Monday, August 27, 2018

The Purple Knight

I wouldn’t really consider myself to be a serious video game player. Sure growing up, I played a lot of games on my Nintendo Entertainment System, but I was never really that good at most of them. Sucking at a game would of course lead to me quickly losing interest and moving on to the next one. But I wasn’t bad at everything, and those few games that I did excel in, have remained favorites of mine to this day.

One game I remember specifically was the Batman: The Video Game released by Sunsoft in 1989. Looking back, it seems pretty odd that this particular game made such an impression on me. First of all, I’m not the biggest Batman fan out there. Don’t get me wrong, I like Batman, but I’m not a fan of dark brooding heroes in general, I’m more of a Superman kinda guy. Case in point, I actually never saw the live action movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson that this game was loosely based on.

Secondly, as far as side scrolling video games went, this one was kinda hard, as in it “took me forever” to get past the first stage hard. The main obstacle of this game was getting used to the way Batman moved and fought. For someone who played a lot of Super Mario Brothers, where the protagonists seem to float in the air when they jumped, Batman felt like he had more weight to him. And he definitely didn’t jump as high. And unlike other popular side scrolling games of its day like Contra or Gradius, aside from the occasional batarang or bat rockets (which were finite), his main offensive weapons were his fists. Which meant getting up close and personal with the enemy, most of whom moved pretty fast. These differences were definitely jarring and led to a lot of repeated deaths. But instead of giving up and moving on to the next game, I kept at it.

Despite its different control & combat mechanics that took some getting used to, the game definitely had a lot of good going on. First of all, it looked fantastic, as great as graphics could get in those days. And the gameplay was peppered with mid stage cinematics that are definitely clunky by today’s standard but back then seemed state of the art. And I loved the music, sure it was the standard 8-bit synth sound fare, but it was catchy, easy to recall even today and most importantly it sounded cool.

And although the game was technically a side scroller, most stages required you to move up and down aside from left to right. The pace is also slower than most other side scrollers, more methodical, allowing you to plot out your next move in many spots, more suitable for a Batman game. It’s worth noting that Batman’s usual tool for scaling buildings and vertical obstacles, his grappling hook is not used in the game. Instead, Batman can literally climb walls, but not straight up one surface like Spider Man would do it, but by jumping up in a zigzag pattern between two parallel vertical surfaces. This was very similar to the lead character from another game I was a big fan of, Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden.

All in all, this Batman game was pretty distinctive even compared to other Batman games that came after it. But if there is one major difference that set it apart from other Batman games, it was Batman himself. Now through the years, Batman has sported a lot of different looks, from his classic blue and grey suit from the cartoons to his more predominantly black look in the live action movies. In this video game, and only in this one, Batman was predominantly purple with blue skin! Now I can only speculate on the actual reasoning for this but i figure that it was probably due to a limited color palette or a way of making Batman easier to see amidst a pretty dark game. Or...although it’s probably not the case, maybe it was a callback to the musician Prince who wrote the soundtrack album for the 1989 film and who is mostly associated with the color purple….who knows?

Anyway, years later, American toy company NECA, best known for their action figures of popular and iconic movie characters, started a line of classic video game characters. This was mainly composed of repaints of figures already produced, sporting a limited color palette as a call back to their appearances in 8 and 16-bit NES games. This was also a way for them to release unique versions of characters whose toy licenses belonged to other bigger companies.

This was the case for Batman, whose toy licence belonged to Mattel. So in order to release their version of Batman, NECA had to get creative. They managed to secure a limited license to produced a Batman figure based on the 1989 live action movie. This was released as part of a special blu ray package to celebrate the movie’s 25th anniversary in 2014. But a few months earlier, in order to maximize the cost of their unique sculpt, they released the same figure as part of their classic video game line repainted in all his purple glory!

Like I mentioned earlier, since I never actually saw the 1989 movie, I wasn’t really interested in the movie version of this figure. However, since I was a big fan of the original video game, I was sorely tempted to get this purple Batman. But I resisted for quite some time. I really had no interest in NECA’s other 8-bit repaints, so no matter how good the figure looked, he really didn’t fit in any of my collections, nostalgia or not.

Fast forward a few years later, and I managed to cobble together a very small collection of my favorite video game characters and so all of a sudden, getting myself a purple Batman didn’t seem too far fetched. So in a moment of weakness, when the opportunity arose for me to score one at a pretty decent price, I jumped at the chance. Ok, so full disclosure, I bought it from an online seller known for selling KOs, so although he insisted it was legit, I have my doubts. Suspicions aside though, if it is a KO, it’s a pretty good one that fortunately did not fall apart in my hands….and he displays well with the rest of my video game crew so that’s good enough for me.

There are many factors that determine what toys we collectors end up buying, but probably the biggest one is nostalgia. The 1989 video game wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was one I enjoyed quite a lot, and one of the very few games I actually managed to finish and as a result has always remained special to me. And this was precisely the reason why I got this specific Batman figure despite how unusual he was. Plus, no matter what toys you collect, I believe that there’s always some room for some sort of version of the Dark Knight…..even if he is purple.