And now, Scary-Crayon reviews...
BATMAN
JUSTICE UNBALANCeD
by: Wes

Nananananananananananananananana BATMAN!!! Arguably DC Comics' most beloved superhero (okay, that's a lie; Superman pretty clearly wins that battle, but everyone likes Batman too), this summer has seen a resurgence of the Caped Crusader, with Batman Begins raking in the dough at the box office and garnering pretty favorable reviews from both critics and moviegoers alike. Couple that with two current cartoon series -- "The Batman" and "Justice League Unlimited" -- multiple toy lines based on and fifty billion different iterations of ol' Bats in action figure form, and who knows how many different comic series featuring Gotham's premiere costumed crimefighter (I'm not even going to try to count them all), and we're living in a time when the Batman is perhaps at his most visible, despite his apparent preference for sticking to the shadows.

BATMAN: Justice UnbalancedBut don't look now -- in addition to the new console games based on the live-action film, you can find the Dark Knight on your PC as well! Actually, you could've found him there two years ago, since BATMAN: Justice Unbalanced came out back in 2003. Why review it now, then? Well, in addition to the aforementioned battiness of the present day, I just happened to come across this title sporting a green sticker on Toys 'R' Us's discount rack not too long ago (the same place that I discovered Mary Kate & Ashley's Dance Party of the Century, if you recall). What was once $19.90 dropped to a low low $1.99, and what I once would hardly have considered purchasing became an absolute must-buy. Batman games for $2 are not to be passed up, even if they are designed for children ages 7-10. Yes, you read that right.

Coming to us from The Learning Company, makers of the fantastic Super Solvers games that dominated my childhood until my parents finally relented and bought my sister and me a gaming console one joyous Christmas, Batman: Justice Unbalanced features "5 exciting activities per game, each with multiple puzzles" and "3 levels of difficulty from beginner to expert" and "builds vital thinking skills like problem solving, logical thinking, listening skills, organizing information and sequencing." At least, that's according to the back of the box -- and it's pretty much true, for kids ages 7-10, anyway. What it doesn't have is the badass fighting action we've come to expect from Gotham's finest, as even in the cutscenes not a single punch is thrown in the game! Above all, this is a puzzle game -- it's basically a Super Solvers adventure starring Batman. But let's take a closer look, shall we?

Two-Face!And The Penguin!

A nighttime theft of jeweled, ornamental eggs is more than it seems. Batman uncovers an explosive plot between Two-Face and The Penguin that threatens the life of Commissioner Gordon and destruction of Gotham City's Statue of Justice. Help Batman solve the mystery before it's too late!

That's from the back of the box -- couldn't really have summed up the plot better myself. Two-Face is involved, looking much like his animated series counterpart but sporting the purplish scarring of Tommy Lee Jones's big screen portrayal, whereas Penguin appears as he did later in the animated series, when the memory of the deformed Danny DeVito-esque variant had been all but scrapped in favor of this dapper return to Pengy's roots. Personally, I prefer the mutant, though there's something to be said for the triple-kicking new Penguin of "The Batman" and his deadly geisha assistants. But let's not get distracted here -- Gotham City is in danger!

Talking to people to gather clues. Yawn.Doesn't look very egg-citing, does it?

To solve the mystery, you'll have to drive to multiple locales in the Batmobile and chat with various characters -- including Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, and some of Gotham's key legal figures -- to piece together the story. In addition to that, you'll have to complete various tasks in order to obtain the nine magic ticking eggs that will allow you to summon the eternal dragon, whereupon he will grant our crimefighting duo... a single wish. Kidding, but the eggs do tick. 'Cause they're bombs. Oh no! And oh yeah, for all of the absolute nothing he does, Robin's here, too. He really does nothing, though. He doesn't even say, "Holy ------, Batman!" He sucks.

Two-Face is not the Riddler. :(Batman's Utility Belt! Awesome!

To help you decipher information and provide additional clues, however, you've got access to the Batcomputer -- which is actually one of the cooler additions. In addition to supplying the Dynamic Duo with shit they actually need to complete the game -- for example, in addition to being bombs, the eggs also contain riddles (um, hello? Edward Nygma is not one of Harvey Dent's multiple personalities) that must be decoded before Batman can enter certain levels -- there's also a bunch of superfluous info that's nonetheless pretty cool to access. Above and to the right, we see the gear database in action, which lists specs and descriptions of a good number of Batman's gadgets, and there's also a rogues gallery with profiles of some of Batman's most notorious foes! Granted, it's fucking unacceptable that the Joker didn't make the list, but whatever -- win some, lose some.

That's 7 years bad luck, mister!

Anyway, to acquire the incredible, edible (not really), exploding, encrypted eggs, you'll have to complete a number of puzzles -- the variety above being one of my favorites. In these umbrella puzzles, the Penguin's henchmen have erected an electrical barrier of sorts that can only be disabled by turning the umbrellas such that the images on adjacent sections of umbrellas match (click the image to see the solution to the above puzzle and you'll see what I mean). Once that's done, Batman can zap away one of the four umbrellas surrounding the egg, whereupon the shield resets itself in a different configuration and you repeat the process until the egg is unguarded. Yeah, I know -- it's not terribly challenging or action-packed, but it is kinda fun!

It's certainly more fun than the safe activity, which involves Batman and Robin hiding out in a dark room (I know what you're thinking) while peering around with a flashlight and eavesdropping on the Penguin's goons in the next room to discern the locations of the hidden safe combination numbers. Not only does it seem even more out of place than the above puzzle -- why the fuck should Batman have to open a laptop computer, straighten a portrait of the Penguin, and lift up one end of the large rug on the floor in order to gain a single number to a three-digit safe combination lock when he could just squirt some shit on it from his utility belt and open the thing with ease? -- but trying to see in the rooms with only a small halo of light and listening to the oftentimes irritating banter of the goons gets really annoying really quickly. Their voices alone grate on one's soul, to say nothing of the fact that they have a tendency to tell stupid knock-knock jokes and make bird-related puns! Argh!

Collecting points doesn't really do anything for you.JUMP, BATMAN!!!

Fortunately, the third egg-collecting activity is enjoyable in addition to being the closest thing in the game to a traditional action sequence, though admittedly it would be more appropriate in Donkey Kong than a Batman title. Here, Batman is required to utilize various tools and athletic abilities to navigate a maze of scaffolding in order to collect tiny bat signals for points and discover the eggs hidden at the top. From time to time Two-Face will make an appearance, whereupon he'll flip a coin to decide what he should do. If the coin lands on the good head, he'll leave without incident, but if it lands on the bad head -- and for something that should have a 50/50 chance of going either way, it lands on the bad head entirely too often -- he'll toss a bomb at you. It's fairly easy to avoid, but if Batman gets hit he'll be knocked back to the last checkpoint or the beginning of the level, depending upon his progress. Of course, I've seen more involved Flash games than this activity (hell, there are some starring Batman himself on Cartoon Network's website) but it's not a bad diversion. And then, when you've decoded all of the eggs' hidden messages, you'll have to throw Batarangs at color-coded girders in order to cross some flames and reach Two-Face. This one's a little less cool -- and it also seems kinda pointless; couldn't Batman just use his grappling hook to swing across the chasm? -- but it's easily forgiven since it's the last thing you do.

Swing, Batta-batta, swing!I totally wouldn't save Penguin.

Except watch cutscenes, of course! The game's filled with 'em -- almost every task you complete or development that arises, however insubstantial, is accompanied by a cutscene or is at least acknowledged verbally by one of the characters onscreen. Seriously, there's a lot of talking in this game, so the good news is that the voice acting is pretty good! The bad news, however, is that nobody really sounds like he or she is supposed to sound -- if we're comparing them to the animated series, anyway. Batman and Robin sound more like Adam West and Burt Ward; Batgirl sounds like she's speaking to us from beyond the grave; Two-Face and Penguin sound like... I don't know who they sound like, but neither of them sound much like any iteration of themselves. In fact, the aforementioned goons are really the only characters who sound like they should -- which is to say that they sound like complete morons and inspire little more than contempt for their intelligence and occupation. The cutscenes themselves look pretty good, though -- not up to par with the animated series, of course, and with that certain "off" look that accompanies the drawings found in coloring books (thicker and sometimes uneven lines, simplified details, etc.), but they're definitely passable in an educational game designed for 7-10 year olds. The extras aren't bad either -- in addition to a large pdf file of the Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman poster, there's also a trailer for the film and some information about the Justice League junior novels. Pretty keen!

I'd hate to meet the goose that laid this thing.The Dynamic Duo saves the day again!

So, at the end of the day, is this egg worth cracking? I suppose that depends on what you're looking for in a Batman game! If you're an adult looking for a quick, easy, and mildly entertaining puzzle game that just happens to star your favorite Gotham City crimefighters or have a 7-10 year old child who might enjoy the title -- or if you happen to find the thing for $2 or less -- I'd say go for it! And if you're a 7-10 year old kid eager to build problem-solving and logic skills, well, you should probably have started with asking your mommy if it was okay for you to read this website, because there are definitely things here that are not for a child's eyes! But yeah, you'd probably enjoy the game, too. I enjoyed it, and I'm like 14 years too old to be playing! Seriously, it's fucking BATMAN, and it was only $2! If I'd paid $10 for it, however, I'd have been pissed. I mean, this is Batman we're talking about -- and for a ten-spot, I expect to see some criminal get his ass royally kicked. ZOWIE!  :D

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