Comic book license games are generally of middling quality to outright atrocious experiences; that is fact. Even those starring the internet’s ultimate superhero, Batman, aren’t immune to bad game design: hi Batman Forever & Batman: Dark Tomorrow.
Which is why we should be thankful for the Batman Arkham series, for they exceed expectations on what a great Caped Crusader-centric game should be like. Great action, open world Metroidvania-style exploration gameplay, deft use of the source material and expanding upon it further; it’s the perfect Batman experience sans the Batmobile (which has been rectified in the latest entry).
Let’s celebrate this momentous occasion by counting down the top 5 Batman games that almost live up to the standards of the Arkham series. These games were picked because they’re fun, with some of them ranking higher due to their adherence to the source material.
5. Batman: Return of the Joker (NES)
What Is It? In this 1992 side-scrolling platformer, you play as a gun-toting Batman as you hunt down the Joker through eight stages of shoot-em-up and platforming hell. The good kind of hell.
Why It’s Here: Sunsoft’s second Batman game was its own thing instead of being based on the existing films, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Batman: Return of the Joker’s strength is diverting slightly from its source material; you can’t say you are bored fighting off kabuki warriors, flying soldiers, and guys in giant mechanical 90s contraptions using spread shots and special explosive batarangs. All while listening to a kickass soundtrack.
4. Batman Returns (1992 for the Super NES and NES)
What Is It? A 2D beat em’ up by Konami. You play as the Caped Crusader as you beat up a bunch of clowns terrorizing Gotham City.
Why It’s Here: In an age where size and scope matters (in retrospect, it’s not so different even now), Batman Returns’ combat blew other games out of the park just because of how it sounded and played like. Other side-scrollers on the consoles like the Final Fight port and Streets of Rage series are better, but neither of them had Batman, a cool music score inspired by the iconic Danny Elfman theme, and moves where you could throw dudes into the background and even smack clowns to each other with your Bathands.
The NES version may not be as spectacular-looking, but it’s easier and still retains the elements of what makes a Konami beat-em-up great: doses of variety in-between its face-punching clown-clobbering lunacy.
3. Batman: Vengeance (2001 for the Xbox, PS2, GameCube,and PC)
What Is It? Before Assassin’s Creed came in the picture, Ubisoft Montreal was doing game tie-ins to film and TV properties. The New Batman Adventures was one of them; the team created an exclusive story and game that’s set between that animated show and Justice League.
Why It’s Here: It’s the building blocks of a Batman adventure game that preceded the Arkham series. Players got to experience a kick-ass Batman story featuring the voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the hero and The Joker respectively, while fighting bad guys, exploring levels, and solving puzzles Tomb Raider style. Even with some issues with the controls, it was the closest anyone came to recreating the iconic animated show in 3D without resorting to making it a beat-em-up.
2. Batman (NES, Megadrive)
What Is It? One of the first few movie tie-in games on early consoles, this action platformer was created by Sunsoft, a company known for luminary titles like Blaster Master and the port of Lemmings on the Super NES
Why It’s Here: You never forget your first, and that’s what these two Batman games were: an introduction to young gamers in the late 80s to the Caped Crusader experience. You walk from left to right, you punch and shoot your way through killer clowns and jetpack-riding mofos, and Sunsoft made damn sure that it’s felt fun and sounded great from beginning to end.
The basic action platformer formula is the same for both the NES and Megadrive version, but there were some key differences. In the former, you could walljump, shoot different sorts of Batarangs and pocket rockets, and fight mutants. In the latter, the game mimicked its source material pretty closely, with “realistic” clown and thug villains and a Batmobile/Batplane segment.
1. LEGO Batman: The Videogame Series
What Is It? Made during a time by Traveller’s Tale before they were completely resigned to do LEGO game tie-ins, the team wanted to branch out to do something original with a comic book property. Together with DC Comics and Batman theme composer Danny Elfman, they went on to create the LEGO Batman video games, an obvious nod to the campy Batman ‘66 TV show but in Danish brick form.
Why It’s Here: If you prefer your adventures in Gotham City a little more colourful and tongue-in-cheek, look no further than the lovely LEGO Batman series. While not exactly groundbreaking in the gameplay department, its 3D action platforming sessions with multiplayer is fun for everyone of all ages to get into. No pencil in the eye and back-breaking here, no siree bob!
This also marks the first time you get to play as one of the many rogues like The Riddler or The Joker in a Batman game, each with their own power-ups and unique abilities. Subsequent entries also added in guest stars like the Justice League to mix things up beyond Gotham, but still making Batman and his main foes the focus of the story. Great fun all-around for kids, parents, and fans of the comic.
Also don’t forget about this Batman: Arkham Knight contest. The game is out now in Asia for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.