The moment we’ve all been pining for has finally arrived. The Dark Knight Rises has made its way to theaters and it is spectacular! Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have received universal praise from fans and critics alike, and they have solidified the Caped Crusader as one of the greatest on-screen comicbook heroes of all time.
It wasn’t always so sweet for Batman at the theater, though. You don’t have to dig very deep to find some stinkers and missteps along the way. Interestingly enough, Batman’s video game history is surprisingly similar.
Lately, it’s been fine dining for Batman video game connoisseurs but it was a long and troubled path we had to tread to arrive here. With that in mind, let’s take this opportunity, much like we did with The Avengers and Spiderman, to take a look back at the video game history of Batman and reminisce about the highs, the lows, and all the in-betweens.
Batman (1986) – I think that you will notice quite a pattern here. In the earlier days of Batman video games there were a glut of titles simply named, “Batman”. It may be a little confusing, but I will do my best to keep things as clear as possible.
This title is the first of these and is also the first venture into video games by the Caped Crusader. In it, players would control Batman in a series of isometric 3D rooms in the Batcave as you traverse various obstacles strewn about. The point was to find the dismantled pieces of the Batcraft in order to save Robin.
The game released for various computer systems and was generally well received. Among other things, the game was noted as being one of the first to implement early examples of checkpoint systems rather than making the player start all over had they failed an objective.
Batman: The Caped Crusader (1988) – Batman’s second video game appeared on the same computer systems as its predecessor, as well as the Amiga, Commodore 64 and Apple II. The game was unique in that it was split into two separate adventures—one featuring The Penguin as the main villain and one featuring The Joker. Thankfully, you could play either of these stories at any time.
The gameplay was similar to a side scrolling beat-em-up but actually required more critical thinking and puzzle solving than most action games at the time. The story was told through comic book style frames to make it feel closer to its source material. The game received generally favorable reviews, with praise going towards its multiple story options and bright, crisp visuals.
Batman (1989) – Also known as Batman: The Movie, this was the first video game adaptation of a Batman film. Developed again by Ocean Software, the game once again received generally favorable reviews and was even awarded the Game of the Year in Crash magazine.
An action platformer, Batman followed closely to the storyline of the Tim Burton film and included five separate levels—each recalling moments and set pieces from the film. Players would control Batman both on foot and in the air as you battle your way through Joker’s henchmen in an attempt to reach the Clown Prince of Crime himself.Every level was timed, as was the style at the time, and players would lose a life if they didn’t complete the level before the clock ran out. T
he game was released on a variety of platforms such as the Amiga, Apple II, MS DOS and Commodore 64.
Batman (1990) – Based again on the Batman film, this game was developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Game Boy. It was another side scrolling action game that included more than one interesting gameplay addition. One in particular was Batman’s ability to wall jump like Ryu from Ninja Gaiden. Batman also had access to a number of close range and ranged weaponry.
While the game was based on the film of the same name, there were several major and minor differences included in the prototype. The most glaring being the inclusion of Firefly as the final boss instead of the Joker—who was disposed of in a cut-scene.
The cut-scenes themselves were actually pretty innovative for the time. They included art styles reminiscent of the graphic novel The Killing Joke. The game was developed by Sunsoft and, of course, sold rather well.
Batman (1990) – Yet another title simply called Batman and again, another title based on the movie. Instead of a port of the NES version for the Sega Mega Drive, this game was different due to Nintendo’s old policy of having their titles developed exclusively for their system. The changes made were mainly differences in the gameplay mechanics and the addition of some vehicle stages.
This game also stuck closer to the plot of the film, with the story being told through cut scene stills. The game also had a limited number of continues, unlike the NES version which contained unlimited continues.
Batman (1990) – Hey, did you know that there was a game based on the first Batman movie simply called Batman? As a matter of fact, there were about ten of them! Here’s another one! This one actually tried something a little different though. Instead of the basic side scrolling action seen in the other titles, this Batman game resembles Bomberman or Pacman more than anything else.
Again, the levels were based on scenes from the movie, but each level was laid out in a top-down dungeon crawler view. The player would remain in each level until all elements of different puzzles were complete. Combat was limited to just a few enemy encounters per level until the player reached the final stage and the action was ramped up a bit more.
The game was praised for its bright graphics and unique gameplay mechanics.
Batman: Return of the Joker (1991) – Releasing on the NES, Game Boy and Sega Mega Drive, this game was a sequel to the game based on the original movie. Each version included various differences in mechanics and items included, but they all basically followed the same story which centered around the Joker escaping from his asylum, and starting some crap on the streets of Gotham. Man, that guy is a jerk.
This title returned Batman to the side scrolling action that most of the previous games had, with various power ups and weapon upgrades to be found throughout the level.
A remake of the game was developed for the Sega Genesis with the title being changed to Batman: Revenge of the Joker. A Super Nintendo version was planned and actually put into development but the plans were scrapped befor completion.
Batman Returns (1992) – This video game adaptation of the big screen sequel was released on no less than ten different consoles and handhelds. Almost every version was developed and produced by different companies, so keeping track of which version appeared on which console is tricky business.
Most of the versions were some variation of the side scrolling action, with some slight differences here and there. The PC version was actually more in line with old school adventure games, which was par for the course when it came to PC games back in those days.
Most of the versions received moderate to high praise for the fun combat and good graphics, but the infamous Amiga version was universally panned due to sloppy gameplay and horrible hit detection. Many media outlets even called the game “unplayable”.
The gameplay was, once again, a side scrolling action game, but each level offered up different ways to traverse the environment—which helped keep the game feeling fresh.
Every level ended with a battle with one of Batman’s popular villains. Players would control Batman for most of the game but would occasionally take control of Robin for very short stretches. Most of the major players in the television show made an appearance in some form or another. The game received generally high praise and sold pretty well. Of course it did. It had Batman in it.
The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1994) – By the time the second season of the popular animated series came around; the title had been changed from Batman: The Animated Series to The Adventures of Batman and Robin, so while the title for this game is different than its predecessor; it’s still based on the same show.
Once again, the game released on several different platforms with several different developers and publishers. All versions had the distinctive art style of the animated series and most were side scrolling action titles with appearances by the famous villains that appeared in the series. The Sega Mega CD version even had animated cut scenes developed specifically for the game, which many considered a “lost episode”.
Batman Forever (1995) – The first game based on the Joel Schumacher movie was developed for and released on the SNES, the Sega Mega Drive, PC, Game Gear and Game Boy. Each version was based on the film but included a variety of differences depending on which one you played. All versions were basically side scrolling beat-em-ups, but the handheld versions didn’t include the co-op option of the consoles.
Players could play as Batman or Robin and play through the game cooperatively and could turn the option to beat each other up on and off. The PC version was basically the same as the console versions, with the addition of sharper graphics and different costumes for Batman and Robin.
Batman Forever: The Arcade Game (1996) – This title was an arcade game that was ported over to the PlayStation, PC and Sega Saturn. The gameplay was basic arcade action. Never ending supplies of re-spawning baddies to beat up and tons of ridiculous, screen clearing power ups.
As is normally the case with arcade ports, the gameplay doesn’t exactly translate well. There was hardly any story to speak of, and the combat was overly repetitive. Player enjoyment was contingent on whether or not you enjoyed beating up endless waves of identical enemies in a manner that was originally designed to rob you of all the quarters to your name.
This one came out for the PlayStation and the Game.com. As expected, this title follows the story of the movie with some extra story elements thrown in to pad the experience. A departure from the norm, this game included a sandbox style Gotham City to explore. Players could choose from Batman, Robin or Alicia Silverstone… I mean Batgirl.
The game allowed the player to explore the world at their pace, but certain missions would include scripted intervals. If the player hadn’t collected enough clues to get to the bottom of it all, the mission would be a failure. Much like the movie it was based on, the game wasn’t received favorably at all.
Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker (2000) – The animated series, Batman Beyond, was pretty successful. Successful enough that it warranted a movie to be made based off the property. To coincide with the release of the film, the video game of the same name appeared on the Nintendo 64, PlayStation and Game Boy Color.
The gameplay was basically a side scrolling beat-em-up. The environments were similar to other 2-D fighting games, but there was some freedom to move north and south on the playing field—giving the gameplay some added depth. The Nintendo 64 and PlayStation versions were dislike by critics and fans but the Game Boy Color version fared a little better.
Batman: Chaos in Gotham (2001) – Released exclusively for the Game Boy Color, Chaos in Gotham was based on The New Batman Adventures television show. As far as story goes, the inmates of Arkham Asylum have busted out and it is—as always—up to Batman to round them up.
Once again, the gameplay was done in a basic side scrolling beat-em-up style with a rather large cast of villains and friends that make appearances. Players could play as Batman or Batgirl but, come on, who wouldn’t pick Batman?
Batman: Gotham City Racers (2001) – This was a racing game… kind of. You’d race around Gotham and try to stop bad guys from doing terrible things. There. A racing game with a fresh coat of Batman paint. That’s really about it. Oh yeah, it was released for the PlayStation.
Players would control Batman through a 3D Gotham City as you work to unravel a criminal inspired conspiracy. The game had the advantage of including all major voice actors from the cartoon series, and well done cinematic cut-scenes brought it to life. The gameplay wasn’t quite as well received. It was mostly a generic and at times, boring affair. The game did receive high marks for its well thought out story, though.
Batman: Dark Tomorrow (2003) – Oh wow… this game is bad. You may have heard it said that Superman 64 is the worst superhero game ever, and while I can’t argue with that, this game has to be a close second. I remember the advertisements for this game during the months leading up to its release, and I remember that I was initially very excited about it. The end result was, however, a terrible, terrible mess.
Everything about this game−besides the cut scenes and story—is just awful. The gameplay is as broken as anything that has ever been unleashed on the public, and the graphics are just awful. The worst part of it all is that the game is incredibly confusing and the developers didn’t include any clues as to what you were supposed to do.
The most glaring example of this is near the end where the player is supposed to do certain things to ensure the “good” ending. Well, the game never bothers to include the player in on the secret and 99% of the players skipped over this task and upon completing the game, realized that half the world’s population still gets destroyed.
The game released on the Xbox and Gamecube and if you can pick up a copy somewhere I suggest you do so. That way you can see for yourself how wonderfully terrible it is.
The game received extensive marketing, a novelization, a year long web comic, and each version on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube received pack in extras like action figures and lithographs. Most fans were excited for all these things, but the inclusion of a brand new character, Sin Tzu, was the most appealing.
Unfortunately, most people didn’t find a whole lot to like about the game itself. The gameplay was more of the same beat-em-up action that had plagued most other Batman games. Gamers were largely bored with the whole thing and as a result, Sin Tzu never appeared in another Batman incarnation.
Batman Begins (2005) – By this time, Christopher Nolan had come on to the scene to rescue Batman from film embarrassment, giving the world the best Batman film to date. EA Games hoped to latch onto the success of the film and give Batman’s video game career the same shot in the arm. Despite the game not exactly having a huge impact on the gaming landscape, it was successful enough in its own right and at least tried to mix up the gameplay elements that had made the Batman games stale.
Instead of the basic punch and kick gameplay of older Batman titles, Batman Begins focused more on intimidation, allowing the player to sneak around the environment and instill fear into the villains before taking them out.
The story followed closely to the story of the film and it even included all the major voice actors from the movie. It released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, Game Boy Advance and even mobile phones.
Lego Batman: The Video Game / Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes (2008/2012) – Traveller’s Tales had made quite a name for themselves with the Lego games and they found even more success by including Batman in on the fun.
The gameplay of the first entry stuck very close to the mechanics that the Lego games had become famous for. All the villains in the Batman universe had, once again, escaped from Arkham and players controlled Batman through several levels of brick busting fun to round them up.
The second entry, DC Superheroes, included other characters from the DC universe like Superman and Green Lantern, each with their own super powers. Both games released on every system capable of playing a game, and they both sold like lice shampoo at a monkey convention.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) – This is the game that changed Batman’s video game fortunes forever. Coming out of nowhere, Rocksteady studios delivered the first game to capture the things about Batman that made him so appealing in the first place. The game was dark, scary, mature and violent. The voice actors consisted of most of the cast from the animated series that fans had grown to love, and the atmosphere of traveling around a creepy Arkham Asylum was spot-on perfect.
Atmosphere and voice work can only be window dressing though if gameplay doesn’t hold up. Fortunately for us, the gameplay in Arkham Asylum was finely tuned and undeniably fun. It was finally entertaining to be Batman in a video game and Rocksteady didn’t neuter Batman’s extensive arsenal that makes him so cool. Suffice it to say, Arkham Asylum was not only the greatest superhero game ever, it was one of the greatest games of 2009l.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Video Game (2010) – Developed for the Wii and DS, this game was based on the popular Brave and the Bold cartoon series. Batman returned to his side scrolling beat-em-up fun for this outing, but he wasn’t alone.
On the Wii, two players could team up to bash baddies across several levels which were modeled around episodes of the show. The DS was a single player affair, but it garnered better reviews than its big brother on the Wii. All of this information is mute, because the biggest draw of this game is, and shall ever be, the inclusion of Aquaman! Want your game to be better? Just add Aquaman!
Batman: Arkham City (2011) – The sequel to 2009’s breakout Batman game did the impossible: It made a perfect game even better. Rocksteady really hit their stride with Arkham City by taking everything that was great about Arkham Asylum and ratcheting it up a notch. The world was bigger, there were more villains, the stakes were higher, and everything was just simply awesome.
The combat and exploration remained as fun as ever and there seemed to be a never ending supply of collectibles and Easter Eggs littered around the world. The story was more involved too, as the player spent the bulk of the game unraveling threads of mystery and making good use of Bruce Wayne’s extensive detective knowledge and instruments. The game won multiple game of the year awards and continues to receive DLC.
There are various games that include Batman that you won’t find on this list, but these are the Batman-centric games and that’s what really matters. Does anyone really want to remember Mortal Kombat vs. DC? No. No they do not.
So, how many of these have you played? Which one is your favorite? Who stole my cookie? Let us know in the comment section!