Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer
System: Steam (Windows & Linux) ( Also available on Nintendo Switch, PS4 and Xbox)
Developer|Publisher: Sonzai Games | X Plus Co. Ltd
Controller Support: Yes
Price: UK £12.99 | US $14.99 | €14.99
Release Date: May 25th, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Keymailer.
Batboy is a tight and highly enjoyable pick-up-and-play 2D action game. This title breaks gaming down to the fundamental values of fun and instant entertainment, much like you may remember from the old retro days. Don’t let its retro look deter you, though. Batboy delivers some of the best level design I have seen in a game for some time, with tight controls to match. With so many games coming out on a near-daily basis, I highly recommend keeping this on your radar.
Batboy does not start with an animal bat on some flapping adventure, but a boy in high school named Ryosuke. The game delivers a simple to-the-point cutscene in still images where you learn the protagonist’s father has been missing for seven years (I can’t imagine that’s important later in the game). By day he’s just a regular high school kid hanging with his friends, but when school is out, he becomes Batboy. Batboy and his buddies don their best sports attire and equipment and head out to deal vigilante justice. Because homework can wait, right?
BatBoy and His Bat
Anyway, an evil cyborg-looking wizard, Lord Vicious, comes through a portal brainwashing your friends and taking them to an alternative realm. It’s good that Batboy brought his bat, as this appears to be the only sports equipment that knocks those brainwashing orbs away. Unfortunately, it leaves him the last hero standing. Batboy jumps in the portal to save his friends, teaming up with a crow in the process, because, why not. I absolutely loved the plot of this game. It screams old-school 80s with its silly premise, but it totally makes sense in a video game setting.
The games’ graphics are detailed pixel sprites feeling reminiscent of the 8-bit gaming era. It’s amazing how, with the right artist, one can still work wonders with this art design. Batboy is vibrant with colour and detail in its levels and enemy designs. It’s the familiar variety of water, lava, and forest-like levels, but each feels uniquely structured and different from the other. The enemies themselves are mostly pigs also using sports equipment for some reason; these tend to appear throughout every level. But some enemies are unique to each setting, the most notable to me being the pig shark in the lava level. To match this, you have a pumping chiptune soundtrack to match the retro feel, including some really memorable numbers, and it’s another soundtrack to add to the Steam wish list.
Instant Satisfying Action
For most video games, I find it takes me a bit of time to click with the mechanics and controls. Batboy is one of the very rare examples where I became instantly hooked to the experience from its opening level. Controls are tight, responsive and fun. Combat is handled with the bat, simply whack your enemy, and they tumble away like a ball, dealing damage to any enemy that it hits, netting you a few gems in the process. You can also hit the enemies from above, which will, in turn, give you a bit of air to reach higher platforms. This can also be performed with projectiles. The bat can even be used for its primary sporting purpose, to hit projectiles. Some enemies will throw balls at you, which you can hit back but if you have a keen eye, you can hit the balls above or below secret switches.
Boss battles mostly have you taking on your sporting buddies. These are generally tough but satisfying experiences that don’t last too long. Seems a bit harsh that to defeat them, you literally beat some sense into them. Your bat truly solves all your problems in this game. If only life were this simple. Please note, do not use a bat in real life to attempt to solve your problems.
Boss fights feel reminiscent of games like Mega Man; once defeated, you will unlock a new power which can be used at the cost of some stamina. The game does give you ample opportunity to test out these powers to see how they work once you acquire them; these powers will come in useful in future levels, with some challenge levels testing your skills at how well you combine them together. Powers are mapped to the buttons on the controller, so you don’t need to select them, but you do need to remember the button combination to use some, such as up and a face button.
You’re given a little flexibility in approaching new levels. After finishing a level, you often get to choose between two levels to tackle, giving you a little wiggle room for how you proceed. You can also stop at the bar to talk to NPCs, put some music on the jukebox and take on a few mini-quests. Within each level are many secrets to find, like a cassette tape and vegetables. The latter of which can be exchanged to increase your health and stamina, but you can also increase it by simply buying vegetables. I’m usually not a fan of this upgrade system in gaming, as it favours players that are good at the game while punishing those that struggle. But Batboy gets a pass for me since I had no trouble replaying levels to attempt to find the missing vegetables.
I have to give immense praise to the game’s level design. This is not a title that just slaps the platforms together, sticks a boss fight at the end and calls it a day. Each pixel of this game feels carefully crafted to create an experience that is memorable and highly replayable. Regularly you will encounter situations where you can access a secret area which requires you to use platforming skills and bat moves to reach. An example is using the bat to open doors to allow canon balls to pass through. If you successfully lead them to the end of the level, you can bounce on them to reach a new path.
Even when I failed to reach these areas, it compelled me to replay the level later to try again. This is only helped by how fun the combat is and how comfortable the platforming is. Batboy, while difficult, rarely felt tedious to play. Of course, there are the odd niggles, but these feel more like mild nitpicks. The difficulty does spike, getting very hard at the end of the game. I also encountered a weird bug where the audio from a boss fight just kept looping irritatingly. But this seemed to fix itself after I died.
Batboy is absolutely great. A retro throwback with modern improvements that is suitable for any gamer looking for a fair challenge. The biggest praise goes to its instant satisfaction in gameplay and clever level design. Sure, there are small nitpicks, but these are easily overshadowed by how much fun I had playing this. Even during the game’s tough segments, there was rarely a moment I wasn’t enjoying my time with the game. I can see some comparing this to Mega Man and Shovel Knight. But Batboy makes its own mark standing next to these greats rather than mimicking them. Better still, if you’re still not sure there is a free demo to try before you buy. A home run, indeed.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up