In honor of the Bat Goat
Arguably the most popular super hero ever, Batman has a very long history in pop culture starting way back before even I was born. Beginning in the 40’s as a dark comic character, and going strong 75 years later, he eventually made the leap to screens of all sizes. TV, Movies, Video Games, it all has been graced with the Dark Knight’s presence.
These games still follow the same ebbs and flows of the character of Batman, from campy to serious and all points in between, trust me, not every game is an Arkham installment. Some are great, some are utter garbage.
Starting back in 1986, there was a European exclusive game for PC’s (Master Race!) that was a hunt and find game. Batman would search the Batcave to find parts for the Batmobile to rescue Robin. It was developed by OCEAN who had a long history of porting games from arcades to home systems.
2 years later, Batman: The Caped Crusader would land on American shores and let players take on Penguin and Joker in 2 separate missions in any order they liked. This was a game I have wanted to play since I was a child.
1989 and Bat fever is sweeping the country. The Mega Blockbuster Batman, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson is a worldwide phenomenon. Sunsoft is charged with developing a port to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It actually took longer than anticipated because they had trouble securing likeness rights from Jack Nicholson. It was a very fun, challenging game, (very) loosely based around the movie. Later that same year, a Gameboy port would also be released which had more of a (unintentional) cartoony look. The arcade game was much more faithful adaptation of the movie, and the look was more in tune with the movie as well. Sega would port the arcade game for the Genesis.
1991 would bring us Batman: Return of the Joker. This game was a true stinker, no bearing on the movie at all, but still taking some cues from it. Batman has a “Wrist Projector” which would be his only real means of offense, firing batarangs, and other projectiles. The Gameboy games was just as bad. Sega would later port the game as Batman: Revenge of the Joker.
Luckily for batfans everywhere, 1992 would bring us a new movie and new games. Batman Returns was released to theaters, and fans like myself went in droves. Penguin and Catwoman were the main antagonists, alongside Max Shreck (Christopher Walken!) and Penguin’s partners in crime, clowns, and other circus characters. Larger sprites, better graphics, the whole thing became the norm for Batman games going forward with the advent of the SNES and Genesis. There were a total of 8 different versions of this game for varying consoles, the DOS version being a point and click affair.
In 1994, Batman the Animated series debuted and was another sensation. Putting Batman back in tights, but without the blue and gray color scheme, and making Gotham very noir-ish was actually a very cool idea. This series also brought us the perfection that is Kevin Conroy in the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne. The second half of this perfection was Mark Hamill (Luke F’ing Skywalker!?) as the Joker in what has been hailed as the definitive pairing of the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. This series would also bring us several video games based on various plot points to varying degrees of success. Every console had a game from the series with Nintendo going for action adventure, while Sega would opt for side scrolling beat em ups.
1995 would begin the decline of Batman in cinema with the Shumacher era. Batman Forever was the beginning of the end for live action adventure. Again, varying games would be released with Nintendo opting for adventure, while Sega would go the route of having a more 1 on 1 fighter feel. Digitized actors was made famous by Mortal Kombat, and Batman Forever followed this look. Later that same year, in an attempt to capture the popularity of Street Fighter 2, Justice League Task Force was released by Sunsoft/Blizzard. Great idea, bad game. Poor controls led to this brilliant idea having poor execution. This concept would many years later prove quite successful with the whole “super heroes fighting each other” premise.
Around the turn of the century, after the animated series ended, Batman Beyond brought back the vocal talent for a new take on the Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne, after retiring the cowl, ends up taking on a new protégé. Later in the series, a direct to video movie, Batman Beyond, Return of the Joker was released. The movie has it’s own drama in the director’s cut/too gritty for the kiddies domain, but they were multiple game adaptations released for various consoles and handhelds.
2003 was not a good year for Batman games. Dark Tomorrow was an extremely poorly received steaming pile trying to be an all new original story set in the Bat Universe. Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu was based in the animated universe, but also poorly received. Neither game warrants much discussion other than as cautionary tales.
In 2005, Christopher Nolan single handedly saved the Batman cinematic universe by starting over with Batman Begins. The fans were once again treated to a Batman we could look up to and enjoy. The game however? Not so much. Lots of stealth action which was quite popular in those days, but a forgettable game. It does, however, have the distinction of being released the day before the movie and incorporating FMV sequences from the movie.
2008 brought us distinctly different views with Lego Batman and Mortal Kombat vs The DC Universe. One was very family friendly, the other a sub par beat em up set in a world known for blood and violence starring heroes not known for blood and violence. The roster was impressive, the control solid; but the game really didn’t sit right in the MK universe.
2009 changed everything. Arkham Asylum was released to critical and fan acclaim. First in a series of “can’t miss” games, it breathed new life into Batman games and even brought back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in the roles they made their own. 2011 brought DC Universe online and Arkham City. AC was, of course, the bigger sensation. Continuing the story brought to us in Arkham Asylum, but expanding the sandbox, it was an improvement in every way. Even going so far as to do the unthinkable, (SPOILER ALERT)… Killing the Joker… (END SPOILER) Conroy and Hamill do reprise their roles in DCUO.
2013 brought us to what Justice League Task Force could have been. Injustice: Gods Among Us was the story of what would happen if Superman went bad. Batman, of course leads the resistance and proves himself the badass every fan knows he is. 2013 also brought us Arkham Origins, set on Christmas Eve when a younger Bruce Wayne is still starting out, and being hunted by assassins. This installment did not star Conroy and Hamill, sadly, and while it is still a solid game (the fight with Deathstroke was tough), it pales in comparison to the other Arkham games.
The final (?) game in the Arkam series would include the return of Jason Todd, and the death of more than a few big names, this game was met with a lot of fan fair, but it was marred by an extremely broken PC port that was later dropped by WB as un fixable.
2017 would bring the sequel to Gods Among Us with the imaginatively titled Injustice 2. It picks up in the parallel universe where Superman is evil, and also brings a new threat in Braniac. We’re also introduced to Supergirl as a new hero (hijinks ensue). A fine enough sequel; but character models were no of the same quality as GAU and looked interchangeable. It did, however, introduce some great DLC characters, including Darkseid, the TMNT, Hellboy, and other MK characters.
Alright now, GET OFF OF MY LAWN!
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