The Caped Crusader has been present in the digital world for as long as any of us can remember, whether in TV, movie or videogame form. But regardless of the medium, Batman has had a few adventures that have been memorable enough that they’ve made an impact on the world of videogames even when the dark knight hasn’t appeared in them directly.
Batman is one of those rare heroes who translates well into a videogame. He has no super powers, like Superman’s invincibility. He’s like a ninja in hand-to-hand combat as he roams the thug-filled streets of Gotham City. And he had a simple utility belt that still makes Solid Snake’s arsenal look small in comparison. Batman’s world is almost like a videogame when you break it down like that, with gadgets, goons and a gothic cityscape to fight in that seems almost surreal in scope.
But most important, he’s just like you and me. Sure, he’s driven by a desire to rid the streets of crime, but he’s also motivated by the darker tragedy of his parents. In a lot of ways, this connects Batman to some aspect of each one of us; we can all identify with tragedy, obligation and the drive to do good at some measure of personal cost.
Batman is a character whose adventures have appeared across almost all systems, and everyone has likely played a Batman game. One of the earliest and most memorable was the Batman game for the NES, which could attribute its success to its great gameplay, fantastic graphics (for the time) and its soundtrack. This was one of the times a game’s soundtrack would actually stick with you, and it’s since been remixed more than a few times at Ocremix.org. It was a fantastic game that really showed what a good movie-based game could be like. It’s funny to think that in the 8-bit days there weren’t many bad property-based games as there are now, but that’s really just a matter of opinion. Ducktales and Batman were two examples of awesomeness, but we also had titles like LJN’s Friday the 13th Reek of Crap. But I digress.
The NES Batman did so many things right for its time, but its follow up, Revenge of the Joker, was sadly not as well done. Poor control and hit detection mired the experience, making it one of the earliest examples of a bad Batman game. The SNES era revived it somewhat with The Adventures of Batman & Robin, which was based on Batman: The Animated series, and was great in large part because it stayed true to its source material.
Batman & Robin looked like the show it was based on, and that — on top of some pretty solid gameplay — made for a good SNES-era Batman game. But even as I fondly remember a fight on a roller coaster with the Joker that happened similar to the Batman Episode called “Be a clown,” the thing with most of the good Batman games is that you remember the graphics. This was certainly no exception.
The Batman games that would follow also stayed true, much to their neon-colored dismay, such as with Batman Forever. But the games based on the movies sucked so bad that they seemed like part of some supervillian’s plot to subdue gamers with incredibly bad gameplay and mediocre attempts to re-create the Dark Knight’s world. It seems we had begun to see Batman’s descent into Hell, and the new picture of Hades — Batman Forever looked like some of the Mortal Kombat games at the time — wasn’t exactly pretty. It wasn’t the world of Batman we were used to, it wasn’t stylized, and it wasn’t the type of game we enjoyed. For a long time, it seemed like the villains had reached out into the real world and destroyed Batman’s name and image.
Fortunately, light can now be seen at the end of the franchise tunnel. LEGO Batman was surprisingly good and funny, and the upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum will reunite Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil for their roles as Batman and the Joker. First impressions of the latter look amazing, and I can’t wait to get back into Gotham City and fight with the likes of Clayface, The Riddler and the non-Ledger Joker.
While we wait for that, though, indulge your inner fanboy by going to YouTube and checking Holy Light of Demon and their song “The Dark Knight.” It’s worth the wait, much like the delay we’ve all seen in the apparent return to glory of the great Batman game tradition.
Mike Dodd is co-founder and host of
This Week in Geek, an international radio show and podcast and a place where gamers and “geeks like us” can chill.