Justice From The Barrel Of A Bat

HIGH The ‘baseball challenge’ secret bosses.

LOW The final boss.

WTF That ninja sure loves kittens and pupies!

From the now-extremely thick files of ‘major developers have abandoned 2D gaming so we’ll just do it ourselves’ comes Bat Boy. Taking aim at Capcom, it melds the themed boss fights of Mega Man with the exploration and movement upgrades of Duck Tales to create something that feels fresh and exciting.

After a warlord from an alien dimension kidnaps Bat Boy’s friends – all of whom specialize in a different sport, coincidentally – it’s up to the titular hero to team up with a sarcastic talking crow and travel a strange new land in hopes of freeing them from the villain’s control. This is accomplished by hitting a ton of things with his bat.

Right from the start, Bat Boy wants to make players feel like they’re in control of their journey – while they don’t have access to every location right at the start, as in a Mega Man title, at each new stage of the map they’re given a choice between two different numbered destinations. Taking them on in numerical order will always be easier, as the ability they get first will always be useful for traversing the higher-number level, but players looking to push themselves will have the opportunity to leap right into a tougher challenge.

And what challenges they are!

Each stage features a different set of pig enemies themed around whatever sport the boss of that level prefers. So, the rhythmic gymnastics level will have pigs pirouetting around with streamers and tossing batons, while the football level offers helmeted pigs charging straight at the player.

Initially the player has nothing more than a bat to defend themselves with, but as they defeat each new enemy, they’ll find themselves armed with a new ability based on their foe’s sport. These don’t take the form of weapons, but rather, new ways of navigating levels, which also provide huge combat advantages. Beating the kendo master, for example, allows the player to lunge forward with a deadly strike that wrecks enemies and acts as an air dash.

Players have to be careful when using the abilities, though – while movements like spinning the bat to turn it into a bounce platform can be used infinitely, any skill that counts as an attack — like the aforementioned air dash — use a point of energy from a reservoir that can only be refilled at checkpoints or by finding rare pickups.

While these time-tested fundamentals are solid, Bat Boy‘s real showcases are the boss fights that end each map.

Every single boss manages to have a completely different fighting style which the player must figure out and adapt to. While there’s no single silver bullet that makes them easy to deal with, there’s a great balance of risk and reward in Bat Boy’s most powerful attack — he sends his bat out to spin in mid-air, which can hit the bosses multiple times.

While it seems like an obvious go-to, throwing the bat means that the player won’t be able to hit back any of the balls that most of the bosses throw, nor use his other most potent attack, a mid-air bat swing that both damages enemies and bounces Bat Boy out of their range. While the bosses might involve tricky, often frustrating fights, I appreciated that the devs aren’t overly-punishing when it comes to failure. Level checkpoints are fairly close together, and there is no penalty for losing or limit to retries. One boss took me almost twenty attempts to defeat, and I was never forced to restart the level — that’s not something old-school Mega Man can boast.

With its versatile upgrade system and clever boss design, Bat Boy stands out, even compared to the highest tier of NES-tribute platformers. I can’t pretend it’s perfect – a few auto-scrolling levels are cheaper than they have any right to be, and the last boss is a slog — but this is indisputably a great game whether one is a fan of its classic inspirations or not.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Sonzai Games and X PLUS. It is currently available on PS4/5, XBO/X/S, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Fantasy Violence. This is so kid-friendly it even goes out of its way to remind the player that only non-alcoholic drinks are sold at the bar where the characters hang out.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue is presented as text, but text cannot be resized or altered. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Jason Ricardo
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