It’s not often that a game comes along that screams ‘masterpiece’ and ‘game of the year’ right from the very start of the game. It’s even rarer to find one that keeps that momentum all the way through to the end. They do happen though, and they make me extremely happy when they do.
Bat Boy definitely hit the former criteria within seconds of booting up the game, but unfortunately misses out on the latter by a literal hair’s breadth.
It’s a shame too, as the game is otherwise one of the best 2D platformers on the Switch.
Many thanks to X Plus Games for the review code.
STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE
As you might expect from a game centering around a baseball swinging protagonist known as ‘Bat Boy’ who quickly befriends a talking magpie (not a bat, as you may have expected), the plot is rather light on story. As has been the case with a few other 2D platformers lately, the setup takes a page from Mega Man: in this case, we have an evil villain who has brainwashed the hero’s friends. In order to free them of their mind control, Bat Boy needs to go out there and beat the living crap out of them. They’re all happy afterwards, so I guess it’s ok.
These friends are Bat Boy’s team-mates, and Lord Vicious wants them to undertake the athletic Trials of Darkness. As you free your friends, you’ll gain stronger as you gradually start to learn extra abilities that will help make your journey to the dastardly Lord Vicious that bit easier.
The whole setup feels like a lighthearted homage to Mega Man, but manages to stand out in its own right due to really sticking with that sporting theme and having some genuinely entertaining dialogue between characters. It’s fun to interact with everyone, and you can even meet up with them in the in-game Tavern for a brief chat once they’re back to their senses.
The real star of the show that really helps to sell the premise is the presentation. Having a detailed and polished sprite style brought back memories of Shovel Knight, as it feels like the platformers of old but with a far more appealing and modern art style. Personally, I’d even say that this game surpasses the Yacht Games’ classic with its visual style and soundtrack, but I’m sure that will be down to your own personal preference. Regardless, it’s still stunning to look at and really shows off how good 2D sprites can look.
LIKE A BAT BOY OUT OF HELL
Bat Boy is a 2D platformer along the lines of the later Mega Man entries and Shovel Knight. By that I mean that it goes for that 8 bit feeling, but modernised to such an extent that everything feels tight and – most importantly – fair. The titular hero wields his trademark bat that can send enemies bowling away (literally, as the rotund piggies end up rolling across the screen, taking out other enemies as they pass!). A jumping attack also allows you to bounce off enemies for extra height, or to help you avoid treacherous hazards underfoot.
It’s a small moveset initially, but importantly it’s responsive with a hit detection that’s forgiving enough to ensure that absolute precision isn’t required. As you wander around the first stage learning how to use these moves to traverse the environment and fight enemies, everything just feels right. Heck, you’ll even end up smacking projectiles away and towards enemies – just like a baseballer should!
After the first level, the mechanics feel perfect… but then the stage ends and Garou, your flying friend, teaches you a new move – the bat toss. Throwing out your bat in front of you will create a platform for you to jump on to gain extra distance and height. Think Cappy from Super Mario Odyssey, and you’ll have the right idea. This rotating bat can also rotate switches that can open doors and move platforms, allowing for more platforming puzzles. This leaves you defenseless, forcing you to take extra care until it’s back in your possession. It adds a whole new layer to the game, and it feels great to use.
But, even then, the game refuses to stop giving you new abilities to play around with. As you work away around the map, you’re given some freedom as to where to go next. Usually there’s a couple of main levels you can progress to, and each offers a brand new ability to play around with as soon as you save your friend. These abilities are taught to you via a small little obstacle course and really make you feel comfortable with how it works before moving onto the next level. Upgrades aren’t just limited to abilities either, as you can head into a shop to trade fruit for extra health or stamina, or try and tackle a bonus level to earn a consumable recipe to help make your time a little bit easier.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to the game, with lots of ways to get stronger. Most abilities are linked to your stamina system and are largely optional for the most part; stamina is limited and can only be restored at a checkpoint or special flower, so you’re rarely forced to use any of these special abilities outside of the bonus stages – yet they’re a lot of fun to use and can be extremely useful when traversing the stages. A bubble of invincibility can protect you from attacks and spikes for a very short time, but it can also refill your air underwater; a grappling hook allows you to reach faraway places with ease; and a bouncing ball attack can lay waste to bosses with surprising ease. There are way more available, meaning that many will inevitably fall by the wayside as you use your favourites, but the added depth they add to your gameplay style is very much appreciated.
It’s not only the platforming that’s standout either, as the enemies themselves are all really cute and have their own unique personalities. There are tennis pros that counter any balls hit their way, footballers that can kick back rolling enemies, swimming enthusiasts, and so on. It’s not clear as to why they consist of porkers, but given their cuteness I can give it a pass. Bosses on the other hand are all humanoid, as per the Mega Man tradition, but that doesn’t mean to say that the fights aren’t any good. Sure, they may lack the spectacle of the larger boss fights found in other games, but there are some thrilling fights to be had – even if few of them are particularly difficult.
Even though the game is certainly deserving of all the praise I have thrown upon it, it’s not quite perfect. Most of the stages and bosses are a joy to play, but one in particular caused me all manner of frustrations. Ice levels have a reputation for having annoying physics, and the one here is no exception. To make matters even worse, it also contains some of the most obnoxious platforming challenges in the game, making it a bit of a slog to play through.
That’s nothing though compared to the final stage. Whilst most of it is pretty decent and has some good challenges to test your skills, it’s also home to a series of boss refights, and a final boss that was so bad that it spoiled my overall opinion of the game. Obviously I won’t be spoiling it, but I will say that it utilises mechanics not used anywhere else in the game and controls rather poorly too. I died more times on this boss that the rest of the game combined, yet it didn’t feel like many of my death’s were particularly fair either. It didn’t help that the final stage was also home to some pretty egregious bugs that added to the frustration, but thankfully the publisher has confirmed that these issues have been fixed and should be in a patch releasing shortly after launch.
Bat Boy is so close to hitting a home run: tight controls, great level design, and a constant introduction of fun new abilities that help to keep you invested over its six hour runtime. However, a dodgy ice level and an awful final boss fight (and a few major bugs that have apparently been fixed) hold back what could have been the greatest 2D platformer on the Switch. Don’t let that put you off too much though, since it’s still an amazing game that should absolutely not be slept on.