The Defender of Gotham, The Dark Knight, The Caped Crusader, World’s Greatest Detective, one half of the Dynamic Duo… Batman. One of the most popular superheroes and perhaps DC Comics best asset? Anyway, Batman has had quite a decent run in terms of cinema with some pretty darn great films over the years. But what about his digital version, what about games?
Well, that’s exactly what I’m going to do here. I’m looking back on some of the Batman games I grew up playing and take a look at Batman in gaming over the years. I’m not going to cover every Batman starring game, cos well there are bloody loads of them and this retrospective would end up running longer than my Pac-Man one. So I’m just sticking to the titles that I’ve played over the years and the games I remember most.
I feel that Batman has been treated with a lot more respect in terms of video games than most other superheroes and he has had quite a few good and even great games. So let’s start with the first-ever Batman game I played and the first one released.
Published by Ocean Software and developed by Jon Ritman & Bernie Drummond, released in 1986 for pretty much every 8-bit microcomputer at the time. Batman featured a 3D isometric viewpoint and had you playing as The Dark Knight trying to save Robin and collecting seven parts of the missing Batcraft. Pretty much a platform-puzzler with plenty of devious rooms to test your skills. Batman was very well received when it was released, getting high scores and praise from the gaming press. It even went on to reach number two in the UK sales charts.
Batman was really good fun back then and one I played quite a bit of… but still never completed it.
The game has been remade by several fans over the years. Watman was released for PC in 2000 and there was also a fantastic remake produced by Retrospec’s Batman that is well worth checking out.
Batman: The Caped Crusader
Developed by Special FX Software Ltd and Published by Ocean Software. This game was released on a plethora of 8 and 16-bit computers back in 1988. Using a comic book style where leaving one screen would open a new ‘panel’, keeping the last panel in the background as to give an impression that you were flicking through a comic.
Batman: The Caped Crusader offered two different scenarios to play through, one featuring The Joker and another one featuring The Penguin. You could play through the scenarios in any order but they were pretty much the same thing anyway, just with different henchmen and backgrounds. Obviously, you play as Batman, who has to take down henchmen, solve puzzles and finally defeat The Joker/Penguin. This was another Batman game that was originally well received upon release. With many reviewers praising the colourful and detailed graphics, but also noting the game was very maze-like as it was easy to get lost, resulting in a lot of backtracking.
To be honest, I never really liked this one too much. I just found it a bit dull and clunky with all the walking around, getting lost and a lot of the screens being empty with nothing to do. The combat was also very limited and tiresome and the inventory screen was painfully slow and cumbersome too.
Also known as Batman: The Movie. This one hit the market in 1989 to coincide with the Tim Burton movie, developed and published by Ocean Software. This was another game that popped up on several of the 8 and 16-bit computers. You control Batman through five stages based on scenes from the movie including: the Axis Chemical Plant, Streets of Gotham and Gotham Cathedral. Mixing up several gameplay styles, using side-scrolling action-platforming for two of the levels, two vehicle-based levels where you use the Batmobile and Batplane and a puzzle stage where you have to find various components for Joker’s Smilex toxin.
Batman was very well received with it reaching number one in the charts and even being awarded ‘Game Of The Year’ in Crash magazine. This title was a cracker with a fair challenge and varied gameplay… but it was way too short and you could complete it in twenty-odd minutes once you know what you were doing. Still, I would often play and replay through the game over and over again. Plus, I still remember the ‘jammmmmmmmmmm’ cheat code after all these years.
Batman: The Video Game
This one was also based on Tim Burton’s movie, but this is not just a port of the previous game. This was a whole new game built from the ground up just for the NES. Originally released in 1989 in Japan, then 1990 for America and Europe. Developed and published by Sunsoft. While this was based on Tim Burton’s movie, it also added a few ideas not in the film including villains besides Joker. Deadshot, Heat Wave, Nightslayer, Killer Moth and Firebug all make an appearance here to help pad out the action.
With you playing as Batman and using his many gadgets like the Batarang, and a Batspeargun. Batman could also wall jump, which was a very handy feature and used to get around some extremely tricky platforming sections. As the game was from Sunsoft, you got great story lead cutscenes and amazing music as most Sunsoft games had. The game’s reception was very good and is still referred to as one of the best NES games ever made.
I remember playing this on my friend’s NES back in the early 90s. Being a huge fan of the movie, the game was a welcome addition. Welcome, but man was this tough. Never unfair though and you’d find yourself making steady progress as long as you utilised Batman’s gadgets and skills. An absolutely amazing action-platformer and still rightly regarded as one of the all-time great classic games.
This one was an arcade only game released in 1990. Developed by Numega and published by Atari Games. Batman was a simple scrolling beat ’em up-platformer and featured scenes directly based on the 1989 movie, as well as stages where you use the Batmobile and Batwing. Also uses voices and digitised images taken directly from the movie to tell the story as well as featuring Danny Elfman’s amazing Batman score. With you playing as Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham trying to stop The Joker. The game was shallow and repetitive… but it was also good mindless fun. It’s an arcade game and designed to eat up your loose change.
For a scrolling beat ’em up, this was not a bad one at all. The graphics were dark and moody, capturing Burton’s film pretty damn well. Not a great game, but it was still good enough to warrant a play or several.
Batman: Return of the Joker
The sequel to the NES Batman game that was based on the 1989 film. But this sequel NES game, released in 1991, was made before the official Batman Returns movie sequel (confused yet?). Yes, we have a sequel to a game based on a movie that (at the time) didn’t have a sequel. Once more developed and published by Sunsoft, so you know you’re in for an awesome soundtrack if nothing else.
There were various ports of this game released on other formats that all slightly differed from version to version, but I only played this NES version. The plot is that Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum and you, playing as Batman, have to survive through several side-scrolling levels set in and around Gotham City and stop Joker. Batman is only equipped with a Batgun/wrist-thing that fires various, selectable projectiles which are collected through the levels.
I didn’t find this one as enjoyable as the previous NES Batman game, it just did not have the same feel. This one felt more like a scrolling shoot ’em up and an average one at that. It’s was not a bad game at all, just not as good as the previous one.
Again, there were various versions of this title. But I’m going for the SNES version for this retrospective as it was really damn good. Released in 1993, developed and published by Konami for the SNES. Batman Returns was a scrolling beat ’em up with some really great little touches to add a lot of depth to this fairly shallow genre. Massively redundant and mindless but an awesome and satisfying experience nonetheless. Based on the film of the same name from Tim Burton, the game followed the movie really well too with you playing as Batman having to save Gotham City from Catwoman and the Penguin.
Simple in its style, but full of great little features and details. Like being able to grab two henchmen at once and smash their heads together, or the ability to throw enemies into the background smashing windows and denting lampposts, etc. Stages were intercut with amazing cutscenes and written dialogue taken right from the film as well as using Danny Elfman’s infamous Batman score to great effect. Another thing that I always remember is how you could save Selina Kyle in the game just like in the film… ”you missed”. Well worth playing through if you can and one of the better 16-bit beat ’em ups.
The Adventures Of Batman & Robin
The Adventures of Batman & Robin was an action-platformer (and a bit of puzzling too) released in 1994 for the SNES. Developed and published by Konami and based on the critically acclaimed and utterly awesome Batman: The Animated Series TV show. You play as Batman, with Robin only appearing in cutscenes. Each level was based on one of the main villains, with a rogues gallery like: The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, The Riddler, Clayface and even Man-Bat. Each level had its own flavour and style based on each of the villains which in turn was based on an episode of the TV show itself. The Riddler stage featuring a lot of puzzles and riddles for example.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin really was a fantastic game. Dark, moody and well animated, it looked just like the TV show it was based on. As each level had its own villain based aesthetic and style, they brought a great mix of gameplay styles that offered plenty of variation from simple beat ’em up and platforming action to head-scratching puzzles and more.
From one of the best Batman games on the SNES to one of the worst. This was released in 1995 for the SNES, Sega Mega Drive and a few others. Developed by Probe Entertainment and published by Acclaim. Let’s be honest, it does not matter which version I talk about here as they were all really, really, really bad.
Based on the third film of the same name. This one has you playing as either Batman or Robin, or even Co-Op 2 player… if you can find anyone that would want to play this game. A side-scrolling beat ’em up with some of the worst and most awkward controls ever seen in a game. Sluggish combat inspired by Mortal Kombat that just does not work, awkward gadget selection and usage. Topped off with some truly terrible level design with little to no idea of where to go or what to do.
I really have nothing to say here. It’s a terrible game and should be avoided at all costs, not even worth playing just for curiosity sake. This game is so bad that I’d rather watch the film that it is based on.
Batman Forever: The Arcade Game
Yet another game based on the movie of the same name, but a very different game from the previous Batman Forever… thankfully. Developed by Iguana Entertainment, published by Acclaim and released in 1996. This was an arcade game that was later ported to the Sega Saturn, Windows and PlayStation.
While this was another one of those redundant scrolling beat ’em ups. But unlike the last Batman Forever game, this one was actually pretty decent. It was another mindless button-mashing game and allowed you to play co-op as Batman and Robin trying to stop The Riddler and Two-Face.
Decent action romp with a pretty good combo system allowing you to do a 150+ hit combo on one enemy if you knew how. Plenty of OTT powerups, weapons and gadgets to use along the way too. Yes, it’s an inane button-masher, but it still has some playability value in there and it’s far, far, far better than that previous Batman Forever game. Worth checking out.
I’ll end here, but there is more Batman action to come in Part two. Same Bat-website, same Bat-time… sorry.