PSX Mania – 043 – Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)

Completion time: 5:38:45

One of my all-time favorite cartoons, and honestly, all-time favorite TV series, is Batman Beyond. The story of a distant future where Terry McGinnis dons the futuristic batsuit with Bruce Wayne being the mentor of sorts, introduced some fascinating storylines, a striking visual style of a future Gotham and some insanely sick music. It’s a series that deserved a film adaptation, and one that can still be relevant in 2021. What strikes me as mind-boggling about Batman Beyond is that only one game, ported to three different systems, was ever created dedicated to the futuristic Batman universe – Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, released on the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy Color of all platforms, and today’s subject, the Sony PlayStation. Is this sole entry into the gaming market as good as the cartoon its self, or is it the reincarnation of the bat credit card?

For those that have played this game, you’ll see that my completion time is a few hours longer than it should be. Unfortunately I had no access to a booklet. Because of this, I was stuck on level 2 for over three hours, trying to figure out how in the bloody hell I was supposed to clear the stage with enemies that both were annoyingly difficult, and the game having one of the worst hit detection I have ever encountered in a video game. I tried to look for a PDF version of the booklet online, but the two places I know of that carry booklets for various games, did not have a copy, so I was left fumbling around, trying to see what attack or combination I was missing that could significantly drop the difficulty (which, btw, is on EASY as default).

Then I randomly hit Select, and I got a new menu. One that allowed me to switch to several different batsuits. Select. Who uses Select?! I mean, it’s my fault for fumbling around for 3+ hours without hitting Select just to test it out, but why not incorporate it to the Start menu in some form? So after that revelation, this incredibly frustrating and difficult game turned into one of the most trivial beat ’em ups I have ever played. No longer did I worry about blocking and taking damage or just getting shellacked in general; just pick the Defensive suit which grants 100% immunity to enemy damage when holding block (while retaining the same standard damage tables as the default suit and not dropping it lower like you’d think it should be dropped) and you’re halfway to the goal line.

The harebrained game structure doesn’t end there – most everything you can do in Return of the Joker is useless. There’s a run/walk toggle button that only comes into play in a small portion of the third level, where you’re able to slooooooooowly walk behind enemies and avoid a few battles. You also have access to a staff that has garbage range and a slow, yet not powerful attack. Jumping doesn’t become a factor until the second half, and by for some idiotic reason, there was no discernible jumping attack for a character that often drops down in secret. Explosive shurikens are available in limited quantities, but the hit detection is abysmal.

Let’s talk about that hit detection some more! You automatically face and “track” enemies that come on screen. The problem is, once you move, you break that “line of sight”, and even if you continue in walking towards their direction, your attacks will almost always whiff. This becomes an absolute nightmare, if you don’t know that the Select button has a use in the game. Once the Defensive suit is equipped, it’s all a matter of holding block and throwing a kick out, and then holding block again. Let the enemy get close while you’re blocking, and it staves off maybe 35% of the hit detection issues. Attacks that should connect flush, miss with no plausible reason, while enemies more than always can hit you, even if you seem out of range.

The soundtrack is phenomenal, but then again, the source material has some of the greatest music out there. Effects are the standard fare, with no voice acting to be had. In fact, the use of the source material in terms of telling the story is a bit odd. Still animated shots are placed in here and there during storyline segments, and it falls flat. I’m sure they had plenty of disc room to spare for some animation portions, especially given how plain Jane Batman Beyond looks visually. It’s not abhorrent, but there’s nothing noteworthy, especially being a 2000 release.

Before we discovered that you can switch to different batsuits, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was a miserable, miserable experience. The difficulty was so overwhelming, that I had chalked it up to it being an Ubisoft game as the reason why the difficulty is so abrasive and not fun. Once we discovered the batsuits, the difficulty went from a 10 or a 3, with the only significant challenge from there on out being the platforming portion of the final stage.

Batman Beyond was, and is, an absolute classic. The lore and world should have been exploited more so than it was. The singular dedicated video game based on the franchise (The N64 version looks to be a port of this, and the GBC version actually looks way more functional, and is based off of these two) ended up being a frustrating, offensively easy and embarrassing. I haven’t been so let down by a licensed video game is a while, and it’s especially disheartening when the game we played before it was one of the best uses of a comic book IP. Absolutely a bottom five worst game we’ve played thus far on PSX Mania, and dammit, that shouldn’t be.

Rating: 3

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