The film Batman Begins is widely regarded as a return to form for the super hero series, stripping away all the brightly-coloured nonsense and over-the-top acting which typified the later movies (and indeed the TV series, too) in favour of a much darker portrayal. Unlike so many goody-goody heroes, this caped crusader is a complex character who treads both sides of the law and is tormented by his own demons and grudges. Which begs the question, how can a mobile game positively capture the psychological issues of fear and guilt?
The simple answer, of course, is that it can’t. What it can do, however, is attempt to emulate the spirit of the movie and re-create some impressive set-piece action scenes and in this Batman Begins is holy impressive!
The game itself is a 2D adventure that sees you controlling the caped crusader as he infiltrates progressively more well-guarded underworld hide-outs, negotiating precarious ladders and platforms and taking on the goons using good-old fashioned brute force. Fighting is a simple and frantic affair – press the ‘5’ button to swing a punch or, jumping first, to produce a spinning kick, for example – that usually degenerates into button pounding until your opponents are lying prostrate and you can continue to the next. So, it's just a case of hammering away at the buttons, then.
Well... Not quite. Simply storming in fists-first startles opponents and causes them to shout out a warning. This in turn raises the suspicion of all nearby guards and the overall level of alarm up a notch. Raising this too high causes a siren to go off, alerting all the goons to brandish their weapons and send in reinforcements to investigate, ensuring you’ll be cowel deep in bad-guys. This is bad news for two reasons; firstly, your special armour can only survive so many bullets or crowbars before your health begins to rapidly deteriorate and, secondly, should the bar rise again when the alarm has been sounded once already, the enemy will clear out and you’ll have failed the level.
Stealth is the name of the game here, as you are positively encouraged to sneak around out of sight, crouching behind boxes, climbing up ladders when backs are turned and preferably dropping down behind opponents, applying a swift punch to the solar plexus and then tying them up. Naturally there’s more to being a stealthy super-hero than hiding behind crates,though; there's the tempting selection of toys on offer, too. Your trusty utility belt is endowed with all the wonderful gadgets you’d expect, including a grappling hook that enables you to rapidly climb to higher platforms and drop on unsuspecting enemies from above, batarangs to take out opponents from range and explosive gas pellets to disorientate everyone nearby (ideal for larger groups). Add to these the capacity to glide between platforms using the batcape and you’ve ticked the boxes of most of the caped crusader’s comic book powers.
The control system is kept refreshingly simple, considering all the options open to you. Thanks to a context-sensitive style which allows Batman to move, swing, fight, open and tie up opponents depending on what he’s standing next to, you can control most action using the joypad alone, whilst a quick press of the ‘7’ button activates the selected tool from your utility belt. The game makes this even easier by showing when certain tools should be used (e.g. suggesting bat cape when you’re standing on top of a high ledge, the grapple hook when beneath a sturdy surface) and there’s further assistance on offer from Albert who pops up at the bottom of the screen with recommendations and advice. There’s an intelligently developed challenge here, with new elements introduced in each level. These include large gaps that require the bat cape to cross, windows to smash through and, although you have to follow a certain path through the levels, there are usually a couple of different approaches you can take to tackling the enemies that lie ahead of you.
Presentation is every bit as slick as you’d expect from Warner Bros, with Batman particularly well animated and the warehouses, though predominantly grey and brown, nevertheless boast some nice touches such as shadows appearing at windows and lights flickering. What’s more, there are some truly cinematic moments when you use the grapple attack and descend upside down to take out an opponent, glide using the wings or smash through a glass window.
Sadly though, just like its central character, Batman Begins is ultimately flawed. Although the 5 levels are progressively challenging and lengthy, they just aren’t long enough, especially with a generous 3 lives to approach each one. You might not quite complete it in the 2.5 hours length of the movie, but even the flipper-fingered penguin would struggle to stretch this out for more than a couple of days and after that there’s precious little reason to return, at least not until the inevitable sequel!