Since the mid-80s, video games have helped Batman fans indulge their criminal-bashing fantasies at home with no need for a costume (or possible legal action).
Batman’s more of a natural fit for video games than some of his superhuman pals. Why? Despite his martial-arts prowess, Olympian athleticism, sharp detective skills, and enviable gadgets, Batman’s still human. He can be punched, shot, stabbed, or thrown into a well-placed vat of acid, with no mystical or extraterrestrial powers to save him.
Sure, he’s less likely to fall afoul of any of these than the average guy on the street, but he’s not as overpowered as, say, his Kryptonian buddy or Wonder Woman. He’s easier to relate to, and his vulnerability actually gives developers more freedom: there’s no need to pit him against contrived Kryptonite-powered robots or super-strong aliens – Batman games can be challenging enough with more ‘normal’ threats.
On top of all that, Batman’s also got one hell of a cool design: in the best Batman games, he’s a joy to look at, all flowing cape, mean eyes, and smooth combat.
Over the years, though, Batman games have been a mixed Bat-bag. We’ve had plenty of absolute stinkers (we’re looking at you, Dark Tomorrow), but we’ve also had our fair share of great ones, too.
So, join us as we celebrate the wonder that is the great Batman game …
Like Arkham City? Of course you do.
The sequel to 2009’s game-changing Arkham Asylum, Arkham City is still an absolute masterpiece today, almost five years since release. Moving the action from the claustrophobic confines of Gotham’s premier haven for the criminally insane into one sizeable chunk of the city itself, this game is a bigger, tougher, cooler thrill-ride. On top of all this, Paul Dini (the ultimate Bat-scribe) wrote a script chock-full of awesome characters, terrific twists and turns, and a smattering of Bat-lore.
Not played it for a while? Boot it up again, and you’ll be sucked right in.
Batman Returns (SNES)
If you’ve watched Tim Burton’s Batman Returns recently, you’ll know it’s an interesting but flawed flick. While some of the tie-in games were equally off the mark, the SNES release is still a delight to play.
Batman Returns is a gorgeous side-scrolling beat-em-up, pitting Batman against swarms of the Penguin’s Red Triangle Circus Gang. The film’s Gothic Gotham is recreated beautifully, and every character looks just as they should, rendered in big, chunky sprites.
Batman has some great moves too – remember smashing two goons’ heads together? Magic.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin (SNES)
Batman: The Animated Series is, quite rightly, regarded as one of the best incarnations of the Caped Crusader, and this SNES tie-in is mind-bendingly good. The stunning visuals make you feel like you’ve just stepped through your TV screen into the animated world itself, and the game squeezes every ounce of power from the SNES to great effect.
Some of the level design and creativity is staggering, especially that iconic Mode 7 roller-coaster battle with the Joker. This sequence is still jaw-dropping today, and few Batman games have featured anything quite as dynamic, original, and true to the source material since.
The game that kick-started the Dark Knight’s video-game renaissance. Arkham Asylum has it all: a creepy atmosphere missing from most Batman games; a terrific script starring plenty of villains, some well-known, others less-so; and an innovative fighting system. For long-time fans of the comic books, Arkham Asylum was a breath of fresh air, filled with recognisable characters and environments, but still accessible enough for newcomers.
There’s nothing quite like experiencing one of the Scarecrow’s nightmare sequences for the first time, or getting to grips with the FreeFlow system’s beautiful smoothness. Decking bad guys had never been so much fun, especially with such stunning visuals.
A modern classic.
Tim Burton’s 1989 movie was one of the biggest cultural events of all time. Those of us too young (or too unborn!) to realise the film’s impact at the time only need to check out the box-office takings to see how successful it was: over $400 million! That’s a decent taking now, but at the time, it was unbelievable.
Of course, tie-in games came thick and fast over the following years. Batman starred in an arcade game, a beloved ZX Spectrum platformer, and in plenty of other console-releases. While the Genesis version might be the most faithful to the film’s look and range of enemies, the NES release is a more fun, exciting game overall.
Sure, Batman might fight little automated drones and dudes wearing jetpacks, but the game captures his athleticism brilliantly (better than the film itself did!). The locations look true to the film, and Batman’s wall-jumping ability is a nice touch.
This is a fast-moving platformer well worth an hour of your time, Batman or no Batman.
Arkham Knight took a bold step by introducing the Batmobile, and this divided fans: some loved it, while others felt it tainted a winning formula. Regardless, Arkham Knight is still a formidable game, packed with plenty of new features and tweaks.
For the first time, Gotham City is fully accessible from start to finish, allowing for greater exploration. The atmosphere, characters, and refined FreeFlow combat all combine to make an impressive experience that might not live up to the two previous games, but is still a treat for Batman fans.
Released to fill the gap between City and Knight, Arkham Origins saw WB Games Montreal take the reins from Rocksteady. To be fair, apart from a lack of polish, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the difference. Gotham itself, Batman, and the gameplay all have that unique Arkham feel, and the new voice-actors work well.
The storyline may or may not have shoe-horned the Joker in, but it provides some quality insight into the character’s Red Hood days, and getting to infiltrate the GCPD headquarters is a blast.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
While this isn’t strictly a Batman game, the character is one of the most prominent cast-members, and plenty of his extended family and villains fill the roster: Nightwing, Batgirl, Catwoman, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Solomon Grundy, and Bane are all present and correct. Meanwhile, Arkham Asylum, Wayne Manor, the Batcave, and Gotham City feature as arenas.
This is a terrific fighting game, with an awesome storyline (that inspired a huge comic-book spin-off, still running today) and authentic move-sets for each character. The game is also dripping with DC lore, featuring cameos from Deadshot, Scarecrow, and more.
Batman himself is strong, fast, and armed with a nice selection of gadgets, while Kevin Conroy is back on vocal duties.
Batman Begins (PS2)
Batman Begins is a decent tie-in to Christopher Nolan’s fantastic movie, and the Arkham series actually owes a lot to this game.
First and foremost, the stealth elements so common to the Arkham adventures is integral here, with Batman sneaking through levels to take villains out silently. Building fear by disabling villains one by one started also here, and interrogating enemies feels much as it does in the Arkham series.
Still, the main problem with Batman Begins is its lack of replayability: once you’ve finished it, there’s little reason to come back, as stages can only be completed one way. Still, the Batmobile levels are great fun, and the game does recreate the look and feel of the film brilliantly.
It’ll probably be one of the only games ever made to actually feature Christian Bale’s voice work, too.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu
We know this is a controversial choice, but we have a soft spot for Rise of Sin Tzu. Okay, it doesn’t have the innovation or depth of some other Batman games, but it’s still faithful to the source material. As it’s based on the animated series, Rise of Sin Tzu has a beautiful visual style, great soundtrack, and top-drawer voice acting (Kevin Conroy and others are on form).
This 3D beat-em-up has a nice range of upgradeable moves, gadgets, and four characters to choose from. Pairing up with a pal is also fun, allowing Batman, Nightwing, Robin, or Batgirl to kick butt together. Sin Tzu himself was also created just for the game by none other than superstar artist Jim Lee, who knows a thing or two about Batman.
It’s not a classic by any means, but this is worth checking out for completists.
What’s your favourite Batman game? Let us know!