Batman Returns – World’s Greatest Ichthyologist (Won!)

From The Adventure Gamer

Written by Joe Pranevich

He is the terror that flaps in the night. He is the baloney sandwich that sits too long in the office refrigerator of crime. He is… someone else entirely. But where were we? Oh, right: Batman Returns, a completely different type of night-flapping terror. Last time around, I lost the game. I was supposed to find a blackmail tape that Penguin planned to use to throw the public against our current mayor, but I failed and Penguin broadcasted it to the city. He won the special election and Batman was humiliated. Even worse than that, I was back at square one to work out what I missed that led me down this dark path. For this post, I plan to play the whole game over again to see what I missed. If I could not find the solution, I would either leave the game as a “Lost!” or do a Request for Assistance.

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I found the missing item quickly in my second playthrough. What follows is a second pass through the whole game, highlighting the things I missed the first time before continuing onward to the end. If you need a refresher on what I already found, you can always check out the previous post. I intended to present this over two weeks, but real-life challenges meant a delay in getting the first part out. Please accept this double-sized post as an apology.

Penguins are not an “Arctic Avian Species”.

Day One

I missed the fish. Or, rather, I saw the fish on my first playthrough but didn’t think much of it. It was a joke that didn’t land, not “a clue that you’ll need to beat the game” in one of your first actions on the first day of the game. To have that be the lynchpin moment in the entire game is just insane. And worse, there is no way to know that you are on the wrong track except that you cannot solve a puzzle six days later that has nothing to do with fish. I could be wrong and there may be other clues that I missed, but I don’t think so.

When I take the fish back to the evidence computer, I discover that it is a rare species that is not used for human consumption, a feeder fish for species of “Arctic” birds. Do you think they know that Penguins are not Arctic birds? It’s only sold by one fishmonger in the city, Tony’s Fish Market. That unlocks a new location on my map, but the store is closed for the day and Batman doesn’t feel like doing any of his customary breaking-and-entering. In fact, he just drives away with no exploration possible. I expect I will need to go back there later when it is open.

As with my last playthrough, I grab the video from the mayor’s office. This is Commissioner Gordon’s awards ceremony and while the computer doesn’t think it is important, I can’t afford to leave any evidence untouched or else I could be locked out of a puzzle later.

You can’t come in. You’ll get guano on my clean floors.

Day Two

I want to pause for a second to talk about how this game plays overall. The defining “puzzle” is that you have to explore every location every day, leaving no stone unturned. Each day, new bits of evidence will be placed around the city and each day I need to collect them, take them back to the Batcave, and see if they unlock anything new. I then repeat all of those explorations again every time I trigger an event, to see if something has changed. The game also has a 12-hour clock from 6 PM to 6 AM and there could be things that only happen at certain times, but I’m not in the habit of trying to visit each location at each time. I’m playing Cruise for a Corpse more than I am playing Deadline. While exploring, I will run thugs to battle. I believe that some of them are scripted to happen at certain times (like the riots on Day One), while others seem to be random events not unlike an RPG. The important thing is that I’m not going to narrate every place that I explore every day or all the battles I fight, unless they seem important to the plot.

Because that’s not suspicious.

On the second day, I go to Tony’s Fish immediately based on the idea that a fish market probably isn’t open 24-hours a day. I am right and manage to catch Tony still at work. Batman has a nice chat with him and we learn that he’s been sending those fish over to the Old Zoo about once a week. This nugget of information unlocks the Old Zoo as a location on my map two days earlier than my last playthrough!

Heading there next, I find the circus poster just as before but also a video tape. Why a tape is just lying around at the zoo, I have no idea, especially because the tape is the most incriminating sort: it depicts Maxwell Shreck’s first meeting with the Penguin. It seems that Mr. Cobblepot has tracked down this scion of Gotham society to help him ascend not just to the literal surface but also into high society. Shreck is at first shocked to be talking to the legendary “Penguin man of the sewers”, but he quickly recovers and tells Penguin that he has a plan that will help them both with their goals. This is a major jump in the quality of detective work (all thanks to some fish!) since we essentially have connected Penguin to the circus gang (via the poster) and Shreck to the Penguin (via the video) all in the same day. I doubt this will have much of an impact on the plot, but this makes the “detective” aspect of the story hang together much nicer than in my previous playthrough.

Thanks to the tape with Penguin and Shreck, the latter’s office now appears on my map of Gotham City, also earlier than in my last playthrough. I do not find anything there today, but if it works out like the Zoo, I may find a clue there on a day that I could not have searched it before.

You might think that at this point, I’ve already found all the “new” stuff I missed in Day Two, but you’d be wrong. During one of the random combats, I realized that I had a new interrogation option: “Location”. The thug tells me that his boss will be making a withdrawal from Gotham Bank tonight. Now, you don’t need to be a criminal genius to know that banks aren’t open at night, so I assume he means “robbery”. I head to the bank immediately, but nothing happened. I wait and advance time hour by hour and eventually Penguin arrives! There is no fanfare or cutscene to say that he’s robbing the bank, but I do have my first battle with the Penguin a few days earlier than before.

I have two guesses about this sequence: first, it may be incomplete. We know that the game is rushed and I had found plot elements last time that don’t seem to be “hooked in” for lack of a better word. It is also possible that this is all there was to it and that I’m supposed to connect the dots that Penguin is leading the circus gang because he shows up when they said their “boss” would. Nothing happens with this information, but I’m pleased that I caught a detail that I had missed earlier.

How does a fat guy with an umbrella keep defeating me?

Day Three

On the third day, they say that God separated the land from the water. Batman just has to settle for finding a poster for the “Penguin Boy” over at the zoo. He was part of the same circus that we found out earlier had become the circus gang. This is an interesting morsel of information that I do not believe was in the original film: Penguin rose from being just a child in a sideshow to running the whole operation. The film implies– at least as well as I can remember it– that Penguin lived in the sewers from the moment he was abandoned until he re-emerged. I suppose that both can be true: he could have been abandoned to the sewers, picked up by the circus for many years, and then returned to Gotham with them to start his life of crime. Does anyone remember the movie better than I do and can confirm whether this detail was in it?

Yeah, I don’t feel sorry for you.

I continue my exploration, discovering a note in Shreck’s secret drawer as well as a crumpled piece of paper on his desk. The note tells me that Shreck is building a secret lair for Penguin and I’m fairly certain that I found it on my last playthrough as well. The crumpled paper is a floorplan for the mayor’s office; the Bat-computer infers that he was planning to do something at the office or has done so already. Heading there immediately, I find the same birthday party photos that I found last time, except now the undertone is much more sinister: Shreck (or Penguin) is watching the mayor’s family closely.

In one of the random combats around the city, I interrogate a thug and he reveals what I already knew from the secret note: Shreck is building Penguin a new base of operations, but even the circus gang is being cut out of that operation. They don’t know where Penguin is holed up either.

Penguin submitted his change of address form.

Day Four

The fourth day is when we learn of the mayoral recall election and Penguin’s run for the seat. I chat with the fish guy again to learn that he’s sold some of those special feeder fishes to a new address. That doesn’t seem at all suspicious, but the location now appears on our map. Could this be Penguin’s headquarters? I expect so, but there is no way in except for an extremely large and obvious ventilation duct, but Batman doesn’t want to go in that way quite yet. I recall from my last playthrough that I’ll find plans to Penguin’s headquarters that show the ducts as the major weakness. I expect I’ll have to wait until then to get inside.

There has to be an entrance around here someplace…

At the Old Zoo, I am unexpectedly attacked by Penguin. I was not expecting to meet him there and I do not think I missed anything plot-related, but it is very strange. Penguin thanks me for attending his “party” and that the party is in my honor. Batman replies that he “always enjoys a good party” before Penguin sics a bunch of goons on me and I have to fight a ton of combats in a row. I eventually win, but I have no idea what just happened. It feels like I triggered a plot event, but nothing happened afterwards and I did not see any hint of it ahead of time. I am at a loss, but it could have just been background color.

Judging by your outfit, is it a tea party?

In Shreck’s office, I find a memo about corporate espionage: he thinks someone named “SK” is stealing information from him. Of course, that could have been just Batman sneaking around the last couple of days and sneaking paperwork out of his hidden compartment, but really it’s “Selina Kyle”, his assistant. Enter, Catwoman! This is the first time we’ve seen anything about her that connects to the plot. (Last game, I ran into her without explanation.) In the film, this is about when Shreck pushes Ms. Kyle out a window and she has her transformation into a feline femme fatale. I wish that I thought the game would give us that as a cutscene, but more likely it’ll just show up in the Bat-computer in a few days and no one will notice.

That memo gives us access to Selina’s apartment, freshly ransacked. Is she is already Catwoman? I especially like the Tim Burton-inspired neon sign that is supposed to say “Hello There”, but just says “Hell Here”. That subtle for this stage of Burton’s career. Beyond that, I find a photocopy of a memo as well as a newspaper clipping. The memo reveals that Gotham has sufficient power “until the next century” (eight years?) and no new plant is needed. This of course reminds us that Shreck is in it to drain the city of power (somehow… and for some reason) and that the power station excuse is a ruse. This memo is likely why Selina was caught and nearly killed.

The maid is on vacation this week.

The newspaper clipping is more innocent: a brief article on how women can get ahead in the fast-paced and male-dominated world of corporate culture. My guess is that Selina was angling for a promotion, but she got more than she bargained for. The other detail of note is that this is the day that I find the penguin feather in the mayor’s office. It’s a threat but it doesn’t give me anything else to do or see just yet.

Day 5

The fifth day is the start of the challenge that got me last time: Penguin demands that I find his extortion tape in two days or else he’ll release it to the world and become mayor. I still don’t get why Penguin needs to tell me about his evil scheme, but I suppose it wouldn’t be much of a game if he hadn’t.

Doing my now standard (and boring) circuit of the game, I find a second newspaper clipping at Selina’s apartment. This one is about a holiday party to be held by Mr. Shreck. The computer thinks that Selina plans to attend, but there are no new locations on my map and no way to follow up on this immediately. I also stumble on my first street battle with Catwoman this game, probably losing miserably but it is hard to tell since she just leaves. I also get the same cutscene as last time where she tells me off for hitting a girl. Well, if she wasn’t kicking my ass, maybe I wouldn’t need to.

Not the high-security operation I was expecting.

Thankfully, this does not follow any of the normal VHS-tape-on-bed tropes.

Most importantly, the remodeling plans are in Shreck’s office today. I found these last time and they told me about a security flaw in the ductwork, but I had no idea where the hideout was. Now I know and the information comes in immediately useful. Clicking on the duct, I am able to climb in and see the inside of Penguin’s sanctum. It’s not all that impressive, really. For all that the plans suggest a Fort Knox for Penguin’s personal comfort, all we have to explore is a desk and a bed. And do you want to guess what is on the bed? A blackmail tape! The tape appears to show that the mayor receiving a bribe from an unidentified man… but does it? The computer thinks that it may have been altered. Either way, why does stealing this one copy help? Is this really Penguin’s only copy? He need to follow better practices with his extortion data.

This whole bit with finding Penguin’s lair is unique to the game. In the film, the bed area is Penguin’s private living quarters on top of his very public campaign headquarters. He had dozens of staffers working down there. I don’t think even Batman could have had difficulty finding it.

I also found the special memo in Shreck’s office, “asking” Penguin to send his goons out into the city to cause trouble and increase his chance of election. That leads directly into…

It’s an antique!

Day Six

Riots in Gotham Plaza! The news reports that a new round of riots have broken out, thanks to Shreck’s and Penguin’s deal. The lawlessness is making our mayor seem even more powerless, apparently enough that electing a mayor that eats the heads off of raw fish makes sense. Tim Burton doesn’t have anything nice to say about democracy in this film. I drive down to the Plaza to fight a bunch of thugs, but there doesn’t seem to be anything else new and they do not reveal anything of value during interrogation.

At Selina’s apartment, I discover a disk of evidence that she has collected about Shreck’s bad business dealings. The Bat-Computer is not sure whether she gathered the data to blackmail him or expose him, but my guess from the film is the latter. Alas, there is not quite enough characterization in this game to say more than that.

While I am driving, Penguin sends me another video message. This one is portable! It’s amazing what technology was like in 1992, right? Penguin tells me that I have been a “pain in his tail feathers”, but that he still plans to get the last laugh. How? I have no idea. Better question: how does he keep calling me like this? Last game, I am pretty sure that he sent me a more gloating message on day six, so this at least signals progress.

At Penguin’s lair, I am attacked by another collection of thugs. Interrogating them leads to the admission that Penguin plans to run the city whether he is elected or not. Does that come as a surprise to anyone? The question is: what is his backup plan?

I don’t find anything else of importance so I settle back in for a nap at Wayne Manor.

Extremely secretive blueprints just left out for any Batman to find…

Day Seven

Day seven starts not with a bang, but with a whimper. There isn’t even anything new on the news, except once again complaining about how Batman’s never around anymore. I’ve been out there defeating ten clowns a day and they have the nerve to tell me that I’m not helping? That is Fake News, if I’ve ever heard it. The station must be owned by a anti-Batman corporation of some kind. Still, the fact that I am still playing means I did something right. Let’s see whether I can make it to the end from here or if I missed something else.

Running through the normal loop, I discover a newspaper clipping in Selina’s apartment about the “Ice Princess”, the featured figure in Gotham’s holiday parade. The computer thinks that Selina might be after her, but I am uncertain why. She’s not in the biography computer. The computer does tell me that Batman and Catwoman fought each other during the previous day’s riots and that Catwoman saved a woman from a mugger. Well… that never happened, but it sounds like excellent deleted content. I am not sure if I am missing clues or if these are really dropped plot threads. At Penguin’s lair, I battle a clown to learn that Penguin is also interested in a “cool chick” and that he plans to take her to his “partner’s pad” tomorrow. The Penguin and Catman threads are coming together!

At Shreck’s office, I find blueprints that confirm the plan we’ve been talking about the whole game: he is building a “power plant” that will siphon off energy from the city and somehow make him rich without anyone noticing or questioning it. Exactly why he is willing to put Penguin in charge of the city just to get signoff on this still doesn’t make sense to me.

And that’s it. I fight more people, including a quick bout with Catwoman, but there are no cutscenes or dialog so I do not learn anything new.

It’s Mr. Freeze’s fault!

Day Eight

The Ice Princess has been kidnapped! Who saw that coming? The crisis is all over the news so I immediately head to Selina’s place in the Batmobile based on the previous day’s clues. Except, I never make it there: Penguin takes over my car, leaving Batman to careen helplessly around the city, running over pedestrians and generally making a nuisance of himself. Penguin video-calls to gloat and this time I am given the option of recording the conversation. Naturally, I do. That should come in handy soon.

Probably better than my driving instructor.

This leads into one of the game’s very few puzzles, albeit a weak one. I need to somehow regain control of the Batmobile. If I use the car’s ejector seat, it’s “Game Over” immediately as Penguin has all the time in the world to mow down pedestrians and blame Batman for the crimes. I restore and look for any secret things in the car to click on, but the solution is the simplest one: I just have to wait. If you wait long enough, Batman finds Penguin’s control device and deactivates it. We then have a cut scene where Batman flees from the cops, eventually luring them into a tight alley. Batman totals his car but is able to escape and live to be a vigilante another day.

It’s like bumper-cars.

Hugh Hefner had the first VCR in his house. Batman has the first one in his car. Coincidence?

It was under the driver’s seat. Who can reach down there?

For lack of a better spot, let me pause here to talk about a major shift in the game. Have you ever played the original Xenogears (1998)? It was a role-playing game for the original Playstation, the first of a long and complicated meta-series that mixes Christian imagery, RPG tropes, and very strange sci-fi. More importantly, the game is fantastic except that it has a sudden shift in the last quarter or so. The game had to be rushed to completion and so the last bits of the narrative are told in a strange flash-back style where you rush between cut-scenes, boss battles, and short exploration segments but without much overworld or exploration. A game that took its time to gradually unfold suddenly rushes through plot point after plot point in a desperate attempt to get to the end of the story before the developers ran out of money.

That’s what this feels like. From this point in the game onwards, we have an explosion of cut-scenes told in comic book-style panels. It feels like the developers suddenly remembered that they had to tell the whole story of the movie and didn’t have any other tools to use to do it. For all that I didn’t enjoy all the slow nightly clue-gathering before, the shift in style is jarring. I’ll do my best to narrate through it but expect a lot more screenshots from here out as I try to capture the big moments.

Where was I? Oh yes, I limp back to the Batcave and immediately set out again. This time, when we click to go to the garage, Batman runs into a different segment of the Batacave and into a new Bat-dockyard before jumping into the terribly named “Batski Boat”. I’m going to assume that is a “Bat” ski-boat, but it could also be the name of a Polish Batman. Driving the speedboat around the Gotham sewers is exactly the same as the car, except with a different dashboard layout. There does not appear to be any areas that cannot be accessed by boat. I resume my hunt for the Ice Princess and head towards Selina’s apartment.

Aquaman would really dig this.

I arrive at Selina’s place and find… nothing. At Penguin’s place… nothing. Shreck’s office… nothing. The Ice Princess is nowhere to be found, nor does the game even mention her again. There are no cutscenes or clues, just a dangling thread and an Ice Princess that will have to wait to be rescued. More likely, Penguin killed her already, but if that’s the case the game doesn’t even bother to tell us.

Eventually, I head back to Wayne Manor and end the day. If there was a way that I could have rescued her, I never found it.

Day Nine

The ninth day starts at the computer as we are forced to watch Penguin’s campaign speech. It’s boring and he doesn’t offer either to expel immigrants or give everyone free healthcare so I was confused about how I was supposed to feel. He does talk about being tough on crime so that’s familiar. I’m for the guy that bites the heads off of fish! In all seriousness, we have to watch it and then I immediately go to the “video” computer to broadcast the video that Batman captured in his car the previous day. That “Transmit” button on the computer that has been staring us in the face since the first day finally gets some use! The crowd turns against Penguin and his life as a politician is over. Unfortunately, the game is not because now he’s going to fall back to try to turn his hobby into a career: crime boss.

Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? Oops, wrong movie.

Before we can do much else, the game flips over to a ball that we attend (as Bruce Waybe) with Selina Kyle. This is an important moment in the movie, when the pair discover their secret identities and are uncertain whether to kiss or fight. In the game, there is no lead up to this moment. It’s a plot point because the movie had that plot point, nothing more. We see Commissioner Gordon at the ball– his first real appearance in the game– and we are given a surprising choice: should we give him our collected evidence or not?

No one will notice the cartoon hand on the photorealistic person.

Just to see what happens, I say “yes”. This exchange didn’t happen in the movie and I am curious how the game handles going off script. In a sequence of comic-panels, Gordon looks over the material that Bruce Wayne (not Batman!) provided and arrests Shreck. Moments later, Penguin attacks the ball and announces that he’s kidnapping everyone’s firstborn sons. The cut scene ends and we are back at the batcave.

In the film, Penguin went from there to the Gotham Zoo, so I take the Batboat. Unfortunately, he’s not there. He’s not at his headquarters either. Unfortunately, there was a time limit to save the kids and the game ends suddenly. I’ll have to try again, but faster.

You shall have the deadly vengeance of deadly revenge!

I replay the scene but this time decide not to show Gordon the evidence. The change is that Shreck is still in the building when Penguin arrives and gets taken down into the sewers with him. That is what happened in the film and I’ll stick with that for now, especially as I’d really like the game to be over soon. Otherwise, the scene plays out exactly the same. This time around, I search Gotham Plaza for the kids but still run out of time.

Where does Penguin get these toys? Winslow Schott does not exist in this continuity.

On my third try, I find the kids in Downtown Gotham, but still not fast enough and the game ends as soon as I get there. It takes one more bee-line attempt to arrive in time and trigger the cutscene. Batman frees the children and Penguin gets even by siccing an army of rocket launcher-wielding penguins around the city. Once again, a movie element shows up with no foreshadowing, but since the whole thing is over in one cut-scene, it’s not too bad. Spoiler: Alfred saved the day.

Batman should investigate wireless communications instead of a giant spotlight.

They’re still pissed about being called “Arctic” birds.

Oh look! Alfred is in this game.

Alfred jams the signal while Batman races to the foo for his final confrontation. Penguin attacks (in a comic panel) in transit and we end up wrecking both the Batboat and his Rubber Duckie boat at the entrance to Arctic World. This triggers the battle of the game as we face off against villain after villain (using the same tricks as before) before finally facing Penguin in an epic showdown of… waiting patiently for Batman to win. Penguin eventually flies away on his umbrella and we head deeper into the Zoo exhibit.

Batman is very hard on his vehicles. And on clowns.

Every disused penguin exhibit comes with a dangling cage.

In his Zoo headquarters, I face off against Penguin one more time but am unable to beat him with any of the weapons that I have left or my fists. I let the game go on for 30 minutes of back-and-forth AI-driven pummeling, but it is of no use. I reload and try to bring every weapon with me, but I apparently cannot rescue the kids without a grappling gun (for some reason) and I have to restore again to make sure I have that.

The actual final fight is an anti-climax. All I needed was a vanilla batarang and I must have only brought the fancy ones before. Penguin falls into the water and dies. Catwoman shows up with Shreck and we get a cutscene where Batman tries to convince her to become a good vigilante. She refuses, electrocuting Shreck before running off. I am left with a dead body and a feeling of elation that this game is finally over.

Yeah, we still have this problem today. 
Snap, crackle, and pop goes Shreck!

Property damage!

Because he knew her somehow? The game barely touched on their relationship.

We ride off into the metaphorical sunset.

Merry Christmas, the game is over!

We’re done! I have a ton of thoughts, but I will save them for the rating post next week. But first, a challenge to the readers: could I have beaten the game without finding the fish on the first day? What would have happened Gordon arrested Shreck at his ball? Were there any other areas or plot threads that I did not find? Where is the Ice Princess? These answers will have an impact on the final score of the game.

Can I please play an Infocom game now? I hear that Trinity is pretty good…

Time played: 4 hr 45 min
Total time: 10 hr 45 min

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