NOW PLAYING: The Lego Batman Movie (2017, Warner Bros.)

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It’s safe to say that when The Lego Movie was released back in Feburary of 2014, nobody was expecting it to become the mass phenonemon that it did. With its’ satirical yet innovative take on the “chosen one” plotline, great characters, and superb humor and animation, it set Warner Bros. on the map to become the newest contendor in the Pixar/Dreamworks/Blue Sky/Illumination competition. Of course, seeing as how the film’s take on Batman and other DC Comics characters were seen as one of the highlights, one of the next logical steps would be to make a spin-off starring said take on them. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what they’ve done.

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I’ll admit that when I first heard about The Lego Batman Movie‘s announcement, I was unsure about what to make of this. Granted, that’s not to say that I thought it was going to suck, but the fact that this along with the sequel to The Lego Movie and Ninjago were on the horizon so early made me wonder if Warner Bros. was counting their chickens a bit too early. Fortunately, when I went to go see it the other day, I was proven 100% wrong.

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It’s a bit difficult to find a good place to start in terms of what this film gets right, but the most logical one would have to be the story. Some time after the events of The Lego Movie, billionare Bruce Wayne continues to protect Gotham City from all sorts of scum and villany under the guise of his alter ego, Batman. After thwarting a scheme by The Joker to blow Gotham to shmithereens (but not before fighting practically HIS ENTIRE ROGUES GALLERY, including some that haven’t even appeared in a Batman film before now and even some that aren’t even that well-known), he unwittingly adopts an orphan by the name of Dick Grayson while attending a gala in honor of Commisioner Gordon, who is retiring, and his daughter, Barbara, who is stepping in to take his place as the city’s police commisioner. However, when Joker and the villains crash the gala and openly surrender themselves, Batman suspects that something is afoot, leading him and Dick (now under the alter-ego of Robin) to investigate what the Crown Prince of Crime is truly up to, leading to a series of events that threatens to unravel Gotham City as they know it. Despite being fairly straightforward, it’s told suprisingly well, having many interesting twists and turns with a good balance of comedy and immensely heartfelt moments to boot, with prominent focuses on Joker’s quest to get Batman to care about him, and Batman’s scepticism of becoming part of another family in the fear that he’ll lose them like his parents on that fateful night. Speaking of which, the comedy is great. No joke (and no pun intended either), you’ll find yourself laughing quite often throughout the runtime. Take my word for it.

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Another element worthy of praise is the animation – like its’ predecessor, you can tell that a vast amount of attention to detail has gone into making it resemble actual Lego bricks, from the tiny scratches, textures of fabric on the capes of some characters, and overall sense of scale that can be felt. And then there’s (ironically enough, considering this is a Batman film) the sheer vibrancy of everything. I’m not exaggerating – along with Trolls, this has got to be one of the most vivid animation features I’ve seen in quite some time, with various locations managing to have their own recongizable palette. Despite this, it never gets to a point where it really goes overboard, which helps to keep it at a concrete level.

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One thing that I’ve especially noticed is the amount of references to not only previous incarnations of the Batman mythos, but the DC Universe as a whole. In addition to the previously-mentioned opening fight scene, there’s a scene in which Alfred tells Batman about his various phases shown in the form of all of his live-action theatrical features up until this one (including the 1966 film based on the Adam West series), as well as nods to some of the more obscure characters in the DC Universe. And that’s not even mentioning the latter half, which has to be seen to be believed.

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Like it’s predecessor, The Lego Batman Movie is a gloriously frenetic and heartfelt romp that’s sure to keep you glued to your seats. If you’re in the mood for more superhero films that don’t take themselves too seriously or just looking for some all-out fun, this is the film for you. With that said, BRING ON NINJAGO!

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SYSTEM SMACK-DOWN: The Adventures of Batman and Robin (SNES, Genesis)

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Over the past several decades, Batman has had what can best be described as an interesting history with games. Aside from the mostly globally-praised Arkham saga and the newly-arrived Telltale mini-series, many games featuring the Dark Knight have ranged from being surprisingly decent, just okay, or simply pure garbage in every sense of the word. Today, we’ll be looking at two games bearing the same name and source material, which in this case is a pair of now relatively-forgotten titles based off of the second season of one of the Dark Knight’s major forays into cartoons, Batman: The Animated Series, or The Adventures of Batman and Robin as it was referred to by its’ second season.

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Developed and published in the year of 1994 for the Super Nintendo and the Genesis by Konami, Clockwork Tortoise, and Sega respectively, both games revolve around the titular dynamic duo as they take on some of the most iconic members of their rogues gallery who are in the midst of wreaking havoc in Gotham. With that said, which one of these versions is superior to the other? Let’s find out, shall we?

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ROUND ONE: THE LOOKS

SNES – One thing that some of you might notice about this version is how it attempts to go the full mile with being a licensed title, attempting to translate the show’s usage of the simplistic yet also complex “art deco” style into a video game format. And honestly, it actually works out pretty well in its’ favor. Unlike most licensed games which usually only marginally resemble their source material, many of the backgrounds in this version look like they’ve been ripped straight out of an episode from the show itself. The spritework is also pretty fantastic, as each character looks exactly as they should be. It’s also worth mentioning that the visuals often throw in a bit of 3D, a great example being the boss fight with the Joker. It’s not anything groundbreaking, but for a licensed games, the visuals truly stand out from the crowd.

GENESIS – You know what I said earlier about most licensed games marginally resembling their source material? Well, this is one of them. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this version does look absolutely fantastic. The spritework is impressive, the usage of 3D is even better than in the SNES version, and the backgrounds have a lot of attention to detail in them. However, the reason why I think the SNES version is superior graphically goes more to how it actually feels like you’re going through an episode of the show. While this version does utilize the art deco style, it doesn’t exactly have that feeling of being “simplistic yet complex” and just leans more towards the complex side rather than having the perfect balance of both, if you get what I mean.

WINNER – SNES

ROUND TWO: THE SOUND

SNES – Going along with the incredibly faithful visual style, the soundtrack in this version strives to emulate another aspect of the show, which in this case is its’ orchestral-esque music, and manges to do so with great finesse. Each track invokes a sense of heroism and justice that you’d expect a Batman product to have, and there’s even a fairly nifty version of the show’s theme song thrown in for good measure. Also, the pausing sound effect is the same as the one from Turtles in Time for some reason. While I wouldn’t say that this is one of the SNES’ best auditory accomplishments, it’s certainly up there.

GENESIS – In what also seems to be an ongoing motif for this version, the music discards the orchestral-esque tracks in favor of a more stereotypical Genesis/Mega Drive soundtrack, being the usual electronic synthesized tunes that you’ve come to expect. That’s not to say that the music in this version is bad; in fact, it’s actually really good. It’s just that once again, the SNES version does a better job in keeping in line with the show.

WINNER – SNES

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ROUND THREE: THE GAMEPLAY

SNES – Seeing as how both games came out long before the Arkham saga, it’s usually best to not keep our expectations high, as we never exactly know what the quality could be. However, I think it’s safe to say that this version is well above-average. It’s essentially a side-scrolling action-platform game along the lines of Mega Man X and Castlevania, the only difference being that Batman is in the lead. The controls are shockingly great for a licensed platformer, being smooth, tight and easy to get a hold of. There’s also a range of equipments that can be used throughout this version, including but not limited to the Batarang, a grappling hook, and smoke bombs. There’s also a heavy dosage of platforming and combat, both of which are executed with shockingly competent results, with the platforming truly stretching your skills to the limit and the combat being fairly addictive, though a bit tiresome. Though this version is definitely not on the same level of quality of the Arkham games, it comes pretty close.

GENESIS – There are a good number of ways in which I could describe the gameplay in this version, but if there was one that I’d have to pick in particular, it would have to be “entertaining, but nonetheless quite dull”. To be honest, there’s nothing inherently that bad about the gameplay – the controls are great, the combat is fun, and it generally invokes vibes of other games such as Contra. It’s just that when it all boils down, it doesn’t do anything that can be considered “fresh” or “new”. It’s not bad by any means, but there are superior options to be found.

WINNER – SNES

THE RETR0PIA RANKINGS:

SNES: A- 

GENESIS: B-

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AND VICTORY GOES TO…THE SNES VERSION!