Posted by: smirkdirk | August 5, 2009

A Brief History of Batman in Videogames

Well, doesn’t this just look absolutely bad-ass?!

Batman: Arkham Asylum comes out August 25. (The downloadable demo should be appearing on your XBox 360 and PS3 marketplace in a matter of days.) I thought it would be interesting to check out some vids and screenshots of the various Batman video games through the years. Interestingly, as you plot this particular game series through time you essentially end up with the evolution of gaming in general through the last quarter century.

1986 – “Batman” In the Hollywood timeline, this game is two years prior to Tim Burton’s Batman film, meaning, judging by its cover, its inspiration is mostly from the comic books of the time. Which is to say, thankfully they left the tv show in the dustbin on this one.

The cover does look pretty kick-ass:

But the gameplay looks rather – ummm – not so kickass. Although, graphically speaking the cute, squat look of Batman definitely shares some commonalities with the Lego Batman to come some 20 years later. Interesting.

1988 – “Batman: The Caped Crusader” Although it came out the same year that Tim Burton’s honorable reboot of Batman was being made, this game doesn’t have anything to do with the film. Once again, the cover art suggests comic book inspiration:

Judging by the following gameplay video the game’s main reason to exist seems to be to take advantage of the considerable technological advancement in the two years since the previous game. Mainly the addition of color. (It’s so easy to hoo-hoo and ha-ha over stuff 20 years ago, but even in today’s world the graphical difference between say Call of Duty 2, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is downright amazing with just a mere 3 years between the games – which is a round about way of saying that 20 years from now you better believe that they will be laughing at us and our primitive-ass video games.)

According to wiki, “Batman: The Caped Crusader” featured 2 campaigns that were played separately in whatever order the player chose. One featured the Penguin, the other featured The Joker.

1989 – Batman (NES)

Recognize this logo?

Yup, this would be the one that was released in tandem with, and inspired by the Tim Burton movie. The main boss is The Joker, but the player has to go through a ton of mini bosses to get to him. Here’s what the final showdown looks like:

I really did love the NES in its day. Never did play Batman but have fond memories of all three Super Mario games, particularly part 3, and, of course, Contra – which looked a hell of a lot like this Batman game.

1990 – “Batman” (arcade game) Atari came out with this quarter-sucking, arcade video game to also coincide with the movie, whilst Dataeast put out the pinball version. Awesome!

1991 – Batman: Revenge/Return of the Joker On the NES it was known as ‘return’ while on Sega it was known as ‘revenge’. This acted as a sequel to the NES movie videogame.

In its day it was considered graphically superior (on the NES, anyway) to many of the other video games of the time. Below is a gameplay video with some informative and sometimes funny commentary – funny mainly because the guy is not enjoying himself at all.

1993 – Batman Returns This game was based on Tim Burton’s sequel. The cover art promises that it’ll be totally like playing the movie!

It’s not.

The most notable thing about this game is that, powered by the Super Nintendo, it actually incorporates the film soundtrack into the game. Watch the intro-credits and you actually might feel just a pang of excitement as the midi-orchestra starts up. It almost sounds like the real thing…

1994 – The Adventures of Batman and Robin

This game was based on the animated series of the early 90’s and was released for the Super NES, Sega Genesis, and the Sega CD. It features an unwelcome return to the midi music soundtracks, however, it does look the most like the medium its based on of any of the games thus-far. It pretty much looks like you’re playing the cartoon. Check it out.

1996 through 1997 At this point Joel Schumacher took over the Batman movie series from Burton and proceeded to run it into the ground. Both of his movies, Batman Forever (for the record, I do actually like this movie and think I understand what he was trying to do) and Batman and Robin (for the record, this movie deserves all the hate it gets – plus more) had respective movie tie-in games, the former for the Super Nintendo System and Genesis, and the latter for Playstation One.

Interestingly, Batman Forever seems to be the first game to actually have a trailer – God-awful as it is it’s totally amusing to watch. In fact, if you only watch one video in this entire post, make it this one:

As far as the Batman and Robin PS1 tie-in game:

…it actually looks pretty good and incorporates cut-scenes into the action that are well-animated and impressive. Unfortunately, they’re based on the garish and cheese-irific set-design of the Shumacher films.

2000 and 2001 Saw a few more games for the PS1 including “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker”, and a Gotham City racing game. Both of these based on the “New Adventures of Batman Cartoons”.

2003 and 2004 Here we start getting the 2nd Generation system games. 2003 saw the Gamecube only title “Batman: Dark Tomorrow”:

Critics – (Yup, it is at about this point in video game history that they begin to matter. Games had become interesting enough, and more importantly graphically-speaking games began looking good enough that they started to get attention from those who had never really considered themselves gamers. This was mainly due to the hardware capabilities of the Gamecube, the Playstation 2, and the first XBox.) – panned the game because of its bad gameplay mechanics. Due to this the originally planned port to Playstation 2 was scrapped.

Here’s a one such bad review:

Next came a game that did make it to the PS2, “Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu” which is notable because it introduced an entirely new villain into the Batman Saga. It also was marketed and released alongside a – get this – NOVEL of the same name.

Although it only got so-so reviews, the game trailer really looks pretty good.

2005 – Batman Begins: The Videogame Based on Christopher Nolan’s movie, this is the last game made for the second-gen systems. The plot basically followed the movie, but it did win a G4 award that year for best graphics.
Here’s a clip featuring Liam Neeson. (The cast provided the dialogue for the game.)

I think what ultimately is most notable about the Batman Begins game is that there is no videogame for Nolan’s sequel, “The Dark Knight”. I think that marks a tremendous change in the thinking, not just of the movie industry, but of the gaming industry. You will seen what I mean shortly…

So, in lieu of a Dark Knight game we instead we got…

2008 – Lego Batman

This game I have played and, like all Lego games, it is what it is. Fun and cute. The Lego games whether Star Wars, or Indiana Jones, or Batman all pretty much play the same. This is not a dis, but rather a way of saying that a Lego Batman is more Lego than it is Batman. It is a brand in and of itself.

Which brings us to 2009 – Batman – Arkham Asylum

At this point in video game history games are meant to hold their own, and often they do. They are no longer released as some bastard afterthought to bring in some icing on a movie cake. There is among gamers an automatic assumption that any movie tie-in game by default sucks. In fact, when an exception occurs such as the recent “Wolverine” tie-in game which was considered a very good game of a rather forgettable movie, gamers and critics alike can’t help but point out the irony.

The thinking with this generation of systems is why dilute the game by forcing it to conform to some movie, when it can make as much money, if not more, than a movie itself? Games have gone from being a tie-in product, to the main event. In fact, video game revenues match and sometimes exceed those of the movie industry. And why not? This certainly is not the Batman game of 1986:

In 1986 fans of video games were given a chance to play Batman, today fans of Batman are given the chance to play a video game. And therein is the 180; Video games, they’re not just for gamers anymore.

Lastly, today is Mrs. Smirk’s birthday. In honor of that here’s a special Happy Birthday from Batman, Honey!



  1. Ok, but where is SmirkDirk’s obit. on the death of John Hughes?!? What do we pay you for?

    • You know, Chancho, you need to stay on topic. I know you’ve actually read one or two of the Batman “graphic novels”, you geek.

  2. Lets just say I STRONGLY encourage you to get a copy of the original Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth graphic novel that the new video game was loosely based on. The story itself is incredibly creepy and it is the first graphic novel ever knew of that was painted — i.e. each panel was literally a painting. Plus it has my all time favorite Joker scene where the Joker slaps Batman on the butt and says “Loosen up, tight ass!”

    What buttons do you have to push to get your game boy to say that?

    A good synopsis is here:

    • Now that was on topic, AND fascinating. I knew you could do it!

  3. Hello,

    very intresting article. I enjoyed reading it 🙂

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