DC Comics and video games have gotten along pretty well in recent years, mostly due to the Batman Arkham series. The man himself seems to be taking a break, however, and letting the “Bat Family” and Suicide Squad take over the leading roles for a while. Rocksteady and WB Montreal both have DC Universe games coming out soon(ish), but it seems like Bruce Wayne will be sitting on the sidelines for a little while. So we figured now was a great opportunity to take a look back at some of the best, and of course worst, of Batman’s video game history.
The Best and Worst Batman Games
Ha! I’m cheating. Batman Arkhams Asylum, City, Origins, and Knight are all top shelf, AAA big Hollywood blockbuster-ass video games that all follow a similar formula and framework. Pitting these games against each other would be a discourse magnet and also make for kind of a boring list, so I’m using the series as a whole! We can go ahead and give this one the top spot, although this writer has mixed feelings about some of these games’ storytelling chops. But their smooth, rhythmic combat sequences and sometimes hilariously antagonistic stealth sequences make this entire series memorable.
Batman Returns (SNES)
Batman games used to be pumped out like crazy, especially in the 8 and 16-bit eras. One game called “Batman” would come out for example, but it would launch for every possible platform and each version would be different despite their shared box art. That said I want to give a special shout-out to Konami’s Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo, as one of the better and more interesting console-only beat ‘em ups of its time. The sprites were huge and detailed to capture the dour aesthetic of the movie, and Batman himself was a monstrous presence. Stealth was not a factor here, and instead Batman would just like, smash dudes into brick walls so hard they crumbled. Tim Burton’s Batman was a serial killer and Konami captured that vibe perfectly.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Sega Genesis)
It took game developers a while to figure out what to do with Batman in 2D games. Brawlers made immediate sense, but didn’t really capture the full spirit. Action-platformers made sense too, but were often too interchangeable with other licensed sidescrollers. Then you have Sunsoft and Sega, which decided separately Batman was totally the appropriate venue for new takes on Contra. Based on the canonized animated series, Sega’s romp on the Genesis was pure video game madness that had the Batman license lovingly painted over it with impressive fidelity for that console. Batman tossing hella batarangs all over the screen was more Gunstar Heroes than Dark Knight, but it was dope so it’s okay.
LEGO Batman: The Video Game
I think we all got a little fatigued with the LEGO games over the years, but that first LEGO Batman game was a real moment. Out around a year before Arkham Asylum, this was really the first time a video game about Batman really felt like it cared for the license, and was also fun to play! Each new collectible led to some reference or another to DC history, and the dialogue-free cutscenes were an absolute riot. The formula got a little stale over the sequels, especially as the later LEGO game house style settled in, but there’s a reason the series became a series in the first place.
Honorable mentions: Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Wii), Batman: The Telltale Series (Various)
Those are some great Batman games! Any of them are easily replayable, and have the same charm of their respective eras even today. But while Batman and DC Comics is pretty settled in AAA territory these days, we can’t forget the Batman IP’s dodgy history. Some real bad games are out there under the Caped Crusader’s brand. One of them hurts to mention here, others totally deserve it.
Batman: Dark Tomorrow (GameCube, Xbox)
This game seemed awesome. It was the hardcore Batman fan’s game, utilizing a 1970s-style aesthetic that felt right out of the Dennis O’Neil era, and actual writers hired to write an actual Batman story. It was an odd pairing, but longtime DC editor Scott Peterson and Kenji Terada (writer for the first three Final Fantasy games?) collaborated in a story that included several lesser-known (at the time) villains such as Black Mask, Scarface, and Ra’s al Ghul. The storyline was even interesting, but the act of actually playing this game was miserable. The controls barely made sense, the camera was a menace, and even if you wrestled those the game’s flow and design was a nightmare to navigate.
As time has gone on the consensus on Batman Forever as a movie has grown more divided, which is actually an improvement. That said, there’s nothing divided about Acclaim’s Batman Forever video games, and we’re tossing them all together here because the whole project was a steaming pile of guano. First of all, these games were built with the console Mortal Kombat II engine, which had no business trying to do anything that wasn’t Mortal Kombat. The digitized characters looked horrible, especially as they had to occupy space in actual video game levels instead of fighting game backgrounds. But besides being ugly, the Batman Forever games were also just lost causes when it came to gameplay.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
Speaking of Mortal Kombat, this was a thing that happened. While people are really into Injustice these days, the Mortal Kombat brand’s first run at the concept was an unmitigated disaster. There were some neat ideas stuffed in here, but the overall package suffered from many of the same issues plaguing the late Midway-era Mortal Kombat games. It was a bit too stiff, a bit too visually muddled, and the restrictions imposed by DC Comics at the time really hampered the series’ traditional… impact. Of course, Midway went under before the team could really do anything with it, so that was all she wrote until Warner Brothers took over.
Honorable mentions: Batman & Robin (PlayStation), that obnoxious Batman arcade driving game you see in movie theaters sometimes
- Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League Is Set in the Batman: Arkham Universe
- Batman: The Telltale Series Walkthrough and Guide
- Prima Game of the Week | Injustice 2
What did you think of this list? Remember any other Batman games you think were worth playing? Do you actually like MK vs. DCU? Let us know what you think over at the Prima Games Facebook and Twitter channels!