EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article originally appeared on BOF in February of 2013. Since it comes from BOF’s archives, it does not include BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS or the upcoming (as of April 2014) BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT; though I’m sure both would have made the list. Enjoy! – Bill “Jett” Ramey
Dishonorable Mention: BATMAN FOREVER (SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear)
I can say without hesitation that Acclaim’s Batman Forever tie-in (on any platform) is the worst Batman game, period. For some reason, the developers took the control scheme from a two-player fighting game like Mortal Kombat and used it in a side-scrolling platform/action game.
The results were horrendous. The combat itself was awkward and unresponsive. And then, when there were points in a level where you needed to use your grappling hook to climb up a level or drop down a level, the controls to do so were laughably ridiculous. On the SNES, to use the grappling hook, the player must press the “up” button slightly after pressing the select button. After seeing countless videos and discussions online about how terrible this game was, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Honorable Mention: Batman & Robin (PS1)
Yes, we all know that Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin was a terrible movie. And yes, the game for the original Playstation is pretty terrible as well. However, the developers at Probe Entertainment incorporated a surprising amount of innovation into the game, even if the overall package was lacking.
Long before Batman: Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, the Batman & Robin game actually puts the players in a sandbox world. The player can become Batman, Robin, or Batgirl and explore Gotham in their own unique vehicles while completing missions. The game even incorporates real-world time: for example, if you don’t do your detective work and find out that Mr. Freeze is going to rob a bank at 5:00 A.M., he’s still going to rob the bank and Batman is going to look pretty stupid.
And speaking of detective work, the game actually has two control schemes – one for fighting and another to find clues. The only problem is that they work terribly together. So if you wanted to punch a guy off a balcony and glide down to finish him off, you had to awkwardly switch between the two sets of controls to do so. Overall, the game had an interesting vision but poor execution.
10) The Adventures of Batman and Robin (Genesis)
As a kid, my video game systems tended to favor the Nintendo side, so I didn’t have the chance to enjoy The Adventures of Batman and Robin when it was first released. Luckily, I bought this pretty awesome laserdisc player at a flea market and flipped out when I learned that it had a built-in Sega Genesis!
Naturally, I picked up anything Batman-related I could find for the system. In my opinion, this adaptation of the animated series rises above the others on Sega’s console. It’s not as polished as the SNES game and doesn’t capture the look and feel of the series as good, either, but it does have a couple of good things going for it.
One of these pluses is that unlike the SNES game, the Genesis version features two-player co-op, with one player as Batman and the other as Robin. And although I did say the graphics in this game didn’t capture the show as good as the SNES, that doesn’t mean the graphics were bad. One of Sega’s big selling points for the game was “revolutionary animation and special effects” using a proprietary 3D sprite driver.
And man, they weren’t kidding. Even today, I can look back at some of the effects they pulled off in this game and it gets NUTS with explosions in your face, lots of on-screen enemies, and the occasional 3D-esque environments that were seamlessly integrated into a 2D world.
9) Batman: The Animated Series (Game Boy)
I just had to get a Game Boy game on this list! Nintendo’s original handheld system is one of my favorites. I’m still amazed by the great things game developers were able to do with such limited hardware.
Out of all the Batman games released for the original Game Boy (there were 4), Batman: The Animated Series is definitely the best one. Here’s some trivia: it’s the only video game with “B:TAS” as the title, and it’s the first game that lets you play as Robin. And, the game’s storyline takes place a bit before Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face.
Unlike the Genesis version, however, B:TAS for the Game Boy is a single-player affair. Instead of letting you choose whether you wanted to play as Batman or Robin at will, the developers at Konami took a more creative approach. If you hadn’t spoiled yourself, playing as Robin was actually a surprise! At two points in the game, Batman has to go off on another villain’s trail, leaving the player in control of Robin.
Villains like Joker, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and The Riddler all make appearances here. For a Batman game that can fit in your pocket, that’s no small feat.
8) Batman Returns (SNES)
BATMAN RETURNS – as a film – is probably the most divisive Batman movie to date. Some love it and will defend it to the death, while others hate it and consider it unwatchable. However, Konami’s Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo is an absolute blast to play. The gameplay is very similar to Capcom’s Final Fight series, but with a Batman makeover. It’s a great example of a game developer taking an established game genre and not only putting their own stamp on it, but enhancing it at the same time.
The game’s controls are pretty simple and easy to pick up, giving the whole affair a very arcade-type feel. Batman can punch, kick, glide, use gadgets, etc. And beyond your standard combat moves, you can grab enemies by the scruff of their collars and smash them to the ground. You can throw them into storefronts and shatter glass everywhere. And, just like in the movie, you can take two thugs and bash their heads together. Pretty satisfying stuff!
Beyond the gameplay itself, the developers really captured the look and feel of the film, and took the trouble to get a lot of Danny Elfman’s now-famous score into a 16-bit format. If you want to play a 2D Batman game that’s about nothing but punching bad guys in the face, this is the Batman game for you.
7) Batman: The Video Game (NES)
I have a strong suspicion that Batman: The Video Game for the NES was “THE” Batman game that a lot of kids from the early 90s grew up with. I didn’t get to experience it until six or seven years after it was released, but when I first played it, I was hooked.
The game’s infamous difficulty is on par with a lot of other NES titles released around that time, such as Ninja Gaiden or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that wasn’t a bad thing. The game was good. The controls were responsive, the boss levels were challenging, and the 8-bit music still gets stuck in my head. And, like in Ninja Gaiden, Batman can wall jump to scale incredible heights!
There are a few negatives, though. Some of the other games based on BATMAN ’89 (like the Sega Genesis or Arcade versions) do a better job of capturing the style of the film. The NES game is most certainly a game first and an adaptation second. The game’s cut scenes feature moments from the film, whereas the levels themselves don’t follow the plot so tightly.
Although it’s not the most faithful adaptation in the world, it’s still one of the Batman video games I revisit most often.
6) The Adventures of Batman and Robin (SNES)
It wasn’t very hard to find a spot for this game on the list. Out of all of the 2D game adaptations of B:TAS, The Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Super Nintendo is by far the best. At one point, the game was actually titled Batman: The Animated Series, just like the Game Boy game, but it got held back so it could be released just as the animated series changed names for its second season.
Although the game was developed as a single-player, “Batman only” game, the developers then included Robin (in non-playable form) in some of the game’s levels and cut-scenes to match the show’s new title. Not having a playable Robin was one of the game’s few criticisms, but it never bothered me a bit.
What makes this game so special is how closely the developers at Konami were able to emulate the style and feel of the animated series. The game is broken up into a number of “episodes” that were based off actual episodes of the series, and each one had its own title card and cut-scenes to set up the story.
Plus, the boss levels in the game were just spectacular. In the game’s very first stage, you get to fight The Joker, while riding on an out-of-control rollercoaster, reminiscent of the “Be a Clown” episode. The game also takes cues from “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich”? And MASK OF THE PHANTASM. So yeah, this game is awesome!
5) Lego Batman/Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Over the past couple of years, the two entries in the LEGO Batman series have been an incredible counterpart to the more hardcore and gritty fare offered by Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. By the time developer Traveler’s Tales got around to giving the Batman makeover to their LEGO video game formula, they had learned so much from their previous games that the original LEGO Batman was allowed to achieve greater heights than what had come before, with a huge number of playable characters and Bat-vehicles at the player’s disposal.
It should come as no surprise that LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes took things even further. Not only is the game gorgeous, but Traveler’s Tales turned Gotham City into a fully explorable sandbox, so the player can fight crime at their leisure, or seek out the more linear levels with the story points.
Another plus to these LEGO games is that they’re a blast to play with a friend. The co-op gameplay allows a second person to drop in or out of the game at will. And, the developers do a great job at respecting the source material while having fun with it at the same time.
Way back in 2001, I was greatly anticipating getting Batman: Vengeance for the Gamecube that I had just received for my 14th birthday. The Gamecube was my first “launch day” game console, and there hadn’t been any fantastic Batman games in quite a few years. As soon as Vengeance was announced earlier that year, I followed every scrap of news I could find, hoping to goodness that this could game could be “my” Batman game.
And it was.
Vengeance was the first breath of fresh air after the games for Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, and Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker. Ubisoft Montreal took the style and characters from The New Batman Adventuresand brought them into the third dimension. With a fantastic original story, fluid character animation, and gorgeous cut-scenes brought to life by the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, Batman: Vengeance had a lot going for it.
Still, it’s not a perfect game, with the game’s combat system being a little simplistic and a cumbersome first-person mode to use your Bat-gadgets. However, those nitpicks are something that the 14-year-old me got over real quickly because the rest of the game is so good. Plus, a good chunk of the plot features Mr. Freeze, and it’s (to date) Michael Ansara’s last performance of the character. That alone is worth the price of admission.
3) Batman: Dark Tomorrow (Gamecube, Xbox)
For those of you familiar with this game’s infamous reputation, you might be wondering exactly how it made the #3 spot. Consider this: which Batman video game first incorporated stealth in addition to combat? Which one had a sword fight with Ra’s al Ghul? Or had a comic book prologue? And which game’s storyline was written by one of the Batman comic book writers?
That’s right. Arkham Asy…wait, no. That was actually Kemco’s Batman: Dark Tomorrow. For all of its flaws (mostly stemming from the poor camera controls), this game was extremely ambitious and paved the way for more…ahem…”polished” Batman games down the line.
If you can’t get into the game itself, check out the game’s CG cut-scenes online – they’re amazing! Also, the game’s main theme was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and is most certainly on my list of great Batman themes.
And if you do pick the game up, do yourself a favor and get the Nintendo Gamecube version. The graphics are better, Batman’s cape animations are much more fluid and lifelike, and there are bonus items throughout the game that unlock concept art and music tracks. The Xbox version was a rushed port, so it isn’t as polished and doesn’t have any of the bonus stuff.
I think it’s pretty apparent that I have an odd fondness for this crummy game that could’ve really been something special under the right circumstances. I will say that only the most die-hard Batman fans should give Dark Tomorrow a shot. So…everyone reading this article, right?
2) Batman Begins (Gamecube, Xbox, PS2)
In my opinion, the tie-in game for Batman Begins is one of the most underrated video games based on a licensed character out there. Developer Eurocom did such a commendable job translating Christopher Nolan’s revitalized vision for Batman into the digital realm.
So many things the developer did in the game just make sense in the way that they were able to take ideas and events from the film and translate it into gameplay. For example, most video games have a training or tutorial level designed to familiarize the player with the controls and gameplay. So, naturally, for the training level in the Batman Begins game, you get to control Bruce Wayne in Ra’s al Ghul’s Himalayan fortress, learning how to strike from the shadows at the heart of criminality. Seriously, how cool is THAT?
By the time you take control of Batman and start taking out thugs left and right, you learn that the direct approach isn’t always the best one. A good portion of the game is learning how to use the environment to your advantage. “Mind your surroundings,” as it were. Once you fill up your “indimidation” meter, your enemies are at their most vulnerable. So, yes, Batman Begins is quite literally an “intimidation game.”
And to top it all off, Batman Begins has the best driving sequences in any Batman game to date. Two of the game’s levels have you barreling through Gotham in the Tumbler, and it’s extremely satisfying and does a great job of putting you in the driver’s seat. It’s such a shame that the game doesn’t really get the praise it deserves
1) Batman: Arkham Asylum/Batman: Arkham City (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU)
Come on, how could I NOT put these two games at the very top of the list!
These games are so damn good that not only did Batman fans take notice, but so did the entire game industry. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are now the benchmark for how to handle a video game for a licensed property, and for good reason. The games’ developers, Rocksteady, had the time, budget, and passion required to turn what could have been a quick, run-of-the-mill cash-in into two of the most critically acclaimed video games in the past decade.
Seriously, these games have just about everything you could hope for in a Batman game (except for maybe driving The Batmobile). Everything these games have to offer gives the player something just as rewarding as experiencing Batman in any other medium…only in these games, YOU get to be Batman. The controls, gameplay, graphics, score, story, re-playability…everything in these games has a level of polish and detail that’s hard to match.