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As the last installment in the Dark Knight trilogy hits theaters, we wanted to take a look back at Batman’s more polygonal adventures. Here’s a brief history of the masked detective in video games.
THE FIRST BATMAN GAME
ZX Spectrum – 1986
Batman games began with this isometric adventure from developer Ocean Software. Robin has been kidnapped, and the player must guide the mask-wearing crime-fighter through his cave to collect the seven pieces of the Batcraft (a Bat-themed hovercraft). Bruce Wayne should probably fire the contractor who designed the Batcave to be so difficult to navigate.
Ocean’s adaptation is notable for a sound effect that plays constantly every time Batman walks. It’s like hiring a high-school sophomore to continuously play two notes on his clarinet every time you take a step.
Despite the annoying noise, Batman for the ZX Spectrum was well received. The magazine Computer and Video Games awarded it a 37 out of 40.
Batfact: Ocean designed an early form of the checkpoint system that saves players’ progress for this title.
THE DARK KNIGHT IN 8 AND 16-BIT
NES – 1990
Batman for the NES is an adaptation of the Tim Burton-directed film, but developer Sunsoft’s true inspiration was obviously the Konami favorite, Ninja Gaiden. Batman walks, jumps, and attacks in a nearly identical manner to the Ninja Gaiden protagonist. Enemies even vanish in an explosive puff when punched as they do when attacked in the Konami game. Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it an average score of 7.75.
Batfact: The prototype version of Batman for the NES featured cutscenes composed of panels from the Alan Moore-authored Batman: The Killing Joke.
SNES – 1993
The Konami-developed Batman Returns for the SNES is an action beat-em-up. The game’s plot follows the Tim Burton sequel closely, even featuring a 16-bit representation of Danny DeVito as the Penguin. It’s pretty great. Despite being yet another walk-and-punch Final Fight ripoff (in the thick of that genre’s popularity), critics gave it generally favorable reviews. Electronic Gaming Monthly declared it the best licensed game in its 1993 Buyer’s Guide issue.
Batfact: In total, six different developers produced six different versions of Batman Returns across PC, Amiga, Atari Lynx, Genesis, Game Gear, and SNES.
WHERE DOES HE GET THOSE WONDERFUL POLYGONS?
Batman & Robin
PlayStation – 1998
In 1997, Warner Bros. and director Joel Schumacher unleashed an unholy creation on humanity known as Batman & Robin. It is a notoriously awful film starring George Clooney as Bruce Wayne. A year later, the game based on that tragic mess didn’t do much to help the Bat’s reputation. The Acclaim-published and Probe Entertainment-developed semi-open-world title had players guiding Batman, Robin, and Batgirl around Gotham to collect clues and predict where Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy will turn up. In its review, GameSpot said it was better than the film, and then awarded it a 5.7 out of 10.
Batfact: In-game events in Batman & Robin would occur independent of player action. Instead, moments like Mr. Freeze robbing a bank would occur at a preset time, similar to modern zombie game Dead Rising.
PlayStation 2/Xbox/GameCube – 2005
A day before Christopher Nolan’s first Batman film hit theaters, EA released the Eurocom-developed Batman Begins for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Typical for games adapted from movies at the time, Eurocom chose the third-person action-game genre. The dev attempted to set its title apart by creating an intimidation system for Batman. Players use gadgets and the environment to frighten enemies, making the targets easier to defeat. The result is an average game that Nintendo Power Magazine felt was worthy of a 6.5 out of 10.
Batfact: The game’s composer, Ian Livingstone, worked on the score for Napoleon: Total War and created the famous default ringtone for Nokia phones…which is now in your head.
WHICH LEGO PIECE DO I USE TO MAKE THE BAT NIPPLES?
Lego Batman: The Video Game
PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/Wii – 2008
Coming off its astronomical success with the Lego Star Wars games, Warner Bros. and developer Traveller’s Tales teamed up to blockify and then gamify the world’s greatest detective. Players control numerous characters from the Batman universe across 30 levels. The Lego games are low-pressure adventures designed to be forgiving to young players. Collecting cool characters like Nightwing, Harley Quinn, and Man-Bat keeps the action fresh, even as some of the mechanics begin to wear out their welcome. According to Metacritic, Lego Batman: The Video Game is favorably viewed by critics. The Xbox 360 version received an aggregated score of 76 out of 100.
THE BEST BATMAN GAME
Batman: Arkham City
PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 – 2011
By the time developer Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum (the precursor to Arkham City), the Dark Knight had earned a reputation for poor to mediocre performances in games. That changed with the gripping 3D adventure set in Gotham’s asylum for the criminally insane. The bigger sequel refined and expanded an already great experience.
In Arkham City, Gotham has cordoned off most of its land as a makeshift prison a la Escape from New York. Bruce Wayne holds a press conference to announce his opposition to this method of incarceration when he is kidnapped and placed inside the walls of the quarantine. It’s a good excuse for the game to throw every major villain across the Caped Crusader’s path.
Critics love Batman: Arkham City. Metacritic tracked the Xbox 360 review scores for the game at a 96 out of 100.
Don’t forget to check out our look back at the many pixelated incarnations of the Bat.