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Batman: Revenge of the Joker is one of those completed games that have been floating around since the dawn of the Internet, with little or no information on its origin or why it never came to be released. A prototype board of this game does exist, which is shown on the right. This board was owned by udisi, and sold on Ebay around February-March 2004. He mistakenly believed this was the game known as "Real Shitty Batman!", however the screenshots that he took of the game clearly show it is Batman: Revenge of the Joker. Direct comparison with screenshots from the ROM image show that this prototype is identical. The game was developed by Icom Simulations in 1992 for Sunsoft. That company's most notable games include Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, Deja Vu, Shadowgate and Road Runner: Death Valley Rally.
This game appears to be complete, though it becomes evident very quickly as to why it was likely not released. Probably the best comparison of the gameplay would be Total Recall, though that might be a bit unfair as it is probably beatable. The game is a platform shooter, with a couple of side-scrolling shooter levels thrown in. The extreme difficulty and poor level design hampers what could have been a worthy upgrade of the original NES game.
The first stage begins with enemies that shoot at you relentlessly, and spike balls that drop from unseen parts of the ceiling, both things that are unavoidable. Getting weapons upgrades makes life easier, but your are still forced to contend with hidden traps. The worst part is in the later part of the level, where you confront these statues that shoot lightning at you. In order to hit them, they first have to be in attack mode, which pretty much guarantees you get hit. If you don't have four health points (you fight three of them in a row), then you are out of luck. The level is very short, but because of the dangers, it took me many deaths to pass. I guess they expect memorization!
Stage 2 (password: DNCN)
The second level features a blimp that continually brings up enemies. They are not as relentless as the enemies in the first level, but they keep coming. The level automatically scrolls, meaning if you get caught behind a barrier or an inescapable hole (see right), you die. One of the big problems is if you get a gun powerup that is one shot at a time, you can be vulnerable to attack (in particular, the spread gun). The level itself is actually a bit easier than the first level, mainly due to the lack of hidden dangers.
At the end of the level, there is a boss battle. The rules of the battle boss are rather unique: rather than having a health gauge, the boss and Batman have a score gauge that decreases every time a hit registers. Of course, the catch here is that it is nearly impossible to avoid the enemy's shots unless it he is shooting on the far opposite side of the screen. Complicating things is the fact that the robots descending take off points off your health, and the boss' shots take off 300 points, while your default gun takes off only 100 points. I ended up configuring the fire button on turbo. Luckily if you die, you start over at the boss rather than the start of the level.
Stage 3 (password: MCHT)
This is a short stage, but not without its insane difficulty. There are barrels that defy laws of physics and start to fly towards you if you shoot them. The enemies that jump around and shoot endlessly are back. In one part, there is a platform you need to use that goes up and down that bounded by two flames that are nearly impossible to avoid. Later on, the barrels are flying relentlessly through this corridor. Again, it is very difficult to avoid damage.
Stage 4 (password: DDPP)
Stage 4 changes it up by becoming a side-scrolling shooter. Unfortunately, it is a bad side-scrolling shooter. Your character is so large, that it is pretty much impossible to actually avoid shots, which is the main skill of shooters. Most of the enemies, save the blue characters will shoot at you before you can kill them. The three boss robots take a lot of hits to kill, and will follow your every move, making the completion of this level very difficult. The background has some neat-ish Mode 7 graphics.
Stage 5 (password: LDRN)
Stage 5 is composed largely of snowman heads flying through the air (damaging you only if they hit you on their way down), snowmen with bombs that go off when you pass by, and these strange cloaked things that shoot off whirlwinds that take off half your health. It is a difficult stage, for sure. If you want a real challenge, try to beat it with the crappy one-shot-at-a-time spread gun. It will leave you cursing.
Stage 6 (password: KLTT)
Also known as the missile train, your best bet is to find the wave weapon and let the train do the scrolling for you. The missiles only harm you if they explode, so provided that you destroy them before they are automatically do, you should have the upper hand, in theory. In reality, the missiles come unendingly and some will get past your shooting range. To top it off, near the end of the train you also have to contend with these electric shadow monsters. There is little point trying to kill the enemies shooting off the missiles, nor is there any point trying to pass the level with the spread gun.
Stage 7 (password: CRLB)
This stage wasn't nearly as bad as it seemed when I first started going through it. First off, get the wave spread gun, anything else is useless. The level scrolls automatically, but provided that you have the wave gun, the minor robot enemies aren't a problem. What is a problem is this flying machine that drops exploding bombs. What I learned is the best defence is a good offence. Start firing at them and don't stop and they will be destroyed before you die. This is the second stage with an end boss. Like level 2, you have to drain the enemy's health points before it does the same to you. When you first get to it, it seems downright ludicrous for a boss. The floor has holes that mean instant death. Fire comes up from the floor everywhere, and missiles come non-stop. Also, the blue beam the boss emits drains your health very rapidly. I eventually found that no matter how much damage you take from the fire and missiles, if you stay on the left side and shoot whenever the boss passes by, you should be able to take off more damage than you take. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to beat the boss this way, though. I threw on some turbo on the fire button, and it seemed to make it go a bit faster.
Stage 8 (password: LKCM)
Quite possibly the easiest level in the game. I passed it second try, and I'll admit that the first try I fell into a pit. The level takes place in a sewer system, where the only obstacles are bombs falling out of pipes and crazy jumping scuba divers that shoot lasers. Really, you can pass this level without any concern for your health by ignoring the enemies.
Stage 9 (password: DVWH)
Another shooting stage, similar to Stage 4. The background is a bit different, but otherwise it is the same except with more enemies. Not even worth a screenshot.
Stage 10 (password: TTKR)
This stage would be pretty easy (the barrels that bounce around are relatively easy to avoid), but there is a section where these white beams come down and extinguish your health. Later in the level, there are platforms that fall very quickly after you land on them. All the while, the level auto-scrolls.
Stage 11 (password: BTMR)
This is a strange, but straight-forward level. You must follow along this tank, while this trail of fire follows behind. The fire is instant death, so you must stay ahead of it. Spike balls fall at regular intervals, and a man throwing firebombs comes out of the tank regularly. This is a level of endurance, and should be beatable after a few tries.
Stage 12 (password: VNGF)
This is the final stage. The main level is rather easy, the only thing to watch out for are these parabolic line of bombs flying at you unexpectedly. Simple.
The Joker comes in as two bosses. The first boss starts off with these fire trails that can be easily avoided with practise. You will need every bit of health possible to fight The Joker, as he throws a ton of bombs at you, and it is not possible to avoid them. I turned on turbo and just ignored the bombs, and even with full health I barely got through. The second boss is one of those decreasing score bosses. This boss is ridiculously hard, taking 1000 hits with the default gun to beat. The only way to beat the boss is to lure it to one side (without getting hit by the rockets on the robot's boots), jump up on the platforms so that the laser shield stops blocking from the bottom, and jumping back down between the robot's legs. All the while, you have to watch for fireballs coming down at you from the robot's mouth. Even with turbo on the shooting button, this is a tedious process, and would likely take at least 20 minutes. If you even get hit by a couple of times every few cycles, you are likely to lose. I got fed up after many tries and just created a cheat so I didn't die. Seriously, who designed this boss?
Summary of the game
First, I would like to discuss the graphics and sound. Sound effects are pretty non-existent, except for your gun and the death throws of the enemy. Speaking of that, the cries of agony when you defeat human foes has to be one of the most chilling death sounds in any video game. The music sounds like it is straight out of an NES game. The graphics are not terrible, but the stages are largely very bland. The Batman sprite isn't bad, but the enemies lack detail. The mode 7 backgrounds in shooter levels look nice, and even with a lot of sprites in the screen, there is no slowdown.
On the whole, this game would have served as an example of how not to do an action shooter. The stages are relatively short, but for the most part can only passed through sheer memorization. The boss battles are tedious and have no strategy to avoid damage, essentially forcing you to beat the enemy by brute force. Several of the weapon "powerups" (in particular the spread gun and ricochet gun) are pretty much useless because they don't allow you to fire more than one shot at a time. The jump button is quite often unresponsive, causing death in situations where quick jumping is required. There is a special move (when you press A) that causes you to spew dozens of your weapon shots around you, but considering that the most troublesome enemies are airborne, it is quite useless. Many of the obstacles (in particular the tornadoes emitted by the enemies in level 5) take off far too much of your health. The two shooter stages seem tacked on and offer none of the strategy you would find in games like Gradius III. This game is very difficult, mostly due to gameplay design flaws. After playing through, it seems pretty evident why this game was not released.
Comparison with the NES and Genesis versions
One interesting thing to note about this game is that it is actually a remake of the NES game, Return of the Joker. It was supposed to be a sequel of sorts to the 1989 Batman movie. The NES version of the game is regarded as one of the most graphically impressive games for the system (getting a 4.2/5 in Nintendo Power). On the whole, the NES version of this game is better in every respect to the unreleased SNES version. The controls are more responsive, the weapon upgrades don't cripple you, even the graphics are arguably more detailed. The music is pretty much the same between the two games.
The Genesis version of Revenge of the Joker was programmed by a completely different group than the SNES version. The game is more similar to the NES version than the SNES version, both graphically and gameplay-wise. However, out of the three, the Genesis version has to be the worst. At least in the SNES version, I could pass the levels with enough tries. With the Genesis version, I got to the second level (with the blimp) and nearly threw my controller in frustration. In that particular level, the bombs thrown from the blimp come down two at a time, and they drop so quickly that it becomes a matter of luck to avoid them. The controls seem more awkward than the NES version. For a 16-bit game, the graphics are pretty poor too. Really, if I was to recommend one version of this game, I would definitely go with the NES version, which is actually a really good game.
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