As the Bat turns 75, in the second and final part of my look at the more cult side of his exploits, I take a look at several of the video games to feature Gotham’s hero, in the many guises he has taken over the years. I’ll be looking at games from the NES, right through to the the current generation, with film tie-ins, original stories and even Lego. So without further a do…
Batman Forever, to me at least, will always be a curiosity. Now, it’s often said that movie licences are cheap cash-ins, but this one takes the cake! Fans of a particular beat-em up, will recognise the character models in this game. That’s right, they’ve re-reskinned Mortal Kombat characters into Batman, Robin and some odd looking thugs. I can imagine at the time of release, it felt like an excellent idea. Mortal Kombat was absolutely massive, and Batman Forever was one of the years biggest blockbusters (despite it being the worst Batman film), yet the combination of the two makes one of the worst scrolling fighters I’ve ever played. This makes Batman Forever movie look like The Dark Knight!
LEGO Batman & Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes – PC, Xbox 360 (versions tested), PS2/3, Wii/U, 3/DS
Lego Batmam 1&2 are terrific games with their own original stories. Lego Batman was the first in the Lego licence games to deviate from the movies they were following and to go off and do its own thing, leaving the developers to do as they see fit, although they do utilise Danny Elfmans score, as not only is it instantly recognisable, it was also used in the animated series too. The gameplay is typical lego, with an element of side scrolling beatem up in there as well as the puzzle solving that goes hand in hand with these games. The puzzles aren’t particularly taxing as its a family game, but the charm and silliness that has been ever present as well as the collecting all contribute towards making this just as good as the others. Another thing that shook the formula up was that it’s a game of 2 halves. Half of the game is played as the good guys and the other half the villains. Perfect for those who want to see what would happen if the Joker wins!
In the 2nd game it really gets shaken up. Gone are the standard level structures and we say hello to an open world Gotham. Not only that, the Lego characters now have a voice. Lego batman 2 is the first in the franchise that had character dialogue, all the previous games they were silent and relied on sight gags for the cut scenes. Compared to the first Lego Batman, this game takes things up a notch, as it now introduces other characters from DC Comics, culminating in a Justice League team up,, including Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Aquaman, but with a whole host of DC heroes on offer, comes their nemeses, too. General Zod, The Joker and Sinestro all appear in brick form, as well as several other villains from the DC universe. As with all the Lego games, the gameplay is simple but great fun, and it’s the little touches that really make them stand out, particularly when flying round Gotham as Superman. As soon as you take to the air, John Williams’ unforgettable theme kicks in. While family orientated, the Lego Batman games are some of the best games to feature the caped crusader to date. And with Lego Batman 3 on the horizon, long may that trend continue.
Batman: Revenge of the Joker – NES/SNES/MegaDrive (version tested)
Revenge of the Joker has got to be one the least playable games ever, even worse than Batman Forever. While the gameplay itself is just your standard action platformer which is usually the standard of that era, you’ll be lucky to progress further than the first level. Almost anything you touch depletes your health meter, even inanimate objects like statues. Half of the time the bad guys, who also have guns, attack you off screen so you don’t even see them firing at you. The obstacles are nigh on impossible to get past without losing health and almost every time you get past one, there’s an enemy or another bizarre obstacle. The game is hard work and if you don’t want to repeat the stages over and over again until you’ve found the perfect pattern, then you’ll want to avoid this atrocity. On the plus side, it looks good. That’s about it. If you paid £40+ back in the day, I can only feel for you. This game is barely playable! Perhaps that is the Joker’s revenge..!
Batman: The Rise of Sin Tzu – PS2/Xbox/GameCube (Version tested)
On the surface, The Rise of Sin Tzu is an excellent adaptation of the Batman animated series from the early 90’s, with some fabulous 3D rendering of the city scape we see over the opening credits. Aesthetics aside however, this game is rather void of anything resembling an entertaining game. Granted, it does seem that effort has gone into replicating the atmosphere and feel of the animated show, but unfortunately the entertainment isn’t there. It’s a beat-em up with virtually no variety save for the bad guys outfits. It seems like there’s just endless beating up goons and nothing more. There are several levels spanning various districts of Gotham, and featuring several prolific enemies of the Dark Knight, but the repetition of the game makes it difficult to want to carry on after more than a couple of levels. The cut scenes are great, being able to play as Batwoman and Nightwing is a nice touch and the multiplayer, allowing you to break some ribs with a friend, adds a little bit of longevity to proceedings, but does little to mask the monotonous bore the game becomes.
Batman: Arkham Asylum/City/Origins PS3/Xbox 360 (versions tested) Wii U/PC
The Arkham series are undoubtedly Batman’s best video game outings,combining the dark and gritty story telling of Gotham’s infamous mental institution, and some excellent gameplay. Arkham Asylum is a brilliant starting point for those that are green around the gills when it comes to Batman. We’re introduced to many characters in the Batman universe, from Joker, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, to the lesser known ones like Clayface and Killer Croc. The Joker has been captured by Batman, and suspiciously easy, too. He is dropped off at the notorious asylum, with the bat as escort. It’s not long before things go awry and the Joker escapes. However, it’s the asylum he wants and Batman must find him to get to the bottom of his plan. The only drawback, Arkham Asylum is massive.
It’s a 3rd person action game reliant on stealth and combat, and both are presented in a sublime way. The combat is known as freeflow, which sees you pummeling several goons, going from one to another in a smooth, fluid motion, allowing you to build up your combo counter, break a few ribs and avoid getting hit in the process. it makes a wonderful change from most hand to hand combat you see in these types of games. The stealth aspect of the game is just as wonderful, and really makes you feel like you are the Dark Knight. You perch on the (surprisingly vast amount of) gargoyles you see littered around the asylum, waiting for an enemy to haplessly walk beneath you, then you can either swoop down and knock them out, or tie them up and dangle them from said gargoyle. Alternatively, you can hide behind weak structures and break through the wall using small explosives or your own fists, or hide beneath grates and jump up through the ground. All methods of taking down the bad guys are immensely satisfying. Never has a Batman game come so close to replicating the experience we see in the comics or films, and it works beautifully.
If Arkham Asylum was Batman Begins, then Arkham City is most definitely The Dark Knight. Bigger in every way, a massive section of Gotham has been turned into a large prison. The roughest part of the city has been walled in to become an all encompassing correctional facility, and Bruce Wayne has reason to believe there’s a bad motive behind it. He gets himself incarcerated to infiltrate the giant prison, and has the Batsuit air dropped in when he gets there. His investigation leads him to encounters with Catwoman, Two-face, the Penguin and Mr Freeze, among many, many more characters from the Batman universe. There’s even a cameo from the boy wonder himself, Robin. The game is massive, as you’d expect, given that the Asylum is now part of Gotham City. There are several districts to navigate, and many side missions, involving the Riddler, Deadshot and Mr Szas. The story keeps on going with many twists and turns along the way, with many enemies coming out of the woodwork, be it from the previous game or making their debut Arkham appearence. All the combat methods are there again, and taking the fight to the streets really blows the world right open. Arkham City is quite easily the best Batman game to date, and while some sections may become a little frustrating as the difficulty spikes, it’s an absolute must for Batfans and gamers alike.
Arkham Origins is a different beast, although it shares the same gameplay mechanics as its predecessors, it’s like naught but a rehash of City, only with added snow, the batwing and the batcave. It feels very cut and shut. The main plot evaporates half way through, with several assassins out to kill the bat, yet these end up as optional side missions and doesn’t need to be completed in order to finish the main game, as without wanting to spoil the story, it goes in a completely different direction, almost ignoring what came before it. The mechanics of the game feel a little more ropey and travelling around the same expanse of Gotham as we see in Arkham City, sans the giant walls, which may as well be there as there’s no one but bad guys in every street anyway, it feels a less smooth flowing affair, as Batman snags on the sides of buildings as he uses his grappling gun, and gliding as the caped crusader feels less of a fluid experience too.
Now the complaints about this game are most likely due to this instalment of the franchise being developed by a different studio. Until now, Rocksteady Studios were the genius behind the Arkham games, but because Warners wanted to milk the cash cow and Rocksteady were already into developing the next gen Arkham Knight, responsibility fell to Warner Montreal. While it’s not the hash it’s made out to be, it seems to have missed the mark next to its forebears. There are some good sections of gameplay and story, which I won’t go into as the game itself was released only within the last year, so I’m sure there are some who have yet to play it, and there are a lot of twists and turns on the way. It does have have a lot of good points, it’s set at christmas, it’s another take on Batman’s origins, which sees him introduced to particular bad guys for the first time, and it’s fun to see that play out. We also get to the Batcave and Alfred, which is always a bonus. It is a good game, but lined up next to its big brothers, it is quite a disappointment. We can expect another instalment of the Arkham series next year, and with it being powered on the PS4/Xbox One, expectations should be ridiculously high!
There are many, many more batman games out there, on all ranges of consoles, but one can only play so much in so little time. Why not take to our forum to discuss your favourite?