Batman on the ZX Spectrum

Ocean Batman

The loading screen for Ocean’s 1986 Batman game is rather misleading if you ask me. It shows, in the Speccy’s awesomely limited colour palette, a large muscular Batman holding up a manhole cover before jumping down in to the sewers to chase some n’er do well.

Compare and contrast loading screen Batman with in game Batman:

Batman hmmm

Yes, 1986 might have been the year that the seminal The Dark Knight Returns comic series came out but the video game world was still rooted in the Adam West capers. Don’t forget, we were still 3 years away from the Tim Burton movie started the long and slow process of revitalising Batman from the gloriously campy kitschy show from the ’60’s.

Sam was initially excited to be playing a Batman game. He’s seen stuff surrounding the Rocksteady Studio’s Batman trilogy and although I’ve not let him play them as the rating is too high. Sam was very much expecting a fast paced action game, with some fighting, some jumping an a lot of Batman related action. What he got wasn’t exactly what he expected….

Sam: Whaaaaat? He’s a fat little man. That’s supposed to be Batman? What’s going on?

Me: You remember in LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, when we unlocked the old fashioned Batman by collecting all the Adam Wests in Peril?

Sam: Yeees?

Me: That’s the Batman that more or less features in this game. This was before any of the edgy and violent Batman stuff you might have been longing after.

Sam: Oh.

Me: I’m sure it will be fun. Honest. It got great reviews back in the day, Crash magazine gave it 90 something percent when they reviewed it, Look.

I wave an online copy of the Crash review at Sam. It got 93% back in issue 28. They even made a specific point of mentioning that there was little or no attribute clash. Sam looks unconvinced.

Sam: 150 screens? When are we going to get on to games that actually have scrolling?

Me: Not long, I think I’ve got Penetrator coming up in a couple of weeks. Plenty of scrolling there. Anyway, lets play some Batman shall we?

The controls for Batman are pretty simple, especially compared to the nightmare we had with Way of the Exploding Fist last week.

Sam: okay, I like the way he looks at you and taps his foot when you don’t do anything. How do you jump?

It’s been a few decades since I last played Batman and I confess I’m not entirely sure. We dig out the instructions and pour over them for some minutes. There is an awkward silence.

Me: Ah. You need to collect a pair of winged boots to be able to jump.

Sam: What?

Me: Boots.

Sam: Boots?

Me: Yes boots. Back in the 1980’s it appears that Batman couldn’t jump without collecting some boots first.

Sam is enormously unimpressed with this fact. I don’t think he quite realises that this is part of the puzzle aspect of the game. Over 150 screens sounds like a lot but to have the map work properly, there are a fair number of corridors linking up the rooms with the actual puzzles in.

in game

monsterAt it’s heart, Batman is an isometric puzzle game, in the same vein as Knightlore or The Movies that came before it. Batman moves from room to room, avoiding monsters. There an odd bunch… we can’t make out what one particular monster is, whether it’s a vampire rabbit with big ears or it’s a snout with a pair of big eyes above it.

Sam: What is that? Why is some rabbit thing fighting Batman? It doesn’t make sense.

Me: You’ve just got to go with it Sam. Batman has to collect some stuff to give himself abilities. Then he’s got to find the 7 bits of the Batmobile.

Sam: Did you ever find all 7 bits?

Me: No but I was young and foolish back then, now on the other hand…

We play for almost an hour. We die a lot. This is a recurring theme so far in our retro-fest of gaming. It’s an education.

Sam: It’s hard but it’s also not fair. Like that room when you go in, you fall to your death immediately if you don’t move but you won’t know the first time so you’ll die.

Sam’s referring to this level:


Instant death for no particular reason was pretty common back then. 

Me: Yes, it’s tricky isn’t it?

Sam: It’s not fair. I don’t think I like it very much. Fat Batman. Silly monsters. Batman can’t even jump until he picks up some boots. There aren’t any other people in it, and that’s funny. I like the way Batman taps his foot if you leave him standing there. It’s annoying that it makes a funny noise when you walk but I think the music is really catchy.

We’ve covered 24 screens, about a sixth of the game in total but Sam has seen enough.

Me: Have you had enough Sam?

Sam: Yes. You carry on. I’m going to play LEGO Batman 3.

Me: Oh go on then. I’m rather enjoying it myself.

I don’t manage to complete the game; there are two many levels where you die from simply touching something, fall to your death for no good reason or just get cornered by weird baddies. It’s hard but I spend a good hour after Sam has buggered off playing it. Out of all the games so far, it’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most.

I wonder if next weeks game, Penetrator, will change that…

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One Response to Batman on the ZX Spectrum

  1. Pingback: Penetrator ZX Spectrum | Kids Do Retro

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