With movie blockbuster The Batman fast approaching, and the DC Universe expanding exponentially in an effort to mirror the success of arch-rivals Marvel, the Caped Crusader has never felt so ubiquitous. As well as his own movies, the World’s Greatest Detective has appeared in numerous cameo roles in other DC productions, countless animated incarnations, and of course enough video games to fill the Batcave.
With yet another game in the Arkham series due in 2022 with Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League, there’s never been a better time to look back at thirty-five years of The Batman’s career in gaming. Just like his infamous rogues’ gallery, the Dark Knight’s back catalogue contains some fascinating games.
Life Before Arkham: The Batman Games Up To 2008
Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009 to a rapturous reception from fans and critics, and ushered in a decade of sequels and spin-offs that continued its epic story. However, prior to this modern incarnation, Batman had already appeared in countless video game adaptations, starting way back in 1986. His first outing was simply called Batman, published by Ocean Software for the ZX Spectrum and other home computer systems. The game featured an isometric viewpoint and an early incarnation of a save game system, and received favorable reviews.
Ocean followed this up with another game, Batman: The Caped Crusader in 1988, and then a 1989 movie tie-in for the Tim Burton blockbuster once again entitled Batman. Both games were highly praised, and Batman topped the sales charts, as well as being awarded Game of the Year by Crash magazine.
It seemed that Batmania had spilled over from Hollywood into the fledgling video games medium, and it wasn’t long before a NES Batman game was released, also in 1989, to positive reception. Movie spin-offs continued with Batman releases on the Game Boy, Sega Genesis, PC Engine, and an Atari-made arcade game in 1990. By this point, the games had switched to a side-scrolling platformer format, a genre that suited the hardware of the time, and this trend continued when 1991’s Batman: Return Of The Joker released for the Game Boy, NES, and Genesis.
Throughout the nineties, the games would largely mirror the release of various TV and film incarnations of the Caped Crusader. Batman Returns, the Tim Burton movie sequel, received its obligatory video game tie-in in 1992 across multiple consoles, while Batman: The Animated Series earned a Game Boy adaptation in 1993.
Other noteworthy releases were 1995’s Batman Forever, which introduced beat ’em up gameplay to the franchise, but was critically eviscerated for its sluggish gameplay. The similarly ill-fated 1998 release of Batman & Robin for the new PlayStation console saw similar reception. In a matter of years, the movie franchise and its video game representations had gone from award-winning to widely condemned.
This mediocrity did not staunch the flow of new Batman tie-ins, however. A slew of titles followed in the new millennium; ranging from a racing game in 2001 with Batman: Gotham City Racer, to tie-ins with the Christopher Nolan Batman Begins movie in 2005, and even a Lego Batman: The Videogame release in 2008. None of these have stood the test of time, and Gotham’s protector seemed condemned to a video game existence more frustrating than the Riddler’s puzzles.
Batman Reborn: The Arkham Asylum Games
Batman: Arkham Asylum was hailed as a masterpiece by fans and critics when it was released on PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2009. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprised the roles they had made famous in the beloved 1990s animated series, appearing as Batman and the Joker in a dark adventure within Gotham’s infamous asylum.
This afforded developer Rocksteady Studios an opportunity to include an array of other popular Batman villains, all gleefully released from incarceration by the Clown Prince of Crime and itching to torment the Dark Knight. Most notably, this roster included Harley Quinn, voiced by Arleen Sorkin, who had made the character such a smash hit when she debuted in Batman: The Animated Series.
The game’s blend of cinematic storytelling with an innovative mixture of 3D action adventure, brawler, and Metroidvania gameplay, alongside smart puzzles, were lauded by reviewers. Arkham Asylum currently holds the Guinness World Record for “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever.”
Its huge success enabled Rocksteady to develop a number of sequels to continue the game’s expansive story, resulting in the enormously popular 2011 release of Batman: Arkham City. This time the franchise flexed its open world muscles, allowing Batman to explore an area five times the size of the original Batman: Arkham Asylum, and once again delighting fans by featuring the voice talents of Conroy and Hamill.
The next Arkham game was a prequel entitled Batman: Arkham Origins, and was not developed by Rocksteady. Arkham Origins, along with its sequel Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, were both released in 2013 and received mixed reviews due to technical issues and a perceived lack of originality. Rocksteady returned to lead the development of Batman: Arkham Knight, which was released for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One in 2015. Although the game received generally positive reviews, criticism was levied at the overuse of the Batmobile and some of the storytelling decisions. However, this did not stop the game from becoming the year’s fastest-selling title.
A widely criticized VR game, Batman: Arkham VR was released in 2016 and was considered by many to be little more than a showcase for the new Sony technology. Batman: Return to Arkham, a remastered collection of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, was released in the same year, but was criticized for some of its remastered lighting effects and for a frame rate capped at 30 FPS.
The critical and commercial success of the Arkham series has led to another upcoming DC game; with Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League set to release in 2022, alongside another major Batman release that year, Gotham Knights. Developed by WB Montreal, this title is set in a world where Batman is dead, and the player must instead assume control of other members of the Bat-family like Nightwing and Batgirl. It is not tied to the Arkham games and will instead establish its own new continuity.
There have also been other, non-Arkham Batman releases in the past decade. Before the company’s shuttering, Telltale released a well-regarded series in 2016 that spanned five episodes, as well as a sequel, entitled Batman: The Enemy Within. Batman: The Brave and the Bold — The Videogame released in 2010, as well as two more Lego Batman releases, and even a 2013 arcade driving game simply called Batman. The Dark Knight has also appeared countless times in cameo roles in other titles, including as a playable warrior in fighting games like Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe and Injustice: Gods Among Us.
With such an overwhelming array of titles to choose from, fans of the World’s Greatest Detective have plenty to sate their Bat-cravings while they await the release of The Batman in early 2022. Just like the movies, Batman’s video game appearances have varied widely in quality and success, but it’s clear that — unlike in the Gotham Knights storyline — the Dark Knight’s crime-fighting career is far from finished.
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