Retrospective: Batman

Go West.

So Batman: Arkham City is out to waves of rapturous reviews. Christian awarded it 9/10 last week and its Metacritic averages are currently in the mid-90s, singling it out as the best reviewed Batman game ever.

Well, that's not strictly true. If Metacritic and the like has been around in 1986 when Ocean Software released its first Batman game for the Sinclair Spectrum and other 8-bit computers, its average review score would sit at 94%, right up there with Arkham City.

If you can't remember the game then perhaps the screenshots on this page will jog your memory. Borrowing liberally from Ultimate's 'Filmation' games, it drops Batman into a dizzying, isometric maze of rooms and corridors. Screens flip rather than scroll and the graphics are mainly monochrome (or at least they are in the original Spectrum version - Amstrad CPC and Elan Enterprise owners were treated to multiple colours in their versions).

What's intriguing is that it's not really a Batman game at all. Yes you play as the Caped Crusader, but there are no gun-toting crooks to duff up and no sign of arch enemies like the Joker or the Riddler. In fact, Batman can't punch or kick and doesn't even carry any weapons.

There's no Gotham City, no Alfred, no Robin the Boy Wonder, no Batmobile. There is a Batcraft, but you don't get to pilot it.

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Your first challenge. Grab the Batboots while avoiding the wolf-faced thing.

Instead, Batman's goal is to locate the seven pieces of the Batcraft that have been scattered around the Batcave (Alfred has presumably been busy excavating, as the vast cave is spread over more than 140 screens). Co-inhabiting the cave are an odd bunch of random baddies that appear to have wondered in from some other game. There are smoke monsters, dogs with oversized heads and roller-skating demons. You just need to avoid them or push an object into their paths to block them.

There's not much action to speak of. This is an adventure game with an emphasis on puzzle solving. The first problem involves getting Batman kitted out with special Bat gadgets. At the beginning of the game he can't even jump, but after some brief exploring you'll find some Batboots which are essential for scaling platforms. You'll also find a magic bag for carrying large objects from one area of a screen to another. With these and other gizmos in your possession you can begin to forge through the game.

The screens containing the bits of Batcraft are mini spatial puzzles in themselves. And they're pretty devious, with you often having to manipulate objects and enemies to reach the piece. I must admit that when I played the game back in the day as a nine-year-old, I don't think I managed to grab more than one or two pieces. Yet I was more than happy just to explore the cave, discover new locations and be a bit baffled by it all.

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