You know what was a great game? Shovel Knight. The 2014 platformer rode into the market on the crest of the neo-retro wave, hitting the scene when people were eager to see pixels and hear chiptunes. But the glory days of that style didn’t last very long. Cheap imitators followed quickly, most of them half-finished titles made in haste to capitalize on a trend. Add to that the shift toward more open game design, and the throwback platformer trend quietly exited the stage.
But maybe we’re overdue for these games to come back. One of the promising contenders is Bat Boy, which takes those Shovel Knight sensibilities and combines them with the aesthetics of sentai and those athletics-themed mangas and anime that are a big deal in Asia but never manage to take root in the West. The result is something that’s well worth your time if you have an affection for old-school platformers.
Ryosuke is a high school baseball prodigy who, by night, dons a costume and fights crime as Bat Boy, accompanied by eight other sports-themed superheroes. It’s exactly the kind of setup that’s begging to be serialized: but wait – there’s more.
While on patrol, Bat Boy and his teammates encounter a sinister figure known as Lord Vicious. A wanna-be sportsman himself, Lord Vicious promptly brainwashes the heroes to serve as athletes in his villainous team. Bat Boy alone is spared because he deflects the spell with a well-timed swing of his bat (it’s anime rules, just roll with it). Now without his team – but with the assistance of a loudmouth crow who was formerly under a spell himself – he sets off to rescue his friends and put a stop to Lord Vicious’s league of evil.
It’s a story made for the first page of an instruction manual, but it also sets the stage perfectly. Bat Boy is a game of the old school through and through, complete with over-the-top personalities and dialogue for every single character you’ll meet.
Let’s address the elephant right now – Bat Boy is a lot like Shovel Knight. In fact, here’s your capsule review for readers on the go: If you liked Shovel Knight, you should buy Bat Boy.
With that taken care of, I’d like to touch upon all the ways that Bat Boy differs from its forerunner.
While Shovel Knight was undeniably inspired by the Mega Man franchise, Bat Boy leans into that a lot more, complete with the protagonist learning new moves from defeated enemies. Most of the bosses are Ryosuke’s former allies, who are more than happy to teach him new techniques once he’s beaten the bad magic out of them. These are still more like secondary abilities than the full-on replacement weapons you’d get in a Mega Man game, but the similarity is hard to miss.
Most of the new skills you’ll pick up are movement-based, which leads to the next big distinction: Bat Boy is a lot more focused on technical platforming than the original Shovel Knight. Even the regular stages may require the player to bounce across projectiles or perform rapid wall jumps to stay above and ahead of hazards. In this way, it’s maybe more similar to Specter of Torment, Shovel Knight’s second expansion, though the exact mechanics are still distinct.
Mastering movement is important, not just for platforming but for evasion. Ryosuke is pretty fragile compared to Shovel Knight, so you really don’t want to get hit.
The good news is that the controls are tight enough to manage this feat. The control scheme does get pretty busy once you’ve learned a lot of moves (all of which are under different button combinations), but few of them are mandatory to finish the game so it’s not much of an issue. Once you’ve learned how to time your attacks to bounce off an enemy’s head – and get it through your own head not to do this when you’re below an enemy – you’re ready to rescue some superpowered ball players.
Bat Boy runs about 4-7 hours depending on your skill level and how much of a completionist you are. The difficulty is comparable to similar games, which is to say that it is challenging but not hard. That’s my take, at least, and I know that there are people who will disagree – a lot of people seemed to think that Shovel Knight was hard, and they’re just wrong as far as I’m concerned. However, most people will be able to finish Bat Boy if they put their minds to it.
It’s not really a hard proposition – if you like this kind of throwback platformer, you’ll like Bat Boy because it’s well above average for that style. But even if you’ve ever picked a platformer that’s a loser, it might still be worth a try. After all, every genre gets three strikes.