He is vengeance. He is the night. He is…
…surprisingly solid for a video game subject.
That’s right, it’s time to tackle the depths of Batman‘s video game library — and man, has he had a bunch of ’em. The Dark Knight’s video game history began in 1986 with the appropriately titled “Batman” for a bunch of PC platforms that nobody remembers, (In fact, the name “Batman” was a popular name for video games featuring Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego — until 1990, seven out of the eight bat-video games published were simply called “Batman.”) but since then, he’s had 30 years of video game history across all platforms. From video games licensed from television and film to those set squarely in the DC Universe, Batman has been an incredibly popular figure in gaming.
So perch on a nearby gargoyle, take out your favorite Bat-snack, and get ready — because the countdown of the best Batman games of all-time (and one of the worst of all-time) is about to begin.
11. DISHONORABLE MENTION: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000 — Nintendo 64, PlayStation)
Make no mistake, “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” was one of the best DC Animated Films of all-time — but, the video game was easily one of the worse attempts at a license. It wasn’t the technology that held the game back — though, that certainly didn’t help, especially for the Nintendo 64 version of the game. No, it was that “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” wasn’t a modern video game by the standards of the new millennium. It was a side-scrolling beat-em-up that was, at best, a poor excuse for a Konami arcade game.
There were so many reasons that this game stood out as one of the worst, from strange power-ups and the complete frustration of combat movement, to the ridiculously stupid jumping sequences that seemed designed to eat up health points to make the final bosses more challenging, the game design was pretty horrendous from top to bottom.
While the game was technically playable, the lack of attention to detail in gameplay, cinematics and faithfulness in what makes a Batman game worth playing made this an incredibly disappointing and terrible effort. Don’t play this game.
10. LEGO Batman: The Videogame (2008, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC)
Traveller’s Tales had a bona fide hit on their hands with the “LEGO Star Wars” series, and “LEGO Batman: The Video Game” would be their first crack at a superhero LEGO game ever — and man, did it ever deliver. The game featured a whopping 30 levels (15 for heroes and 15 for villains) all jam-packed with secrets and Easter Eggs for the discerning Batman fan. Puzzles could be solved by putting Batman and Robin into special power suits that emulated the crazy action figures of yesteryear. Who wouldn’t want to put Batman into a Demolition Suit, or a Sonic Suit? Why not let Robin get all finn’d up in a Dive Suit?
While the gameplay was decidedly LEGO-centric, Traveller’s Tales did quite a bit to up the ante for its first superhero outing. Walking on tightropes, better designed puzzles, and hilarious references with its silent characters (this would be one of the last LEGO games to feature no spoken dialogue) all added up to a winner of a debut.
The game featured a vast array of characters from the Batman universe, with both Hush and Ra’s Al Ghul serving as secret unlockables. It would pale in comparison to the rosters of both sequels, but players could sink hours into this game and still walk away with a smile. “LEGO Batman: The Video Game” would set the gold standard for both LEGO and licensed video games until its sequel came out a few years later.
9. Batman (2013, Arcade)
This one may be a bit of a wild card, but hear me out: “Batman,” an arcade-exclusive game that hit in 2013, is a vehicular combat driving game. The player chooses one of ten different Batmobiles from across the history of the Dark Knight, including “Batman ’66,” most all of the Batman films (including “Batman & Robin”), “Batman: The Animated Series” and even “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” The closest comparison would be a Batman-themed version of “Spy Hunter” with incredible graphics and a lot more of the combat aspects.
Unlike some of the other Batman-themed racing games, “Batman” managed to capture the raw thrill of high-speed chases and combat, and because it’s an arcade cabinet, it forces players to keep their hands on the wheel while activating all those wonderful toys. It’s not a racing game in the traditional sense, as gameplay is based on meeting objectives rather than doing laps.
While the game is a lot of fun, prepare to get some quarters eaten — it’s currently only available in arcades, and there doesn’t seem to be any plan to bring it to home consoles any time soon. Upside, though — if your local arcade has one of the linked cabinets, you can team up with a friend to co-op objectives.
8. Batman Vengeance (2001, PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC)
Video games based on television and movies are always pretty hit-or-miss, “Batman Vengeance” is easily the best game based on “Batman: The Animated Series” lore. From its incredible music that sounds like it could have come directly from the show and fully voice-acted, 3D-animated cutscenes, the game was notable for playing exactly like an episode of the critically-acclaimed series. The opening gameplay sequence even featured credits rolling while Batman dodged an explosion with a hostage! The cast included the usual suspects: Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker), Tara Strong (Batgirl), Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn) and many more familiar voices from the DCAU.
It was the closest thing fans ever got to a full-length video game version of a DC Animated Universe game. While combat and movement were occasionally frustrating (as were the first-person sequences) the game actually felt like you were Batman. It pales in comparison to the current generation Batman games, but it’s still one of the only Batman games before 2008 that really hit the mark with the technology available to it.
7. Batman: Arkham Origins (2013 — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC)
“Batman: Arkham Origins” gets kind of a bad rap. Not only did it not involve “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City” studio Rocksteady, but it went way back in time to when Batman was just starting out as a crimefighter — and there were very few surprises for anybody that had already played an “Arkham” game. The Freeflow combat system, detective mode, stealthy gameplay — all of these are back with a vengeance, and play about as well as they did in the first two rounds.
However, Rocksteady built a good enough system through its first two games that “Arkham Origins” manages to earn a spot in the top ten, even if it doesn’t measure up to the core trilogy. The boss fights were pretty phenomenal, and WB Games Montreal offered more than a few surprises and challenges in that respect. The assassins that were after Batman start off excellently, and there’s a real satisfaction in bringing them down. A special shout-out goes to voice actor Troy Baker, who voiced The Joker in this particular installment. He’s one of the few actors to voice both Batman and The Joker during his career, and he’s done a stellar job with both. Case in point…
6. LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (2012 — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, PC)
“LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” is unique in that it was the first LEGO video game to feature fully voice-acted characters, and marked the debut of Troy Baker as Batman. The game was unique in that it was meant to open up the whole of Gotham City to players, as well as the greater DC Comics superhero roster. The story was charming and humorous, which is expected from a LEGO game, but most fans don’t realize how great it actually is. Unlike many video games, the original story really holds up from start to finish, and makes playing through levels a joy rather than a chore.
This was the start of LEGO’s roster explosion when it came to superhero games. There were 70 different playable characters in “LEGO Batman 2,” including some pretty odd inclusions like Vicki Vale. (That said, it was nothing compared to the direct sequel, “LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.” That game had cameos from Kevin Smith, Adam West and Conan O’Brien.)
The story was so good that it was actually released as a direct-to-DVD film: “LEGO Batman: The Movie — DC Super Heroes Unite,” using the cinematics from the game, with new sequences added to replace gameplay.
5. Batman: Arkham Knight (2015 — PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
Even the least acclaimed of Rocksteady’s incredible “Arkham” trilogy is good enough to make the top five best Batman games on this list. “Batman: Arkham Knight” built upon the mythology created by Rocksteady Games in the first two installments, and brought the trilogy to its grand conclusion. Unfortunately, the much-hyped addition of the Batmobile — and the worst-kept secret of the Arkham Knight’s identity — failed to live up to expectations. In an effort to make all the puzzles and challenges seem fresh, the solutions were mostly centered around the Batmobile’s tech. So, while you finally got to drive around and save Gotham City much like Batman would, the puzzles failed to make players really feel like Batman.
That said, this game still ranks above “Arkham Origins” for its innovative use of character switching — Catwoman gets her time in the spotlight, as do Robin and Nightwing, in a few incredibly innovative character-switching fight sequences. Plus, the ability to explore Gotham in full, in addition to all of its incredible Easter Eggs, is completely and totally awesome.
It wasn’t as good as the first or second outing for Rocksteady’s Batman games, but don’t hold that against it. It’s still among the best.
4. Injustice: Gods Among Us (2013 — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Wii U, PC)
It’s rare for a fighting game to have a compelling character-driven story in the same way that “Injustice: Gods Among Us” did. While it wasn’t directly a game centered around Batman, he played such a major role in the game’s story that it’s tough not to include it on this list. “Injustice” is one of the best modern superhero fighting games of all-time, and gave a viable reason that the world of “Injustice” would pit hero against hero. Batman, Batgirl, Nightwing, Joker and Harley Quinn are all playable characters, and there’s pretty clever usage of alternative skins that bring in Terry McGinnis and Thomas Wayne into the mix as well.
Gameplay was a blast to watch, and even more fun to play. “Mortal Kombat” developer Netherrealm Studios put together a new fighting system that was reminiscent of the classic arcade fighter, but felt original, and unquestionably DC.
In many ways, the story of the game is about Batman versus Superman — and it accomplished the concept better than “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” did! Batman leading a team of insurgents against the dictatorial regime of Superman makes perfect sense on paper, and made for a compelling narrative through the lens of a fighting game.
3. Batman: The Telltale Series (2016 — PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)
It’s only on its second episode, but one thing is clear: “Batman: The Telltale Series” is already one of the best Batman games ever published. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the very top of the lists, Telltale took everything it learned from its many other comic book game endeavors like “The Walking Dead” and “The Wolf Among Us,” and improved them. The developer also clearly has a love for the source material, evidenced by the investigation sequences, and allowing players to experience the game as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.
Much like Telltale’s other games, the surprises come at just the right time, with masterful story pacing that one might find in the best Batman comics. It weaves a story that takes place early on in Batman’s career, establishing his rogues gallery and bringing its own story into the rich lore of the Batman multiverse. The episodic format works extremely well, and some of the new features that Telltale implemented are very cool, like “crowd play,” which allows other people to vote on the story-driven choices you make as Batman.
2. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009 — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)
It should come as no surprise that Rocksteady’s “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is close to the top of the list of greatest Batman games of all-time. Not only was it a fantastic game, with a well-written story by “Batman: The Animated Series” scribe Paul Dini, but it was the first-ever Batman game that had gameplay worthy of the Dark Knight. The Freeflow combat system made players actually believe that they could take on the rioters and psychos in the Asylum. Detective Mode used Batman’s brains in a way that no other game had ever even considered. The villains were well-designed with a darker spin. Plus, it was all anchored by the voice acting of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker.
Although the game took place on the contained grounds of Arkham Asylum, there was plenty to do — and quite a few surprises in store. Rocksteady took the basis of Batman and his rogues gallery and actually put together a game that had enough Easter Eggs, cool action sequences, side missions and boss fights that fans were actually satisfied! And if that weren’t enough, they set up a teaser for things to come.
“Arkham Asylum” was the dawning of a new era for superhero games. But, even for all its impact, it’s not the best Batman game of all-time.
1. Batman: Arkham City (2011 — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC)
“Batman: Arkham City” is the gold standard by which all Batman games should be measured, and to which all of them should aspire.
After “Arkham Asylum,” every Batman fan got incredibly excited for a possible sequel, and when it was announced, expectations were through the roof. Not only would players be able to explore more of Gotham, it would be a section of the city that was taken over by the Asylum, making it more dangerous than ever before for Batman. “Arkham City” not only met expectations, it exceeded them.
“Arkham City” built on the foundation of “Arkham Asylum,” allowing players to keep all the gadgets obtained from the first game, keeping with the realism of the series, and gave players some fantastic new toys. The stealth system, Freeflow combat and detective mode all got a massive upgrade, and Rocksteady even found some incredible ways to use it differently than they had in “Arkham Asylum.” The developer brought back Paul Dini for the most ambitious Batman story ever told in video games and Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill returned to reprise their iconic roles as Batman and The Joker. More characters from Batman’s rogues gallery were also included.
The game was a joy to play, with a story that drew from all aspects of Batman’s lore. The attention to detail, and the incredible amount of Batman that permeated every corner of the game made “Arkham Asylum” feel like a prologue for “Arkham City.” It was, and continues to be, the best Batman game ever made.
What’s your Batman video games ranking? Let us know your take in the comments!
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