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Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Ubisoft
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p
Date Posted: 

3-9-04

It’s strange that despite supposedly being the “world’s greatest detective”, Batman has yet to truly make an appearance in a game (or movie, for that matter) that requires any degree of mental flexion whatsoever, much less the sort required to solve one’s way through a well-thought out mystery.  Rather, he’s been demoted strictly to the role of muscle (with a bit of “ooh, isn’t he scary” thrown in for good measure).  Every Batman game (and movie) released to date has lain firmly in the realm of the “beat ‘em up” action platformer (something for which an essentially weaponless, average strength guy like Batman would seem to be rather ill suited), and Ubisoft’s Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is nothing if not that.

One nice touch, representing the game’s one major improvement over the last 2 atrocities in the franchise, is in that Sin Tzu allows you to take on the role of either Batman, Robin, Batgirl, or Nightwing.  As in the past, all characters are based on their designs and personas as presented in the popular animated series (as opposed to the grimmer, somewhat more tedious comic book versions).  The same cast in the animated series provides the voices for the game.  As one might hope and expect, each character has their own feel, with disparate strengths and weaknesses.  The game features several villains from the animated series such as Scarecrow and Clayface, but also a few lame-os like the unimpressive Mexican wrestler “Bane”, and the titular game nemesis, a new character created, with much over hype, by comic artist “legend” Jim Lee (more on that later).  As always, extra content can be unlocked in the game, ranging from new moves and weapons to a short documentary featuring the aforementioned Mr. Jim Lee.

Unlike the standard for this sort of thing, where things start off easy and gradually progress to sheer mania, Sin Tzu starts you off in one of the more annoying levels.  During the first little bit, you have to deal with the Scarecrow and his (dozens and dozens of) men.  Gas grenades are thrown frequently, which do little but make the entire screen swirl around in a nauseating fashion for several minutes, while you get to listen to your characters yell nonsense into an echo chamber.  Somehow, this is supposed to have something to do with your characters’ subjective experience of “fear”, though the only sensation you’ll be having is one of motion sickness.  The sensitive or overtired are advised to have their complementary airplane barf bags handy.  Even more annoying than this, for some unexplained reason, the thugs will somehow become stronger, with “mini bosses” magically regaining all lost health each time the gas grenades go off, essentially negating any progress you made to that point – and it happens a lot, mind you.   Somebody must have complained about how “short” these sorts of games are, because this kind of bullshit really kills the clock and stretches out what should be a very brief fight, time and time again.  Later in the level, the Scarecrow himself pulls the same trick, ad nauseum, with his health meter refilling time and time again while you run around in circles trying to hit (and not get hit by) randomly appearing “ghosts”.  Mere words cannot express the ennui and utter boredom that accompanies the gamer’s glacially slow progress through this fight alone, which was nearly enough to make me consider returning the game to its place of purchase in and of itself.  Literally, with two people playing, this fight in and of itself took a half hour or more to complete.  Can you say ‘bedtime for bonzo’, kiddies?

And while we’re on the topic of killing time, it would be remiss of me not to mention the incessant, repetitive, clock-wasting cheap trick of making the gamer run around in circles waiting for enemies the game hasn’t seen fit to produce yet before being allowed to pass through invisible barriers that surround victims to be rescued or end-of-level goals.   If the mere mention of watching the clock tick down, threatening a level restart, while waiting for nonexistent enemies taking their time to magically appear doesn’t turn you off buying the game, then you’re just a hopeless fan, and there’s no point in wasting my breath on this.  The rest of you out there, consider yourselves warned.

Perhaps the most amusing thing about all this has little or nothing to do with what is, admittedly, a very average beat-em-up by the numbers platformer.  At least part of the game’s hype and reputation hangs on the involvement of Jim Lee, a talented if spotty comic artist who, alongside other similarly over hyped lesser talents like Todd McFarlane, Michael Turner and the much maligned Rob Liefeld, created an over-inflated boom in speculation in the comic field in the early 90’s, resulting in the production of more unadulterated dreck and cheap marketing scams (Alternate covers!  Limited editions!  Special trading card inside!) than the field had seen to that time (though with the noted exception of some imported British talent, the 80’s come close in sheer volume of aesthetically and financially worthless crap being produced).   With his predilection for burying some nice underlying artwork under a plethora of scritchy lines, Lee spearheaded an entire movement of scribbly semi-talents, many of who are still cluttering the shelves of comic stores to this day with their third-rate renderings.  A smart businessman, Lee knew just when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, eventually selling his ailing Wildstorm line to DC for some absurd amount of money, then signed on to do occasional “event” runs, like his wildly over hyped 12 issue Batman run (one of the worst story arcs I’ve had the misfortune to have read in recent memory).  What’s all this leading up to, you ask?  Simply this: Lee (or whomever designed the game) cribbed the basic thrust of Sin Tzu almost directly from the aforementioned Jeph Loeb (a name to be laughed at, for sure) story.  To wit: throw one tacky old “classic” Batman villain after another into the mix, while wondering all the time “who is the mastermind behind it all”.  Throw in some wholly uninvolving twists and turns, and there you go.  The fans lap it up; the company rakes in the cash, everybody’s happy, so long as brains remain unengaged.

Even more than this, I might toss in the observation that as a fellow Asian of, as observed in the occasional interview or TV appearance, some intelligence, Lee saw fit to design and create an antagonist for the game hearkening back to the worst excesses of the turn of the century “yellow peril” scare, a tacky Fu Manchu style oriental mastermind.  While I’m hardly chomping at the bit to throttle the guy for this, it does represent a surprisingly out of character pandering to the masses of idiots out there who expect just that out of an Asian “bad guy”.  And with all the Jackie Chans and Martin Yans out there, one thing the Asian community doesn’t need right now is another Uncle Tom.

Highs:

  • Nice looking game, once again capturing the feel of the animated series
  • Use of the actual voice actors from said series

Lows:

  • A no-frills beat ’em up with little variation to keep the gamer interested
  • The interminable length of the Scarecrow levels, particularly the “boss fight”
  • Essentially, another over hyped Image related project, to be similarly consigned to the dustbins (and quarter bins) of history

Final Verdict: 

When all is said and done, there really haven’t been any video games based on comic books that stood the test of time.  In fact, few games based on any licensed product seem to be worth more than the cost of the discs they’re printed on.   Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is no exception to the rule.  If you’re in the right frame of mind (i.e., mindless), it’s still an enjoyable game overall, albeit one with a few intrinsic programming flaws.  And while said flaws are not glaring enough to make the hardcore, or even average Batman franchise fan want to pass up the game, there’s hardly enough here to merit any sort of unqualified recommendation.  It is what it is, and if you can accept that, you’ll be happier than you would have been playing the last two Batman games…

Overall Score: 7.0

Additional Images:

 


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