For years, DC Comics’ Batman has been a driving influence in the comic book industry, with the troubled Bruce Wayne donning the mysterious outfit and battling Gotham City’s greatest criminals as only he can. He’s gotten a fair shake in TV and movies, (save for the forgettable “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin”) as well as video games. Granted, not every trip to home gaming consoles and arcades was a grand slam (we’re still trying to forget “Dark Tomorrow” exists), but many of them managed to recreate the dark, brooding influence that the Dark Knight is known for.
With that said, CBR News presents a list of our favorite Batman video games, starting from the old-school days and leading up to the current “Arkham Asylum.” Take a look through, and if you think we’ve missed a particular favorite, let us know.
(Oh, and for the record, we wanted to consider Batman’s appearance in “Revenge of Shinobi,” but it wasn’t really authorized. Still worth a mention, though…)
(Sunsoft, NES, 1990)
Loosely based on the original Tim Burton film, Sunsoft managed a fantastic hit with “Batman.” It doesn’t entirely follow events from the film per se, nor does it need to. The game moves along briskly through its five main stages, featuring plenty of tricky enemies to defeat and exquisite level design that would test the Dark Knight’s athletic skills. It played just right, too.
The Sega Genesis version also gets an honorable nod. Even though it looks and plays entirely different from the NES version, it’s a moderately fun platforming game, complete with side-scrolling Batmobile and Batwing shooting segments to boot.
Batman: Return of the Joker
(Sunsoft, NES, 1991)
We would’ve been perfectly content had Sunsoft stuck with the gameplay style of the first Batman game for the sequel, but the devloper really wanted to push the NES hardware, and so gamers got “Return of the Joker.” Base around shooting techniques rather than old-fashioned fisticuffs, the game held together pretty well, mostly on the strength of its outstanding visuals. Multi-scrolling backgrounds, cool weapon effects (the charge shot is the most noteworthy of the bunch) and intense boss battles round out this obscure yet enjoyable Bat-title.
A word of warning, though — avoid the “Revenge of the Joker” port for Genesis like the plague. Sunsoft got this translation all wrong with cruddy graphics, terrible controls and random glitches that would leave you stuck in certain areas. Clearly, the laugh was on us.
(Konami, SNES, 1992)
Beat-em-ups were pretty popular in the 90s, judging from such releases as the “Streets of Rage” trilogy and the countless “Final Fight” clones. One game that stood out in the genre, however, was “Batman Returns,” a faithful adaptation of the Tim Burton sequel. In the game, you run through eight stages, beating up Red Triangle Circus gang members and using utility belt goodies such as Batarangs, a test tube (to clear the screen) and a grappling hook to dish out additional damage. Though the game was single player only (remember, Robin wasn’t in “Batman Returns”), it was brilliantly designed, featuring the gorgeous 16-bit visuals and a Danny Elfman-like soundtrack. All movie games should be done with this kind of finesse.
The other versions of “Batman Returns,” mainly done by Sega and Atari, didn’t fare as well. The Sega CD version was all right, due to some nifty 3-D Batmobile segments, but the others, particularly the Game Gear and Atari Lynx editions, were forgettable. Stick with the SNES version and you won’t go wrong.
The Adventures of Batman and Robin
(Konami, SNES, 1994)
With the successful “Batman: The Animated Series” doing so well at the time, Konami picked up the rights to produce a video game based on the popular cartoon and carefully recreated the atmosphere of the show for the Super Nintendo. In the game, you’ll play through missions that follow the storylines of particular episodes, including ones featuring the Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin and, of course, the Joker. Through each stage, you’ll need to use your physical prowess, Bat-gadgets and striking moves to make it to the end boss. Our particular favorite is Poison Ivy, who unleashes a double-sized plant beast to finish you off. If you somehow missed out on “The Adventures of Batman and Robin” before, there’s no better time to track down a cartridge than now.
Sega also released an “Adventures of Batman and Robin” game for the Sega Genesis, but it was a “shooter” style game, similar to the “Contra” series and “Gunstar Heroes.” Two players can play at once, shooting unlimited Batarangs at incoming enemies and taking on bosses such as the Joker and Mr. Freeze. Though the graphics were beautiful (by Sega Genesis standards, anyway), the game was way too difficult to get through, resulting in a title that was for hardcore action fans only.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu
(Ubisoft, multiple platforms, 2003)
After several disastrous releases by Acclaim (including the horrid “Batman Forever” games), Ubisoft took over The Dark Knight rights in 2001. It produced a pretty good action game with “Batman: Vengeance,” but most fans prefer the fast-paced action of “Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu,” which came out for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube, two years later. This top-down beat-em-up puts you in control of one of four characters — Batman, Nightwing, Robin and/or Batgirl — as you battle several villains throughout Gotham City before coming face-to-face with the evil Sin Tzu, a new character designed by Jim Lee. Though the game does get repetitive over time, the tone is loyal to the Batman theme and it’s an enjoyable romp with a friend.
As for “Batman: Vengeance,” it tended to drag a little bit in some sections, but Ubisoft did a manageable job bringing the Dark Knight back to prosperity. You can find both of these games nowadays at Gamestop for a rock bottom price.
(Electronic Arts, multiple platforms, 2005)
With the rebirth of the Batman movie franchise (driven by director Christopher Nolan), Electronic Arts opted to produce a game based on the film. Instead of a straightforward action affair, the game seamlessly blends action with stealth, allowing you sneak up on guards and other armed thugs to take them down by surprise. In some cases, this is a requirement, because you’ll otherwise be filled with lead. The game features surprisingly high production values, including most of the film’s cast, including Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman. The gameplay is pretty good, though there are times you’re too limited to where you can go or what you can do. Fortunately, this is made up with a rousing Batmobile sequence, where you can trash cars as you race down Gotham’s city streets. Too bad EA didn’t consider making a whole game based on the racing scenario.
On a side note, EA was actually working on a game based on “The Dark Knight” at one point, but the plug was pulled due to too many disagreements between developer and publisher. Too bad — a sequel probably would’ve fared better than this one.
Lego Batman: The Videogame
(Warner Bros. Interactive, multiple platforms, 2008)
Travelers Tales had mastered the art of Lego games by the time it got its hands on the Batman franchise, thanks to multiple “Lego Star Wars” and “Lego Indiana Jones” releases. Like those games, the team did a bang-up job recreating Batman’s world through the magic of Lego. The stage design is impeccable, from the streets of Gotham to the sludgy remains of Poison Ivy’s worn-down lair. The character animation is pretty cool, too, with lots of Lego-isms (enemies break to pieces in hilarious fashion) and humorous moments. The gameplay is top-notch, easy for anyone to pick up and play, making this ideal for kids and parents alike — along with hardcore comic book fans.
What’s more, “Lego Batman” is one of those rare games that offers something separate for the villains. Along with playing through it as Batman and Robin, you can also play as a number of Batman’s rogues gallery, including the Joker and Harley Quinn, battling against Gotham City’s police forces led by Commissioner Gordon. It’s this kind of unique twist that makes this Lego game an easy recommend.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
(WB Games, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, 2009)
Last — but definitely not least — we have a title many consider one of the greatest comic book games ever made, and for good reason. With “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” Rocksteady Games has left no stone unturned on production. The story, written by Paul Dini, stayed true to the spirit of Batman; Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill faithfully recreated their voice roles as Batman and The Joker, respectively; and the game itself is incredibly fun, featuring all types of Bat-moves, from throwing Batarangs to taking down a group of thugs in free-flowing combat. The appearance of familiar faces, including Bane and a sexed-up Harley Quinn, added to the game’s appeal. Yeah, that final boss battle with Joker was kind of questionable, but “Arkham Asylum” as a whole is an unmatched experience when it comes to Batman brilliance.
Or at least it will be until this October, when WB Games and Rocksteady release the long-awaited “Batman: Arkham City,” which will expand upon the first game with new outdoor areas, more characters, new Riddler challenges (in twisted Jigsaw fashion) and the ability to fly through the air with your Bat wings. We’ve seen it in action, and it definitely looks ready to top “Asylum.” Let’s just hope that we can play as the Joker again in the PS3 version. Those challenge rooms were lots of fun!