In 2009, the critically-acclaimed “Batman: Arkham Asylum” redefined what a superhero game could be and helped establish the definitive Batman for a new generation. Although the influence of that Rocksteady Studios game can still be felt across DC Comics today, most superhero video games aren’t so lucky. While DC has seen success with titles like “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and abysmal failure with the Nintendo 64’s infamously bad “Superman: The New Adventures,” most games only achieved momentary notoriety before becoming footnotes in the history of the DC universe.
Now, CBR is taking a look back at some of DC’s most forgotten video games. In no particular order, this hardly comprehensive list will be looking at games that were officially released after 1990 and feature DC Comics’ characters in starring roles.
15. BATMAN: RISE OF SIN TZU
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, “Batman: The Animated Series” spawned several video game adaptations. While the quality of these games varied, they all shared a sense of design that was based on Bruce Timm’s iconic interpretation of the Dark Knight. In the wake of 2001’s moderately successful “Batman: Vengeance,” Ubisoft’s “Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu” gave gamers one last chance to visit DC’s animated universe on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube in 2003.
In the 3D brawler, players can take control of Batman, Robin, Nightwing or Batgirl in order to save Gotham City from the Scarecrow, Clayface, Bane and the original character Sin Tzu. Created by legendary artist Jim Lee and writer Flint Dille, Sin Tzu was a strategic mastermind who was meant to become a regular member of Batman’s rogues gallery. While the game received average reviews and still has a decent reputation, Sin Tzu never appeared again outside of the game’s promotional tie-ins.
14. JUSTICE LEAGUE: TASK FORCE
While Capcom’s Marvel Comics-centric fighting games have been around since the 1990s, DC’s characters struggled to find a suitable fighting ground for years. In 1995, Acclaim, Sunsoft and Blizzard Entertainment gave the Justice League its first official game appearance with the 2D fighting game “Justice League: Task Force” for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo.
While the Task Force of that era’s comics featured more obscure characters, this game stars a small roster of traditional Justice League members like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Green Arrow. Outside of the game’s story mode, players can also fight as the villains Cheetah, Darkseid and Despero. Despite an early chance to see Batman and Superman face off onscreen, the title earned poor reviews that criticized its controls, graphics and lackluster combat. “Task Force” would be the League’s only fighting game appearance for over a decade and Blizzard’s final licensed game before the developer shifted its exclusive focus to its own properties.
13. SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL
As many of the entries on this list can attest, most DC Comics-based games have been based on or released in conjunction with a film or televised adaption. In 2002, Circus Freak, Atari and Warner Bros. Interactive bucked this trend with the Xbox-exclusive “Superman: The Man of Steel.” While it shares a name with a movie that would come years later, this game’s primary influence was the 2000 comic book storyline “Superman: Y2K,” where Brainiac unleashed a technology-advancing wave across that Metropolis that literally turned it into the “City of Tomorrow.”
Like the comic, the game follows Superman as he tangles with several of his most famous villains including Mongul, Metallo and Bizarro in addition to Brainiac. In the title, players use Superman’s full power set to fight villains, rescue civilians and find bombs. While the game received slight praise for its story and depiction of a future-infected Metropolis, the title was heavily criticized for its confusing controls and timed missions.
12. WATCHMEN: THE END IS NIGH
As CBR just reaffirmed, “Watchmen” remains an incredibly rich text that still reveals new depths upon reexamination today. While no adaptation could ever hope to fully capture the intricate majesties of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ masterpiece, Zack Snyder’s film made a valiant effort. In conjunction with the movie’s 2009 release, Deadline Games and Warner Bros. Interactive released “Watchmen: The End Is Nigh” over two installments on the PC, the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade.
In the 3D brawlers, players can control either Nite Owl or Rorschach in a pre-“Watchmen” adventure that depicts their final days as crime-fighting partners in the early 1970s. While “Watchmen” purists might scoff at the idea of any ancillary adventures, “Watchmen” editor and comics legend Len Wein wrote the game’s story, which expanded on a few details mentioned in the original miniseries. Despite Gibbons’ blessing and some praise for the game’s graphics, both portions of the title received mixed reviews that criticized its repetitive gameplay and short running time.
11. BATMAN: GOTHAM CITY RACER
In almost every interpretation of Batman, one of the character’s signature gadgets is the Batmobile. In the era when themed racing games like “Diddy Kong Racing” and “Mario Kart 64” were commercial hits, a Batman-themed racing game seemed destined for success. In 2001, Sinister Games and Ubisoft put the Batmobile on center stage with “Batman: Gotham City Racer” for the PlayStation.
Based on “The New Batman Adventures,” the game lets players control the Batmobile as well as Nightwing and Batgirl’s Batcycles in order to round up Batman’s rogues gallery after a breakout at Arkham Asylum. All of this action takes place exclusively on the road as players try to disable the villains’ vehicles in a sparsely populated Gotham City. While the game received a modicum of praise for including clips from the Batman cartoon as cut scenes, it was largely panned for abysmal controls and baffling gameplay decisions focus on time trials rather than any kind of actual racing modes.
10. GREEN LANTERN: RISE OF THE MANHUNTERS
While Ryan Reynolds fulfilled his destiny as an onscreen superhero with 2016’s “Deadpool,” his turn as Hal Jordan in 2011’s “Green Lantern” received an all-out promotional blitz. Like many superhero movie tie-in games, Double Helix and Warner Bros. Interactive’s “Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters” saw Reynolds reprise his role across platforms including the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2011.
Serving as a sequel to the film, the game follows Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps as they take on the robotic alien Manhunters in a story penned by veteran comics scribe Marv Wolfman. While the game mirrors the film’s look, some of its features had originally been developed for an unreleased Justice League game that would’ve prominently featured Green Lantern. While the Green Lantern movie was largely panned, the game received mixed reviews that leaned fairly positive. Although reviewers found the gameplay too simple and somewhat derivative of “God of War,” several said that it was a relatively fun, decent experience.
9. MORTAL KOMBAT VS. DC UNIVERSE
After Capcom stumbled upon an unlikely but ingenious pairing with 1996’s “X-Men vs. Street Fighter,” a meeting between some of DC’s heroes and “Mortal Kombat’s” fighters seemed inevitable. The idea of brawls between Superman and Scorpion or Batman and Baraka remained purely theoretical for a decade, until Midway Games and Warner Bros. Interactive unleashed “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” across platforms in 2008.
In the game, players can chose from a roster of over 20 characters pulled from the two universes. While the Mortal Kombat games are famous for their gory brutality, this title features toned-down finishing moves with only mild dismemberment. While that lighter tone received some criticism, the game sold well and garnered mostly positive reviews that were impressed by its outlandish but cohesive story. After a few years, this title was largely eclipsed by well-received subsequent fighting game released from both franchises. Mortal Kombat ant Scorpion faced off with DC’s characters again in NetherRealm Studios’s 2013 hit “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” and could feasibly show up later this year in “Injustice 2.”
8. SWAMP THING
After a few low-budget movies in the 1980s, Swamp Thing was all over television screens in the early 1990s. While the character’s live-action cable show lasted for three seasons, his vaguely environmentalist Saturday morning cartoon only lasted for a few episodes. While that show didn’t last for long, it still spawned a line of action figures, and Imagineering and THQ’s “Swamp Thing” for the NES and Game Boy in 1992.
In the 2D action platformer, players can take control of the plant elemental in order to defeat the evil Anton Arcane and his Un-Men. While it doesn’t really invoke the spirit of its Vertigo roots, the game carries over the cartoon’s environmentalist message by rewarding players for collecting and recycling garbage. While a planned Sega-exclusive version of the game would’ve greatly expanded the character’s in-game power set, this title received mediocre reviews that criticized its difficulty, poor controls and lackluster graphics.
7. BATMAN: DARK TOMORROW
Like “Superman: Man of Steel,” “Batman: Dark Tomorrow” gave players a chance to play as Batman in a comic-inspired adventure years before “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Developed and released by HotGen and Kemco, this title was originally meant to be an open-world adventure exclusive to the GameCube. After four years in development, the game was released as a more linear 3D action game on the GameCube and Xbox in 2003.
In the game, players control Batman as he tries to stop a gang war between the Ventriloquist and Black Mask, rescue Commissioner Gordon from the Joker and keep Ra’s al Ghul from taking over the world. Despite a nice roster of both major and obscure villains, as well as a well-received story, the game was torn apart by critics for its controls and bug-filled gameplay. Reviewers also took issue with the game’s ending and a hidden ultimate objective that was only explicitly revealed in supplementary real-world materials.
6. THE FLASH
While the Flash is zooming across screens on his ongoing CW show, the Flash’s first live-action TV series came out in the early 1990s. While that show only lasted one season, it spawned two video game tie-ins. The first game was a fairly standard platformer that was released on the Game Boy during the show’s run in 1991. Two years after show’s cancellation, Sega and Probe Entertainment’s “The Flash” was released exclusively in Europe for the Sega Master System, which had become an afterthought in the American and Japanese markets
In the 2D action platformer, players control the Flash as he tries to free Central City from the control of the villainous Trachmann and the Trickster. With gameplay that’s not too different from Sega’s “Sonic The Hedgehog,” the Flash must collect tokens and activate switches as he races through timed levels. Although the game only received average reviews when it was released, it’s somewhat collectible today.
With so many supernatural games about demon hunters and the like on the market, it’s a little surprising that more magic-based heroes haven’t headlined their own titles. With “Constantine,” Bits Studios, Sci Games and THQ gave DC’s master magician John Constantine his own interactive adventure in 2005. Like the Keanu Reeves-starring film that it’s based on, the game was loosely inspired by the character’s long-running Vertigo series “Hellblazer.”
Released for the PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, the game follows Constantine as he fights various demonic opponents under Los Angeles in a third-person adventure filled with horror and action. The title received some praise for an RPG-esque management system and combat that allows players to manage and combine magic powers, gunplay, and melee attacks. While the game has its defenders, most reviews said that the release was a fairly standard movie tie-in that didn’t innovate on the usual movie game tie-in formula.
4. SUPERMAN: SHADOW OF APOKOLIPS
After the absolute failure of “Superman: The New Adventures,” more commonly known as “Superman 64,” another game based on “Superman: The Animated Series” seemed like a questionable idea at best. With 2002’s “Superman: Shadow of Apokolips,” Infogrames and Atari created a Bruce Timm-inspired adventure that still ranks among Superman’s better video game appearances today. Released on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, this title accurately captured the style and tone of the DC Animated Universe.
In the 3D action game, players control Superman as he tries to stop Lex Luthor and Darkseid from reviving the intergalactic criminal organization known as Intergang. With much of the cartoon’s cast reprising their roles for the title, the Man of Steel uses his full array of powers to battle with villains like Parasite, Volcana and Livewire. While the game’s existence was initially met with skepticism by critics, it received moderately positive reviews that highlighted its cel-shaded graphics.
3. AQUAMAN: BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS
Despite years of valiant efforts, Aquaman is still a punchline to most of the general public. While Jason Momoa might still change that in the upcoming films, “Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis” certainly didn’t help the cause. Released for the Xbox and GameCube in 2003, the Lucky Chicken Studios and TDK production is generally considered one of the worst games of the early 2000s.
In the 3D action game, players control the King of the Seven Seas as he tries to defend his kingdom Atlantis from the attacks of Black Manta and Ocean Master. Instead of the character’s traditional orange outfit, this title features the hook-handed, bearded and bare-chested Aquaman that dominated the 1990s. While that era’s other superhero games feature fully-animated cut scenes, “Aquaman” featured silent screen shots that were turned into faux comic panels with word balloons. Contemporary reviews savaged the game for dull graphics, lackluster action, and needlessly complicated controls. After the commercial and critical failure of the title, ports for the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance were canceled.
2. BATMAN FOREVER: THE ARCADE GAME
In 1995, Acclaim and Probe Entertainment’s “Batman Forever” brought a darker version of Joel Schumacher’s Batman to Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. With a move set and photo-based character sprites that owed more than a little to “Mortal Kombat,” the game was poorly received and deemed largely unremarkable. The same can hardly be said for Acclaim and Iguana Entertainment’s “Batman Forever: The Arcade Game.”
Released in arcades in 1995 and on PC, PlayStation and the Sega Saturn in 1996, the 2D side-scroller follows Batman and Robin as they battle endless waves of criminals. While “Batman Forever” was criticized for its plain combat, this title’s frantic action was defined by 100+ move combos, grappling hook attacks, exploding items and Super Saiyan-esque special moves. While the game is rather collectible today, it accurately captures the gaudy tone that the Schumacher’s Bat-movies embraced. With bizarre character designs, endless token-collecting and constant onscreen text bursts, the title is a blinding assault on the senses that’s difficult to forget.
1. THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN (SEGA CD)
“The Adventures of Batman and Robin” was probably the best Batman game of the 1990s. While Konami’s Super Nintendo version and Clockwork Tortoise’s Sega Genesis version have different plots, both titles feature impressive side-scrolling action modeled after Bruce Timm’s designs. While those two are fairly similar, they bear no resemblance to Clockwork Tortoise’s “The Adventures of Batman and Robin” for the Sega CD. Despite the game’s title, players never actually control Batman or Robin in this fascinating 1995 release. Instead, this title lets players operate the Batmobile and the Batwing in order to capture various members of Batman’s rogues gallery.
Unlike “Batman: Gotham City Racer,” the graphics are genuinely impressive for the era and effectively evoke the neon noir of the DC Animated Universe. The game also features 17 minutes worth of exclusive fully-animated cut scenes that are sometimes called a lost episode of “Batman: The Animated Series.” Although the system’s graphical limitations kept the animation from looking totally crisp, Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and the rest of the show’s cast reprised their roles in these segments. Since this was the second-to-last game released on the Sega CD, these clips remain largely unseen and unknown to generations of Batman fans.
Stay tuned to CBR for all the latest on “Injustice 2” and all of DC’s upcoming video games. Let us know what your favorite DC game is in the comments below!