Ocean's Tie-in treat
There once was a time when several things happened like clockwork, when one cool thing almost always led to another cool thing that was connected to it. Whilst it does still occasionally happen now, it used to happen all the time back in the 80's and the 90's but sadly over the years such things became unfashionable and unwanted.
To add insult to injury far too many people nowadays look back on those old days with often negative views on the things that a generation once not only loved but that we took for granted.
For some of us, the Movie/Film tie-in game ruled!
Gentleman! Let's broaden our minds
If you weren’t there then let me make this short, sweet and ultra clear… The 80’s were awesome. Along with the 1990’s so much happened in the gaming industry that if you switched off for more than about a month it felt like you were suddenly a dinosaur and out of date, everything moved so fast. One of the reasons why the 80’s was so great was because of the things that were really popular and/or successful then that have long since become unfashionable for no real reason… once again proving why the fashions and trends of now absolutely suck!
“So, Meg’s give us an example of something that was once popular!”
Ok, jeeeez I’ve only just started. Let a player build yeah?
Something that springs immediately to mind are film or TV tie-ins, by that I mean video-games that connected to something in the world of television and cinema. There was a time when even random and obscure things got a game connected to it and more often than not the publisher logo on the box was that of Ocean Software.
Founded in 1983 in Manchester, England by David Ward and Jon Woods this developer and publisher went on to become one of the biggest, most popular and definitely one of the most awesome producers of games this country has ever seen. If you didn’t like or purchase games from them you either hated gaming or had zero taste. Yeah I said that, I said that out loud on the internet, come at me, fuck around and find out people!
Whilst not the pioneer of the film/TV based tie-in game they absolutely made it a real ‘thing’, delivered the most and were responsible for a lot of the really great ones and by the end of the decade anything ‘big’ they whacked out a game for it. As someone who just loved their arcade conversions and tie-in games I drooled over screenshots in games magazines such as Your Sinclair, Sinclair User and Crash until I get could my hands on what they were showing. In 1989 I got super excited…
Oh, I got a live one here
Now, it’s time for me to be honest. I wasn’t a big fan of Batman. The TV show bored me and the comics were never around when I was a kid as DC Comics didn't have the saturation levels they now do and not every town had a dedicated comic book shop or newsagent that stocked North American comics. I was however, a massive fan of Michael Keaton so when I heard a Batman film was coming out and that Ocean Software were making a game about it I got super hyped, after all the previous year the RoboCop game from them blew my teenager mind.
In June 1989 the film hit Cinemas in America and then on August 11th when the UK got it, myself and my then new friends from my first (and best job I ever had) went to the cinema one Sunday to see it, it was superb! We loved it! At that point the need for the game I had been seeing in my games mags exploded into overdrive. A month later in September Ocean Software released the game connected to it, anticipation turned into pure joy. Initially released for the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, I was able to play it straight away thanks to being the owner of a Spectrum 128K computer.
Essentially a mixture of 3 different game genres into 5 levels that were knitted together to form an overall game this followed events from the film itself. The next part is taken directly from Wikipedia so I don’t have to type it out myself:
In the first level, styled as side-scrolling gameplay, Batman fights his way through the Axis Chemical Plant to confront Jack Napier, knocking him into a vat of chemicals and turning him into The Joker. Batman can use his Batarangs and grapple gun to defeat enemies. The grapple gun can also be used to climb to higher platforms and swing across gaps.
In the second level, Batman drives his Batmobile across Gotham City, dodging traffic and using a grapple to turn corners at high speed. Missing three consecutive turns causes Batman to run into a police roadblock and costs the player one life, regardless of the timer and health gauge.
The third level is a Mastermind-like puzzle set in the Batcave, in which Batman is presented with eight consumer products and must identify the three that the Joker has tainted with the deadly chemical Smilex. The player chooses three items at a time and is told how many are correct; a health penalty is incurred for selecting any incorrect items.
The fourth level takes place during the Joker's parade, in which Batman must fly the Batwing and cut away balloons filled with Smilex gas without crashing into them or the floats to which they are tethered.
In the fifth and final level, styled similarly to the first, Batman climbs to the top of Gotham City Cathedral and must stop the Joker from escaping on a helicopter.
Now the ZX Spectrum version (the one I purchased and played first) was mostly monochrome with very detailed background and character sprites, simple sound effects and some nice music. Everything about it looked and felt like a game from Ocean, often myself and others refer to something called ‘The Ocean template’ which refers to how a lot of their games were quite similar in that it felt like many of them were just made from a standard design with sprites changed. A lot of their Film/TV tie-in games often felt like several mini-games whacked together and Batman The Movie definitely had this vibe about it.
The thing is though… it worked! It was a great formula. Instantly playable and fun the platforming, driving and puzzle elements fused together brilliantly and with a decent difficulty level applied this was a real challenge to beat. One really great aspect of this was how your energy/life bar slowly changed from Batman to The Joker via a portrait image on the bottom of the screen. Myself and a friend were mesmerized by this as most life bars were simple horizontal or vertical green to red bars, this looked way cooler.
All is well in Gotham City
Getting very good review scores from all the popular Spectrum gaming magazines this was another hit game from a developer and publisher that defined a generations childhood and yet another excellent film tie-in game. Other formats fared well in their respective publications but overall didn’t get as highly praised as the Spectrum one.
Also published for several other computer formats including the Amstrad CPC 464, Atari ST, Amiga, MS-DOS PC and MSX the 16-Bit versions were really special, especially the Amiga 500 one, which was, quite simply, stunning! Getting published shortly after the 8-Bit ones the 16-Bit ones looked way nicer with super detailed and colourful graphics, better music and presentation screens and the driving levels were on another level of awesomeness entirely. Instead of being flat 2D left to right affairs they now took place behind the Batmobile and Batwing giving off a superb 3D effect. The difference was incredible and as someone without an Amiga at the time it was the catalyst for me starting to save to get one. Thankfully a work buddy had one and as a fellow fan of the film he made sure he got the game immediately.
Due to being such a pop culture moment Commodore went one step further and created a Batman bundle that they sold between October 1989 and September 1990 which consisted of the following:
The Amiga 500 computer, Batman The Movie game and then to make it even more appealing they also packed in The NewZealand Story game (also from Ocean), as well as F/A-18 Interceptor and Deluxe Paint II from Electronic Arts. One of the finest computer/software hardware/software bundles of all time this sold 186,000 units making it the most successful bundle for the Amiga ever released. It was also the coolest looking as the box containing everything had a huge Batman logo on it, it looked fantastic.
Had the wait been worth it? Oh absolutely! Not only was the film awesome but the ZX Spectrum game was definitely worth the many months of patiently waiting and then shortly after I got to have my mind blown for a second time when the Amiga version dropped. I didn’t purchase many full price games back in the day due to a severe lack of finances but I made sure I got Batman, I knew it would be awesome, after all it had that Ocean Software logo on the box. It was so awesome in fact that it’s the game that made me save up £400 for my very own Amiga and a copy of the game for that computer.
How good was the Batman The Movie game? It was £435 good!