When the sequel to Tim Burton's Batman came out, it was a pretty huge deal. Although how the actual movie itself ended up is subject to opinion, it was popular enough that it got a storm of games released for a surprising number of consoles. Not all of these versions ended up being that great, but Konami put out a couple of console-exclusive brawlers that are worth checking out. The plot, for the most part, follows directly from the movie. It's Christmas in Gotham City, and an evil circus troupe descends to bring the city into chaos, because clowns just apparently naturally hate Gotham.
Meanwhile, there's a newcomer to town by the name of Oswald Cobblepot, otherwise known as the Penguin. Turns out he's evil. There's also a rival/love interest for Batman in the form of Catwoman. Surprise! She's evil, too. The game's nice enough to have cutscenes in between the stages, although it won't make a lot of sense unless you've seen the movie. Batman is the only playable character, meaning this is entirely a one player show. It's forgivable, though, since Robin wasn't really a thing in Burton's vision of the franchise.
Compared to Konami's earlier beat-em-ups, Batman Returns plays much akin to something like Final Fight, and it has all the trappings thereof. A special move that drains health whenever it hits something, the ability to grab enemies by walking into them, health bars so big that they change color to signify damage, and all that. For the most part, the standard beat-em-up gameplay works pretty well. There are, however, a few extra moves that make Batman's moveset a little more robust. The Caped Crusader can block with the shoulder buttons, which reduces the damage he takes. While he's blocking, he can also use one of his limited supply of test tubes, which do heavy damage to all enemies on screen.
He can also toss batarangs, which stun most enemies for a moment when they hit, as well as use a grappling hook to swing across the screen. There's also one particularly cool move done by grabbing one enemy and walking into another, where you can grab them both and smash their heads together. It's tough to pull off, but it's pretty cool when it happens. The standard beat-em-up gameplay works out pretty well, although it's not quite up to the standards set by something like Streets of Rage 2. It's perfectly competent on its own, however, and the game keeps itself interesting.
It can be somewhat harsh for a beat-em-up, although never overwhelmingly so. Some of the enemies can do a lot of damage to you at once, and health pickups aren't particularly common. It isn't so bad, though, since you have things like the block button and your batarangs to even things out. While you are working with a limited number of continues, the game's nice enough to put you on the section of the stage you died on, meaning you never lose too much progress at once.
Besides the beat-em-up sections, there's also a handful of 2D platforming segments. Here, Batman attacks with an unlimited supply of batarangs to attack enemies at range. Unfortunately, these sections aren't ever really as fun, since Batman's sprite is just as big as it usually is. This makes a lot of things really hard to avoid, especially when you're surrounded by enemies. The platforming is a little suspect at times, as well, although the game's nice enough to give you a grappling hook to cross over pits with. There's also a particularly cool stage where you drive the Batmobile on a Mode 7 road, shooting at bikers. It's not particularly long or difficult, but it's a pretty fun diversion while it lasts.
The game does a fantastic job at representing the movie it's based on, far more than most of the other versions of the game could pull off. The sprites are pretty large, and the color pallete is made up of appropriately dark, moody colors. There's some other nice details as well, like how you can toss enemies into certain parts of the background, smashing benches and shattering windows. The game even goes far enough to let you re-enact a scene from the movie where Batman uses a grappling hook to pull a loose brick onto a clown's head, letting you do heavy damage to the first boss. The music's done in a orchestral style that fits well, too, even using Elfman's famous theme in a few points.
Overall, there are better beat-em-ups out there, although not many when you're talking about the Super Nintendo. It's pretty much the best game based on the film out of several, and it's a pretty well-rounded package in general. It's not the most original of games, but it has enough of its own feel and keeps up Konami's usual trend of staying true to their source material that it's a pretty good brawler regardless.
Konami owed so many of their greatest successes to the NES, so they continued to support it up to only a short while before the console's eventual bowing out. One of their last games was their second game based on Burton's film. In a lot of ways, the two games are similar, but they're both just unique enough that they're both worth trying out. The plot, much like the SNES game, is based off of the film, although this still leads to absolutely nothing being explained if you haven't seen the film itself.
Much like the SNES game, Batman Returns is a beat-em-up that occasionally dips into other genres to keep things interesting. Batman's moveset isn't quite as varied as the SNES game, either, so you're stuck with a basic combo, an air attack, a health-draining special attack, and a slide attack. You still have a block, performed by holding down and B, although it's generally just easier to dodge everything. You can also still switch out to your Batarangs with the Select button, but in this version, they come in a very limited supply, so they're not of much use. The overall gameplay feels a little more like the NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games than Final Fight, although the pace isn't quite as speedy.
The beat-em-up sections are pretty good, which is fortunate, since they make up far more of the game than the SNES version. They got by at a pretty quick pace, as well, since most enemies only take a couple of uses of your basic combo to kill. The only real problem with with the beat-em-up sections themselves is that it feels like there are a lot of hits that often feel like there's no real way to dodge them. It's not that much of a problem, however, since you have a surprisingly large life bar for a beat-em-up, and health refills are pretty common. The trade-off is that you only have one life, but the checkpoints are spaced apart closely enough that even dying won't set you back much.
There's not as much genre changing to be done in the NES version. There are only a handful of sections where you're moving on a 2D plane, and all so shorts they may as well not be there. There's also another pretty fun Batmobile segment that takes the form of a scrolling shooter, although it sadly ends a little too soon. Overall, however, it's a pretty short game, and probably one of the easier games Konami put out for the NES, at any rate. It's a pretty simple brawler, all told, but it does enough to keep itself engaging the entire way through, which is always an accomplishment for a good beat-em-up.
The game itself has some fantastically done backgrounds, with the color pallete being about as dark and moody as you'd expect from Burton's film. The character sprites are a little small, but they're definitely recognizable, and there's a good deal of enemy variety to keep things interesting. The music take more after a more game-like soundtrack that takes far more after Konami's usual style, as opposed to the SNES's orchestral style. It's an understandable difference, however, and as you'd expect from a Konami soundtrack on the NES, there's a few pretty good songs in there.
Overall, it's hard to say for certain whether the SNES version prevails over its little brother. They're both fine games on their own, although the fact that the NES version is quite a bit easier may make some people lean one way or the other. Either way, however, it's still a pretty fun game, as opposed to a lot of the many, many inferior game tie-ins the movie actually got.