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Batman Returns - World’s Greatest Thumb-Twiddler (Lost!)

Written by Joe Pranevich


Who’s the dark knight detective that’s a hit with all the chicks? Batman! Your darned right. Welcome back to Batman Returns! Last week, I completed the first day by discovering (and stealing) an innocuous awards ceremony tape from the mayor’s office. We spent the day exploring and dealing with thugs from a circus gang, but did not spy either Penguin or Catwoman. Thus far, the game feels a bit thin with empty areas and not a lot that to explore thanks to the verbless interface. That said, the graphics are quite good and I’m enjoying bits of Danny Elfman in the soundtrack-- his Batman theme is one of the musical highpoints of my childhood and adds so much to this game.

And yet, you might sense that something is off. As Alex Romanov noted in the comments to my last post, I made a critical mistake that I did not discover until the end of this session. Things didn't go well for the Caped Crusader. Rather than whitewash it, I will narrate what happened and you can see for yourself how I spent the next four hours of play time. I am not sure whether I was completely doomed after the first day’s mistake or if there was some way that I could have recovered, but either way this is a “Lost!” post. I will try again from the start next week.

I thought he looked like the guy from Twins.

Day 2

Batman began his second day like the first one: sitting at his bat-desk and listening to the nightly news. The top story of the night is that Oswald Cobblepot, a deformed man with a penguin-like appearance, saved the mayor’s son from a kidnap attempt by the circus gang. We know (because we’re not idiots) that the Penguin orchestrated the whole scenario, but the gullible population swallows it and sees him as a hero. Perhaps Batman’s vigilante activities have primed them to accept another bird-themed hero..

I wish we had been present for this scene instead of being told about it on the news. In the movie, the circus gang attacks the mayor and his family at a tree lighting ceremony and escape through a manhole, only to have the Penguin emerge from the same (in his rubber duckie boat!) and return the child to his father. Neither Bruce Wayne nor his alter-ego are present for this scene in the film either, but we lose a lot by having it summarized by a talking head. Still, I cannot fault the game for trying to tell this story strictly from Batman’s point of view, especially as they are highlighting the detective aspect of his character.

The bat-computer is updated immediately with Penguin as a “person to watch”.

Racing to the batmobile, I find no new locations have opened up. I check Gotham Plaza, downtown, and the mayor’s office over again, but other than a few sporadic battles with the circus gang, I observe nothing new. I even search everything twice just to be sure. As far as I can tell, other than the news report at the beginning of the night, the second day has no additional content.

In the film, Penguin’s arrival on the scene is followed by a brief quest to find out his real identity. Penguin is taken to the hall of records where he searches for evidence of his name and his lost family. We later learn that Penguin used his time with the records to assemble lists of the Gotham elite’s firstborn children to abduct. The game skips this part and reveals his name immediately. Unless it comes up later, this is a lost opportunity because Batman spying on Penguin could have been a neat adventure game sequence.

Having found absolutely nothing to do, I retire for the evening and prepare for day three. I hope I am not coming off as down on the game already, but slowly mousing over rooms get boring after a while.


Day 3

Unlike the previous two, the third night does not even have a news update. There are general news stories about the decline of education standards and the increase in crime, but nothing pertinent to our case. I head to the batmobile for another evening of searching around. As before, there are no new areas to explore on our map.

I discover a clue in the mayor’s office: a stack of “party pictures” left on his desk. I scan them using my bat-scanner and return to the batcave. I do not know if there is a penalty if I had taken them instead of scanning them, but I’d rather not risk it. We cannot look at the pictures directly. Instead, we insert them into the evidence computer for processing. It reveals that they are photos from that mayor’s son’s first birthday party. There is also an option to extrapolate further, but the computer does not have enough evidence for additional conclusions. This is twice that Batman has gone to the mayor’s office and stolen something completely innocuous. We have yet to discover an actual clue.

World’s Greatest Stalker

I return to the streets to see if anything changed. Unsurprisingly, nothing did despite searching every room again. No matter how nice the graphics are, there are only so many times you can watch the same animations before you go a little nuts. The manual claims that you can fast-forward by clicking the right mouse immediately after selecting an action with you left, but I never got this to work.

There are only nine days in the game and we’ve spent three of them doing nothing. When does the plot start?

Now, I suppose.

Day 4

The fourth day starts with a news alert! The citizens of the city are sick and tired of gangs of circus performers roaming the city. They want a mayoral recall election and they want it now. Not coincidentally, Oswald Cobblepot is now the leading opposition candidate thanks to the city seeing him as the hero that they need. We know from the movie that this is all being orchestrated by Max Shreck as part of his plot to get a sympathetic mayor in office so that he can siphon electricity from the city, but the game doesn’t make that connection yet. The movie also shows Penguin eating raw fish and assaulting his supporters, but Mr. Shreck’s excellent stage-management of Cobblepot’s reputation somehow causes these incidents to be forgotten. The news even has the gall to complain that “Batman has disappeared” during these attacks; how many times have I run around the city beating up clowns in the last four days?

I explore the city again and find the standard array of empty rooms and meaningless combats. This time, I spy a feather on the mayor’s desk and pocket it. When I take that back to the evidence computer, I have my first real clue of the game! The computer identifies the feather as being from an Emperor Penguin, possibly one of penguins from an exhibit at the Old Zoo. The computer further believes that the feather is intended as a threat or a calling card, to tell the mayor that the Penguin is after him. Could the pictures from the previous night be a similar threat? What if they were taken by Penguin’s gang to show the mayor how closely he and his family are being watched?

Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo… how about you, you, you...

The best thing about this evidence is that I have a new location on the Batmobile’s map: the Old Zoo, in the southwest corner. I discover it deserted but ready for exploration. I’m not sure either from the game or the movie whether the zoo is still in operation or whether the remaining animals, including a large flock of penguins, were just left to starve on their own. I don’t think that Penguin could hide inside of an active zoo, but I also find it hard to believe that they would have left all of the animals behind in a closed one. Maybe I should blame Tum Burton for loving the idea of an abandoned zoo without considering the logistics of it.

A cave for polar bears?

The penguin exhibit!

The zoo is not a huge place and we can’t explore it very deeply. All we have is an overhead view where Batman is perched on a tree, plus views of the outside of “Arctic World” and a cave. We cannot go into “Arctic World”, although we can at least zoom in to the entrance of the cave. That’s where we discover our second piece of evidence of the night: an old circus poster. I scan that and return to the batcave.

The poster is for a circus that disbanded five years ago. The computer further deduces that the circus performers are the same ones that are terrorizing the city. That suggests that the thugs are connected to the zoo and, by extension, the Penguin! Holy moley! The movie makes this explicit much earlier, but I like the way the game is telling this story exclusively from Batman’s perspective.

Before concluding my most successful night yet, I take one more spin around all of the locations to see if I find anything new. I do not, but at least I feel better that the plot is starting up.

How did you get my Skype?

Day 5

I am more than halfway through the game! I considered ending the post here, but there isn’t quite enough content yet. The plot thickens immediately as the Penguin sends Batman a video message directly to the batcave. He wants Batman to know that he has a tape of evidence against the mayor that he will release soon. Once the people discover how corrupt their leader is, they will surely pick Penguin as his replacement. He claims that he is telling us this because he wants to “play fair”, but there is likely another reason. In the film, he’s trying to draw Batman out so that he can be discredited. I’m not sure if the game has the narrative ability to present that well.

Now that I consider it, the craziest part of the game is that you could possibly go from a petition to a recall election in less than a week. Just printing ballots and arranging polling stations would take more than that. Real world gears turn much more slowly, plus Penguin could be just as easily recalled if he won the election. In the film, the timeframe is less explicit but still condensed, starting from the tree-lighting and ending sometime before Christmas; four weeks at most.

Jinkies! Another clue!

I run through my well-practiced tour of every room in the city and find two new clues in the mayor’s office: a photo on a side-table and remodeling plans on his desk. I take them back to the batcave for further consideration.

Who is Byron Orton?

Thanks to our evidence computer, we learn that the photo is of the mayor and Byron Orton. “Who is Bryron Orton?” you might ask? The biographical computer reveals that he is the publisher of the Gotham Gazette and a tabloid called The Tell All. It appears that the mayor is courting him in an effort to improve his standing among the press and to get some positive coverage before the snap election. Mr. Orton appears to be an original creation for this game with no comic book or movie tie-ins, nor does he appear in any of the drafts of the script that I have located. I think-- but I am not sure-- that Byron’s image is actually Don Landon, a video editor on Batman Returns and a long-time engineer for Park Place Productions. This guess is based on a grainy photo in the manual for NHL Hockey (1992) for the Sega Genesis, so I apologize if I have made a mistake. This is as good a time as any to tell you that Batman’s citizen database has been gradually updated as the game progresses. Catwoman appears for the first time now, for example, plus Penguin’s entry has been updated to talk about the extortion threat. I don’t check them all every day to see what else might be different.

The plans are of a defense-oriented remodel of someplace, but neither we nor the mayor seems to be sure of where. The mayor’s notes suggest that he believes Max Shreck is up to something, but he doesn’t know what. The computer helpfully tells us that a ventilation duct is the weak point in the design, a detail that I am positive will come in handy later.

Dark Knights of the Round Table?

More importantly, discovering the plans opens up Shreck’s office on the map! It’s just across from Gotham Plaza; we can enter it through one of the rooftop screens that I had already found, but not until we knew that the location was important. That gives me a bit of hope that some of these empty rooms will be less empty before the end of the game.

Searching the room carefully, I discover a hidden compartment beneath the globe on the right hand side. I have to use the lockpick, but inside is a memo which I scan for further analysis. While in his office, I get attacked by more circus people, although I am not certain whether that is a programming flaw or further indication that Shreck and Penguin are in cahoots. Back in the batcave, we learn that Shreck’s was hunting to Penguin to use his men to inflame the crime wave. Doing so will undercut the mayor’s reputation, ensuring Penguin’s eventual win. Good thing this sort of thing never happens in real life!

Catwoman attacks!

Heading back out to the city, I am attacked by Catwoman outside of Shreck’s department store. She has no difficulty with any of the weapons that I have on hand, but she eventually leaves. Did she win? Did I win? I have no idea. My computer crashed immediately afterwards and I lost all “Day 5” progress, but she did not appear when I replayed the sequence. My guess is that she is a random encounter, but I’m not sure how to defeat her if I can’t find her.

Who is Dennis Barvel?

While digging around in the computer, I notice an alert that wasn’t there before: Dennis Barvel is listed as a “Person to Watch” and plans to strike at the jewelry store, one of the downtown locations, tonight. The database tells me that he is also known as “Dominic Best”, an armed robbery specialist that likes to target banks and jewelry stores. He just got out of a four-year prison sentence and is looking to strike again. He appears to be a game-exclusive and not in either comics or the film. I head to the location and wait all night (by pushing the “next hour” button), but he never shows up. We know that the original game was to feature some non-movie content, but that the studio nixed that idea much to Bill Kunkel’s consternation. Were Barvel and Orton plot threads that were excised but not removed completely? Is it coincidence that they both show up on day five, or would I have found more if I had searched the database every night? Alternatively, am I just doing something wrong and missed an important cutscene? I have no idea.

Thanks for reminding me!

Day 6

I start the next day without having solved the mystery of Penguin’s extortion tape. He’s even kind enough to video-call me again to remind me that I need to track him down. Thanks, Penguin! He reveals that his real motivation is to expose me, making himself the hero and Batman the freak. The nightly news reveals that there is renewed violence in Gotham Plaza, obviously part of the plot that Shreck and Penguin cooked up the previous day. While not connected to the main plot, I notice that Barvel is no longer listed in the computer. I missed whatever was supposed to happen with him, if anything.

At Gotham Plaza, I enter the fight of my gaming life. Batman has to face enemy after enemy. Eventually, even the Penguin shows up. He blocks everything I throw at him with an umbrella, although I do get him to talk to me after a well-timed bolo hits him. (Or maybe the timing is a coincidence; I am not sure.)

The Penguin is surprisingly effective with his trick umbrella for both attack and defense.

The “conversation” is a brief cutscene: Batman accuses Penguin of coming downtown to admire his villainous handiwork, but Penguin replies that as a mayoral candidate he’s only touring the scene of a major riot. Being down here tonight, fighting me, is apparently good for his image!

Smacking around some bats. You know.

Eventually, Penguin flees the scene-- I am uncertain whether I won or lost the fight. He is immediately replaced by Catwoman. I don’t know if this is the fight that I was supposed to have with her on the previous day or related to the riot. If I land a couple of hits on her, we get a brief dialog scene from the movie where Catwoman acts indignant that Batman would hit a woman, before laying it on him with both barrels. She’s probably making some point here about early 90s feminism, but I’m too busy being beaten up by a woman wearing a latex catsuit to understand.

And it’s not okay to hit cats either.

This whole marathon feels like a final boss. Even after Catwoman leaves, I am hounded by circus performer after circus performer. Eventually, I have to run away because I am out of weapons and taking too much damage. When I return after a recharge, I fight only one or two more battles in the plaza. Nothing special happens after I do and I search the rest of the city to find absolutely nothing. I search everything multiple times because I know that I have to find the clues that will lead me to Penguin’s videotape. Still, I come up short.

Reluctantly, I flip over to day seven and the game ends immediately. Penguin’s tape is released, showing the mayor embezzling funds from the city. This scandal ends the mayor’s political career and rockets Penguin (and Max Shreck) into a position of power in the city. The election is done. Batman is disgraced. Game over.

Yeah, I know. He reminded me twice!

But recall elections here are pretty quick and easy to arrange.

You have failed this city. Green Arrow could have solved this case.

Do I have to play again?

There is a small part of me that wants to stop here with a “Lost!” post. I think we’ve seen much of what the game has to offer in terms of interactions and combat. I cannot bring myself to give up just yet, so my plan is to replay from scratch and see if I can find things that I missed. If I make it through a second time with nothing to show for it, expect a “Request for Assistance” but I have a fishy feeling that I know what I did wrong.

Even absent a “Request for Assistance”, advice is appreciated on the Penguin and Catwoman combats. I don’t have a strategy for those except putting the game on “Fierce” and setting my DOS emulator to fast-forward because the fights take ages and get nowhere. Is there an object or a combination of objects that I should be using to win those fights?

Time played: 4 hr 10 min
Total time: 6 hr 00 min

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