Batman's Gaming History

by Dan Ryckert on Aug 18, 2010 at 06:00 AM

Arkham Asylum may have blown gamers away last year, but to call the Caped Crusader’s video game history spotty would be generous. While we’re all eagerly awaiting Arkham City, let’s take a look at the road Batman has traveled in an effort to get his video game justice.

(with contributions by Bryan Vore and Jeff Cork)

Batman: The Video Game

Publisher: SunSoft
Developer: SunSoft
Platform: NES
Year of Release: 1990

This early Batman game shows off a side of the character we’re not accustomed to. Batman hopped across platforms with the grace and ease of a ninja, wall jumping his way through a loose interpretation of Tim Burton’s film. Batman punches his arm silly as he battles guys on jetpacks, guys with flamethrowers, and robots. Also, Batman is purple.


Publisher: Atari
Developer: Numega
Platform: Arcade
Year of Release: 1990

The arcade version of Tim Burton’s first Batman game is probably the most faithful way to play through the story. The plot follows that of the film (though with considerably more punching), and digitized stills tell the story. It’s primitive by today’s standards, but it’s effective in its own old-school way. The gameplay is pretty stiff, and the platforming sections only serve to highlight just how rigid Batman moves. Still, at the time of its release it made console players envious for its impossibly large and detailed sprites and scratchy voice samples.

Batman: Revenge of the Joker

Publisher: Sunsoft
Developer: Sunsoft
Platform: Genesis
Year of Release: 1992

Batman put on his concrete boots when he suited up for this Genesis game. If Sunsoft erred by making Batman a tad too nimble in his NES outing, this Genesis follow up is a plodding attempt at course correction. The Dark Knight battles generic goons with the help of an arm-mounted weapon, which shoots a variety of odd-trajectoried beams and other energy attacks. This is one of the reasons players voiced skepticism when Rocksteady announced their intentions to make a new Batman game. We’ve been burned before, you see…

Batman Returns

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1993

Fans of Final Fight style brawlers found plenty to like with the Super Nintendo version of Batman Returns. Loosely telling the story of the film, players controlled Batman as he punched, kicked and Bataranged his way toward his final battle against the fiendish Penguin. Highlights included jump-kicking clowns off of motorcycles, throwing enemies into background elements like shop windows, and grabbing two enemies simultaneously and smacking their heads together. (Interestingly enough, that last move makes a return in Batman: Arkham City. Hmmm…) Sega published Genesis and Sega CD versions of the game, though they were more platform oriented. This was an era in which license holders would sell rights on a platform by platform basis, so it wasn’t uncommon for Nintendo fans to play completely different versions of games with the same title as their Sega counterparts.


The Adventures of Batman & Robin

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Platform: SNES
Year of Release: 1994

Based on Batman: The Animated Series, The Adventures of Batman & Robin did a fantastic job of bringing the television show’s interpretation of the character to gaming. While it followed a side-scrolling format, the game added some clever puzzles and plenty of opportunities for the Caped Crusader to draw from his impressive arsenal of gadgets. Just about everyone from Batman’s rogues gallery showed up in the game, including Clayface, Man-Bat, and the Riddler. The Joker is one of the first enemies Batman battles, in a Mode 7-filled roller coaster clash. Genesis and Sega CD versions of the game were developed by Clockwork Tortoise and released a year later. Those versions added co-op, with the second player taking control of Robin. There were also side-scrolling Batwing sections, which are basically straight-up shooters.

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game

Developer: Iguana
Publisher: Acclaim
Platforms: Playstation, Saturn, Arcade
Year of release: 1996

Acclaim was never known for putting out AAA titles, and Batman Forever: The Arcade Game definitely didn’t change their reputation. It was a sidescrolling brawler in the vein of Final Fight, only way more incomprehensible. Everything moved way too fast, attack animations typically consisted of two or three frames, Batman would occasionally shrink or gain lightning powers, and the announcer sounded like the Mortal Kombat guy with a mouthful of marbles. Arcade beat-em-ups are usually a blast, but this one just had way too much going on at once.

Batman & Robin

Developer: Probe
Publisher: Acclaim
Platform: Playstation
Year of release: 1998

This game is based on the second of two neon-soaked Joel Schumacher Batman films, which is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Based on how it turned out, it seems that the game was trying to be the video game version of its source material. If Resident Evil controlled like a tank on the PSone, Batman & Robin controls like a tugboat in molasses. It featured an incredibly cumbersome control scheme that required the player to switch between an exploration and fighting modes, as well as laughably bad vehicle sections. There have been many bad Batman games, but this one is a definite contender for the absolute worst. At least it does its namesake proud.

Batman: Vengeance

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox
Year of release: 2001

Released in 2001, this PS2 title was based on the animated series The New Batman Adventures. While it wasn’t as abysmal as the Dark Knight’s PSone titles, it was nothing to write home about either. Blending third-person exploration and combat with a first-person aiming mode, Vengeance was at least trying to do something new with the license. Despite having access to the grappling hook, you could only connect to the occasional point marked by a specific insignia, denying gamers any feeling of real freedom. It’s far from the worst Batman game, but it certainly isn’t the best.

Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox
Year of release: 2003

Two years after Vengeance, this title extended the roster and omitted the awkward first-person feature from its predecessor. Not only limited to Batman this time around, players were given access to Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing as well. Rise of Sin Tzu operated as a standard beat-em-up, resembling titles like Fighting Force and Final Fight more than Batman: Vengeance. While the character options were expanded, they all felt very similar, with speed and strength being the only differing stats. Co-op play and upgradable movesets did little to remedy the monotony of this cookie cutter beat-em-up.

Batman: Dark Tomorrow

Developer: HotGen
Publisher: Kemco
Platforms: Gamecube, Xbox
Year released: 2005

We could write about Batman: Dark Tomorrow, or you could watch our Replay of it to see just how terrible it is...

Batman Begins

Developer: Eurocom
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Systems: Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox
Year released: 2005

Based on Christopher Nolan’s 2005 reboot of the film franchise, Batman Begins managed to rise above the quality of the previous Playstation titles, but that doesn’t say a whole lot. It's an average game, with much of the gameplay resembling the Splinter Cell series. At the outset, you’re navigating through a burning building and learning how to stealthily take out guards, just like Sam Fisher’s first outing. Batman is even equipped with optic cables that can be used to peer under doorways. It tries to emulate the feel of being the Caped Crusader by encouraging the use of fear and the environment to defeat your enemies, but this attempt falls flat. By blatantly showing the player what environmental elements can be utilized, any feeling of discovery is stripped from this game. The ideas presented in Batman Begins sound fun on paper, but the end product doesn’t live up to what it could have been.