Batman Returns was big business back in 1992. Not only did the movie kill at the box office, but it spawned its own merchandising empire—including a number of videogames. The one most people played was the side-scrolling beat-'em-up on the SNES and Genesis, or maybe the Tiger Electronics handheld with the LCD screen you could barely see. But did you know there was a PC game too, and that it was completely different from every other version?
Published by Konami and released on December 15, 1992—months after the film opened in cinemas—the DOS version of Batman Returns is less about punching clowns, and more about being a detective. The story follows the events of the film—namely Batman clashing with the Penguin—but there are a few tangents, including an alternate ending where Cobblepot becomes mayor of Gotham and a depressed Batman sulks in the Batcave.
While most Batman games from the '80s and '90s involved little more than walking sideways and punching an endless parade of pixelated henchmen, Batman Returns stands out because it's A) curiously, a point-and-click adventure and B) a kind of Batman simulator. You have to collect evidence, analyse it with the Batcomputer, decide what gadgets to attach to your utility belt before setting out for the night, and interrogate clown-faced goons for leads.
The story takes place across 9 days, and if you don't gather enough evidence to reveal the Penguin's plans in time, it's an unceremonious game over. You can move freely between locations in the Batmobile too, and some events will only trigger at certain times of day. There's a lot more going on here than your average '90s movie spin-off, most of which were cheap, lazy action games. So kudos to the developer for at least trying something new here.
Shame it sucks. As many cool ideas as Batman Returns has, it's a pretty terrible game. It's never clear what you're supposed to be doing, or how to trigger the next event, and the combat is abysmal. When you're fighting one of Penguin's circus-themed henchmen, you don't actually do anything. You just click a button representing one of three fighting styles—easy, normal, and fierce—and watch Batman beat them up very, very slowly. It's remarkably tedious.
It looks okay. It has a pulpy '90s comic book aesthetic, and it's pretty atmospheric. There's some nice rotoscoped animation too. But ultimately, it's a pig to play. It's also pretty short, taking maybe 2 hours to finish if you don't get too stuck. But hey, it's interesting, and a game most people seem to have forgotten about. Search for 'Batman Returns videogame' and most results are about the console versions. I wouldn't say it was worth installing DOSbox for, but if you're a Batman fan, it's an intriguing deep cut.