Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is the future of kusoge

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Header

It’s not much? It’s nothing!

Batman Beyond was an awesome cartoon series. It’s like if Spider-man was mentored by Batman in a cyberpunk future. Batman’s latex bodysuit is filled by a teenager who has to manage being a super-hero, life, puberty, and a secret identity. Plus, you get to see what happened to some of the rogue gallery from Batman: The Animated Series. It was schway.

There was a straight-to-video movie for the series in 2000, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. It was no Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but it was surprisingly dark and enjoyable. There was still some Saturday Morning goofiness at the wrong moments, but definitely a good complement to the series. It was, at the very least, a dark epilogue to Batman and Joker’s troubled relationship.

Then there was the game; 2000’s Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker for the N64 (also PS1 and Game Boy Color). Back in the day, it came out a few days after The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and there was no way it was getting my attention. Going into it for this article, I knew two things: It was so horrible it got a score of 1.5 out of 10 from EGM and it’s a beat-’em-up. Now I know too much. That did not adequately prepare me.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Robot Fight

So, there’s this belief about the N64 that it didn’t get as much shovelware as the Playstation because of the prohibitive cost of publishing on a cartridge compared to a CD. That might be true because it didn’t get singular versions of every Hasbro board game. It got Monopoly, but I thought that was a decent translation at the time. That doesn’t mean it didn’t get bad games, though. It definitely got plenty. It got some of the worst.

Batman has had a shaky relationship with video games. There are some great standout titles, but a lot of them have been guano. I can’t claim to have played even half of them, so I can’t tell you if Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is the worst. Playing it, it’s difficult to believe that there could possibly be anything more awful, but then you remember Batman Forever on Genesis and Super Nintendo, and all that therapy that went into repressing memories of it comes undone and the killings begin anew.

I’ve had to ask this a few times, but how do you even screw up a beat-’em-up? The formula has been established since the ‘80s, and it’s so paint-by-numbers that it was the standard shovelware formula for most properties that couldn’t figure out something more imaginative. A lot of them were completely mediocre and pointless, but usually, they were okay for a rental. It’s hard to make a weekend out of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, even if you wanted to.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker cutscene

The story of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is about… well, it’s in the title. The Joker has been believed dead for decades, but suddenly, he shows up as spry as ever. Bruce Wayne is absolutely certain that dude is dead, but this new one is a pretty convincing facsimile. The movie actually deals a lot with the past haunting Bruce Wayne, but that’s difficult to translate into fist, so the game is more about fighting a few dudes in hallways.

The combat is potentially the worst I’ve experienced in a brawler, and I have experienced many. You’re given a punch, kick, block, and a special button to go with jump and crouch, but you can’t jump and kick. I’m not sure how that gets missed, since most people don’t get past the strategy of jump-kick at the arcade. The moveset in Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles was 90% jump kick. Here, jumping is reserved only for the rare horrible platforming sections.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker Platforming

There’s a variety of suits available, but you only want to use defense. Trust me. Nimble lets you double-jump and glide, which rarely comes in handy and the jumping controls are so stiff I usually just got myself killed. The normal suit lets you use weapons that are so impressively useless. Attack is fine, but it isn’t worth trading off durability for harder kicks. Not when the defense suit reduces the damage you take while still dealing death with its special attack.

It’s actually a surprisingly varied feature for a game that has absolutely no variety. It probably sounded great on paper, but the Batman: Return of the Joker is five levels long and the AI is so incredibly limited. Even the bosses; their hearts are plainly not in it. I don’t blame them, they get to hang out exclusively in cyberpunk hallways and each has about one attack. That’s not enough demonstrable skills to get a job as a window washer.

If you check under the hood, you’ll only find a desiccated corpse. The game has so little color contrast that I dialed the brightness all the way up, and Batman would still disappear against the backgrounds. The standard level music is a single track that plays for about 15 seconds and loops. It would be maddening if the game itself didn’t last less than an hour. Instead, it’s just the soundtrack for the daze it puts you in.

Fight against multiple opponents

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is extremely low-effort. There are plenty of games out there that phone it in, miss the mark, fall short of ambitions, but this one feels like everyone just clocked in, browsed the dotcom bubble, then clocked out. It’s also possible that it was just extremely rushed. The fact that there were no credits in the game and I can’t find any online shows that maybe the devs weren’t particularly proud of the product. I still find it impressive that there are cases out there where the whole development staff chose to pull an Alan Smithee.

The result is the barest minimum you could pull off and still call it a game. You can look at something like Total Recall for the NES and think “wow, this is absolute misery, but at least the developers tried to follow the movie during the two levels I can actually make it through, and maybe if I keep playing I will see three nipples all on the same woman.” Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker has the imagination of a cardboard box, but unlike a cardboard box, you can’t get into it and pretend you’re having fun.

Just to top it off, it isn’t a cheap game. It runs north of $40 for the cartridge, and boy, it is nowhere near worth that. I can’t imagine buying this new. Just thinking about it, you could probably power a city with my second-hand disappointment. The Playstation version looks essentially the same as the N64, but I’m told it’s much more difficult. No thanks. One of the only things that made this game tolerable was that it ended before it could embarrass itself further.

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Zoey Handley
Zoey is a gadabout gaming hobbyist. She's been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. She enjoys digging in the dirt and picking out the games that are perfectly fine if you clean them up a bit.