Bat Boy by X PLUS Games is a tribute to some of the best platformers around. Using his trusty bat and other abilities he moves through levels, screen by screen, to defeat his superhero teammates who have been converted to evil bosses by the equally evil Lord Vicious.
Successfully funded in their Kickstarter campaign back in 2022, Bat Boy is an ambitious 8-bit side-scrolling action platformer with NES palettes and sprite art, mimicking the output of the classic console while offering many modern conveniences, such as widescreen support and not needing to limit themselves to scanline and sprite restraints. Along with your mouthy but helpful crow companion, Garou, Bat Boy will fight through a hostile world of acrobatic and baseball-themed enemies, in order to stop Lord Vicious’ athletic event, the Trials of Darkness.
There’s no question that Bat Boy gets its inspiration from Shovel Knight, as evidenced by the top-down overworld map and bounding action that lifts him high into the air as he deflects off projectiles, obstacles, and enemies. Even so, the moveset feels fresh and new, with each baseball-themed attack feeling really good to use. Instead of items, you gain specific abilities, more akin to the Mega Man series, with traversal mechanics that require mastery of these techniques to move forward.
Moving around rooms is fast and fluid, and Bat Boy’s attack allows him to just ignore projectiles as a threat and utilize them as a tool. As he swings his bat at a projectile, it will cause him to sail across chasms or up to unreachable platforms, depending on the direction you hold. It’s a skillful technique that is eased into, but once you get the hang of it, every enemy-littered stage becomes more of a playground than a battleground. Bat Boy can also hit certain solid projectiles back at his enemies, or hold a direction while attacking to fire them off at a diagonal to hit otherwise unreachable switches.
Additional moves in his arsenal include a Slash Bash charged attack that allows Bat Boy to throw his bat to spin in the air and a Grappling Ribbon attack that gives him the ability to attach to certain platforms or even enemies, destroying them and lifting himself high up in the air from the momentum. The charged-up attack also allows switches to be rotated, unlocking doors and pathways, or can be used to deflect projectiles while completing a death-defying jump between platforms. Using the Ribbon ability gives new ways to move vertically, and rooms often reflect this change. These are the only two unlocks I was able to use in the preview version, but they add a lot of complexity to his combat, providing a multitude of ways to deal with each problem.
Bat Boy really excels at making each room feel like a puzzle to solve more than simply a challenge to rush through, given all his different ways of tackling them. Bound off a baseball thrown at you — yes, enemies throw these — up to a platform to then drop down on top of them for a downward attack makes you feel really powerful, and despite the difficulty of some of the platforming challenges, that feeling of power is never far away. Enemies are meant to be dealt with in one swing, and you often need to assess the order of which adversary to handle, as a platform housing precious collectible gems may only be accessible once, as you defeat the enemy below it. It’s clever level design like this that really makes Bat Boy shine.
Every stage feels unique and each challenge is a new chance to show off what you learned. The progression throughout the game feels amazing and I never once felt that any pitfall I experienced was anything other than my own fault, whether it was timing a jump or timing a deflection attack. Each boss fight I experienced was fun to battle and combining the attacks and abilities to thwart foes is really something special. If the full version continues these trends, there’s sure to be another modern ‘classic’ platformer on the horizon, and that’s one ball game I definitely wouldn’t miss.