly (a YS megagame earlier this year) and Gutz. Their version of Batman is much truer to the original, and although quite different, it's every bit as good a game as the Ritman/Drummond epic.
As for the presentation, slick is not the word. Or perhaps it is. Depends whether you like the word 'slick', really, doens't it? Like its predecessor, it's an arcade adventure, but the problem solving is now tied in with the (fairly soppy) plot. The rooms are represented by rectangles of different sizes, and as Batman moves around, the previous room isn't wiped off, but subtly faded, so you can usually see some of it behind the new room. I'm sure we've seen this palimpsest technique before (good word, eh?) but never as groovily as here.
The graphics themselves are stupendous - some of the best I've ever seen on the machine. Colourful, expressive and, most crucially, visible, they skilfully manage to avoid the blockiness of games like Karnov. You move Batman from left to right, ion and out of the screen and occasionally up and down ladders. (It's vitally important to keep an eye out for these ladders, for without them you won't get very far.) Batman walks around his Batcave and then through the streets of Gotham, all the time bumping into various heavies who occasionally take potshots at him. Every so often he sees things on the floor which he picks up and can then use later on. One such item is the Batarang, which he can fling at baddies (although oddly you never see it return). The keys control system here is very good - you only need the four normal movement keys and FIRE, and with various combinations of these you can do all sorts of things. I myself found keys easier to handle than a joystick, but you may disagree.
Press DOWN and FIRE simultaneously, for instance, and you'll switch to another screen full of icons - piccies of things you have picked up included. Other keys let you drop things, use things (and be careful to use them in the right place - once used they're gone), quit the game, toggle between black-and-white and colour and decide what colour you want your border. The border, which extends right to the edge of the telly screen, can be in any colour you want (of the eight the Speccy does, that is - let's not get too ambitious!), giving you the entirely false but somehow pleasing impression that the game is played on a larger canvas than the usual rectangle-within-the-rectangle. And each time you pick something up, or flip to the icons screen, a huge red Batman logo leaps out of the screen at you, just like on the telly. They don't much about, these Special FX boys.
But what's perhaps most brilliant of all is that there are actually two games in one here - one substantially harder than the other, but both equally brillsville. "A Bird in The Hand" (the easier one) finds you trying to switch off a renegade computer which is holed up in the Penguin's mansion, while "A Fete Worse Than Death" has you burrowing around in the sewers of Gotham City trying to defuse ten bombs planted by the Joker, before you can go off and rescue Robin from being crushed by a rollercoaster at the local fair. You do tend to get shot at a lot - or bumped into by particularly aggressive little penguins - but fortunately your energy only drops a bit each time, so you can withstand a fair few shots. As well as zinging your Batarang at your enemies you can also boot them in the Gorbals by pressing about three buttons simultaneously (I told you this was clever). And as with the best of these games there's always the next challenge - where's the safe? Where's the security pass? Which flipping door does the lockpick unlock? - that keeps you playing, and playing and playing...
So, yet another triumph for Ocean, and without doubt Special FX's finest achievement so far. I know what I want for Christmas...
Here's Batty wandering around his Batcave looking for things to pick up. And what's this next to his right booty? A "tool". Useful things, tools. But where can he apply his tool? Could that "broken machines" caption be a clue? (Search me.)
In the warehourse, and now the border's that lovely shade of blood red. (Useful thing, blood.) Batty's in trouble, as you can see, for not only has that plug-ugly just shot at him (the little black line just to the left of the caped one is the bullet) but there's a clockwork penguin just behind him. Holy cogwheels!
Batty reaches the roof of one of the buildings - useful things, ladders - and meanwhile I've made things extra difficult for him by making the borders that revolting purple colour, and so probably making him throw up. Chortle!
This icon screen shows that our crusading chum isn't in such good shape. (Useful things, shapes.) All the icons of the bit and bobs he has picked up are down the left and right hand side (in order, tool, lockpick, door key, batarang, batdisk, rope) while the action icons squat smugly in the middle near the batcursor. But it's those batcharts at the bottom I'm worried about. Will it soon be time for a batdeath?