Batman Games — A Brief History of the Best of the Dark Knight
Over the past 23 years, there have been twenty different games starring the Dark Knight, and more if you count the different systems! ComicsAlliance has looked at the highs and lows of Batman’s video game career from his 8-bit origins and unlicensed Shinobi cameo to his Lego and Mortal Kombat team-ups!
The first ever Batman game was produced for 8-bit home computers in 1986 by Ocean Software, a company widely known for their licensed titles like “RoboCop” and “WWF WrestleMania.” It was loosely based on the 1966 television series, and saw Batman wandering around a surprisingly dangerous Batcave looking for pieces of a hovercraft so that he could, of course, rescue Robin. While this isn’t exactly the action-packed adventure one would expect for the Caped Crusader, it does have some nice elements, like a chiptune version of the famous ’66 theme song and Batman tapping his foot impatiently while waiting for the player to do something.
If you remember the insane media blitz that surrounded the release of Tim Burton’s first “Batman” movie, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that there were video game tie-ins released on twelve different systems, including an NES version that stands as the first and only video game appearance of ComicsAlliance favorite, the “KGBeast!”
The trend of video games based on Batman’s TV and movie franchises continued in 1994 with a side-scroller for Super Nintendo and Genesis. A tie-in to the “Batman: the Animated Series” cartoon, this one is notable for the stylized “episode title” screens for each level, the fluid animation that captured Bruce Timm’s character designs, and the fact that if you’d seen the episode with the Riddler, you pretty much knew all the answers already.
For the terrible third movie, “Batman Forever,” Acclaim released a fittingly terrible tie-in game that essentially recycled graphics and gameplay from their big hit, “Mortal Kombat“ (not the last time those two would meet), and combined them with unheard-of load times (for a cartridge game!) and a control style that Wikipedia refers to as “unconventional.” The rest of us will probably just stick to “f—ing awful.”
Batman’s video game appearances weren’t limited to his own games: 1989’s “Revenge of Shinobi” featured a stage where the main character battled completely unlicensed bosses modeled after Batman and Spider-Man. Batman’s sprite was later changed for the American release (and Spidey was actually licensed from Marvel), but for a brief period, there was a video game that featured Spider-Man, Batman, and Sonny Chiba. Truly, it was a magical time.
Not to be confused with the far more popular “Project Gotham Racing,” which has nothing to do with Batman, the Playstation’s Gotham City Racer was an odd attempt to capture the success other unlikely racing games like “Mario Kart.” Unfortunately, in addition to making no sense, it played like “Grand Theft Auto“‘s vigilante missions set on an ice rink, and was quickly forgotten.
Another tie-in to the animated series, this was essentially an attempt to create a breakout character for the Batman universe in the form of a new villain, Sin Tzu. Unfortunately, despite a design from superstar artist Jim Lee, Sin Tzu was a flop and was never seen again outside of this game and its accompanying novelization.
In a related story, holy crap, there was a novelization of a Batman video game.
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
If you’re not familiar with this one, don’t worry: It never actually came out. But in the run-up to the release of the second Christopher Nolan movie, a “Grand Theft Auto/Assassin’s Creed” style “sandbox” game was in the works from Australian-based studio “Pandemic Brisbane” (then a division of Electronic Arts), but a combination of an attempt to use an engine built for another game that didn’t fit, rebranding it from a comic-based game to a movie tie-in, and severe time constraints not only killed the project, but led to the dissolution of Pandemic Brisbane itself.
On the surface, throwing the Justice League of America and their villains into a blood-soaked game that rose to prominence mainly because you could get one guy to rip another dude’s spine out seems completely insane, but… well, it actually is pretty nuts, especially once characters like Superman start throwing around the oxymoronic “Heroic Brutality.” We’ve got to admit, though, the Joker’s Fatalities are pretty good and if nothing else, it’s better than 1995’s Justice League Task Force.
For the third game in their series based on the popular building blocks, “Traveler’s Tales” followed up “Lego Star Wars” and “Lego Indiana Jones” with “Lego Batman,” in an obvious attempt to combine every single thing we loved when we were children. In addition to cutesy versions of everyone’s favorite urban vigilante and his mass-murdering foes, Lego Batman also featured the series’ trademark humor, like our favorite moment: Batman’s ill-fated attempt to shop online at Awesome-Capes.com.
BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM (2009)
We’d be remise if we didn’t mention the game listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever.” Written by long time writer of “Batman the Animated Series,” Paul Dini, “Batman Arkham Asylum” was went on to win a slew of best game of the year awards from review sites as well as “Genuinely Best Game of 2009″ from professional video game curmudgeon Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw. Your move “Marvel vs. Capcom 3.”