So over Easter weekend, I finally finished The Caped Crusade, my quest – two years in the making – to explore the history of Batman video games. While I sadly can’t say I have played through every single Batman game (I elected to omit a number of mobile and arcade games due to unavailability), I can say that I have played an awful lot of them. 56 to be exact!
With all this experience under my belt, the capstone to these two years of Bat-adventures seemed obvious: Review and rank all 56 games! The ranking itself was originally done live on stream in a single 8+ hour sitting – so these rankings are essentially my gut reaction based on my experience with each games, and the criteria I use to rank the games may (and likely do) vary wildly. That is to say, I make no claims that this is an objectively, definitively correct list, but it is my list – and with several hundred hours of research going into it, I dare say it’s at least a pretty well researched one.
So without further ado, here is part one of five of my collected Thoughts On the 56 Batman games, ranked from worst to best.
56. BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER (PlayStation, 2000)
And so it starts, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Not terribly surprising – while there are Batman games more spectacularly bad than this one, that quality at least can lend some entertainment value. Not so much with BATMAN BEYOND, unfortunately. This is an extremely bland 3D beat ’em up with extremely low production values, and really, nothing memorable about it.
The game does a poor job of capturing any of the cartoon’s style or excitement, and for a game from 2000 shockingly does not feature any kind of voice acting or cinematics – unusually the PS1 version uses the exact same still images and text boxes as the N64 port. From the barren levels, to the bare-bones combat, the game itself reeks of zero budget as well. Zero budget, zero ambition, zero imagination and essentially zero fun. The game is basically a worse version of its Game Boy Color counterpart, which kind of sums up how pathetic this game is.
55. BATMAN RETURNS (Amiga, 1993)
The Amiga incarnation of BATMAN RETURNS is another sad affair. While it is definitely more broken than BATMAN BEYOND, barely functional even, it still avoids the dreaded bottom spot simply on account of having some degree of personality. It’s got a cute (if a little dopey) pixel art Keaton Batman, and the locations and characters are distinctly recognisable as being from the movie. It’s got some serviceable Amiga music, and the narrated movie stills between the stages are…. sort of neat, I guess.
It is, however, mostly dreadful to play. Endlessly repetitive stages with even more endless enemies who all take far, far too many hits to take out – if your attacks even manage to connect. A lot of the time they just… won’t. Especially with so many other far superior BATMAN RETURNS games, it’s hard to find a single reason to recommend this one.
54. THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN (SEGA Game Gear, 1995)
Hungarian ECCO THE DOLPHIN developers Novotrade developed this portable AOB&R game for Sega, and, well, however you feel about the studio’s games in general, I think it’s fair to say this isn’t their finest hour. The reuse of certain art assets (most notably the Batman sprites) from Clockwork Tortoise’s far superior Mega Drive game might trick you into thinking this is a similarly cool game – alas, not the case.
THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN is a jerky, confusing, and largely frustrating platformer, where you have to traverse endlessly sprawling maps in hope/desperation that somewhere along the way, you’ll figure out where the heck you’re supposed to go. Later stages introduce some tricky jumping puzzles, which the game is simply not equipped to handle – terrible framerate and arguably even worse collision detection makes it a complete chore. Between some genuinely nice-looking character sprites, and decently charming music, the game isn’t entirely without redeeming qualities – but it is pretty damn bad.
53. BATMAN BEYOND: RETURN OF THE JOKER (Game Boy Color, 2000)
The Game Boy Color version of BATMAN BEYOND manages to land a few spots higher on the list than its console big brother, but only just barely. I’m not sure I would say it’s a distinctly better game, as most of the critiques levied at that game apply just as much here. Some levels being particularly mazelike could even be an argument that this games is worse – but at the very least it has the excuse of being on the Game Boy Color.
To be clear, I’m certainly not saying the game is bad because it’s on the GBC – just that the level of ambition on display feels a little more appropriate here than in a late-era PS1 game. Ultimately, this game isn’t really any better than the PS1 one, but it is a little less embarrassing. So, uh, points for that I guess.
52. BATMAN RETURNS (Atari Lynx, 1992)
Another BATMAN RETURNS game in the bottom 5, huh. Don’t worry, there’ll be some actual good ones too! But, eh, not this time. The Lynx game is at least an improvement over the Amiga one, but not by a massive margin.
The game is a straightforward side-scrolling action game where Batman has to clumsily fight his way through massive armies of clowns, acrobats, cops, penguins and other various riff-raff. I say “clumsily”, as due to the massive size of the character sprites relative to the Lynx’s low resolution screen, it’s essentially impossible to avoid enemies, weapons, stray projectiles, or explosions without getting constantly knocked on your ass. The game seems aware of this, since despite the unforgiving “one life/no continues” setup, you do get liberal sprinklings of life refills.
This unfortunately does not help much once you get to the second stage, where approximately 8000 cops chase Batman as he has to awkwardly attempt to jump between rooftops, and a single missed jump – due to mistiming, getting shot in mid-air, or sometimes just falling through a building – means an instant game over.
51. BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS BLACKGATE (2013)
The concept of a handheld sibling to a console game can be handled in a number of ways, but more often than not you’d see the bigger game’s story, themes and maybe a few other aspects adapted in an otherwise very different game. Generally, a simpler type of game more befit of simpler, portable hardware. And on some level, that is true here as well. However, the ways the developers at Armature chose to go about adapting the Arkham formula are a complete misfire.
BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS BLACKGATE essentially tries to transplant the Arkham games’ controls and combat 1:1, but with a fixed 2D camera and other severe limitations which hamstring those systems entirely. Despite having a fixed camera, the game does take place in a 3D world – you just can’t navigate it intuitively, and the map is probably the worst I’ve ever experienced in a game like this. Combat and stealth encounters are also more or less broken since movement and positioning are taken out of the equation, and nothing is added to make up for what’s missing from the 3D games which the mechanics are based on.
Ultimately I’m really sad that there was never a proper 2D METROID-style Batman game with the kind of quality pixel art and music we got in the best 2D Batman games of the 90’s – that could’ve been amazing! BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS BLACKGATE falls far short of that ideal, but is also a terrible game by any metrics. It’s an exploration-based game where exploration is unintuitive, tedious and confusing. It’s a 2D platformer with no jumping, where all vertical movement is context-sensitive. It’s an Arkham series game where neither combat or stealth makes you feel like Batman. It sucks.
50. BATMAN: PARTNERS IN PERIL (Windows, 1996)
I was a little unsure where to put this one the list, given that it’s, uh, not really a game. PARTNERS IN PERIL is in fact digital comic on CD-ROM with very limited interactivity, with art and very occasional voice acting lifted from an animated Batman short from the 60’s. It may not be a game, but it’s interactive entertainment, and we did play it, so on the list it goes!
There really isn’t a lot to say about it, though. It’s a very brief experience, and although it may have been a neat novelty in 1996, it’s not much to write home about in 2020. If nothing else, its inclusion on the list serves as an indication of just how miserable and unimpressive everything below this point is.
49. BATMAN & ROBIN (Tiger Game.Com, 1997)
One fun aspect of covering a series of games based on a property as long-lasting and wide-reaching as Batman, is that I get to check out games on a lot of different systems. And wouldn’t you know it, even Tiger Electronics’ ill-fated Game.Com handheld got a Batman game – BATMAN & ROBIN, based of course on the 1997 movie.
Like just about everything on the system, BATMAN & ROBIN is not particularly impressive, from a technical or artistic standpoint. The stark black & white visuals are easy enough to discern, but not terribly exciting. Audio is nigh nonexistent. The standard 2D platforming/fighting gameplay is rudimentary, but… functional, I guess. The only real reason this game doesn’t land lower on the list is the inclusion of a first-person batarang-throwing/hobo-kicking level and a sorta-kinda cool setpiece of a final level where you have to climb an icy cliff for the final showdown with Mr. Freeze at the Gotham Observatory.
48. LEGO BATMAN: THE VIDEOGAME (Nintendo DS)
The DS version of LEGO BATMAN is a distinctly different game from its console counterpart, but unlike many other portable companion games, this one sadly offers very little in terms of unique content or experiences. By and large it is a simplified, streamlined, dumbed-downed version of the already fairly dull an repetitive first LEGO BATMAN game. It’s functional, and by all means more competent than most games that are this low on the list, but it’s not really very fun.
Combat is very tedious; you are constantly assaulted by endless goons, and all you can really do is mash the punch button until they go away – any attempts at strategy or avoiding taking damage are typically futile, and don’t matter much since there isn’t really much of a punishment for losing a life. Even the Lego-building aspect adds very little in this version of the game – for whatever reason, 99% of the time you build something, it’s either a ladder, a switch, a lever or possibly some other generic interactive element. The game more or less boils down to fending off infinitely respawning enemies long enough to finish completely uninteresting puzzles by building generic Lego switches, rinse and repeat ad infinitum.
The one redeeming factor of this game are the few top-down Batmobile stages – they’re not particularly amazing, but they are actually decently fun, short enough to not wear out their welcome, and make good use of the dual screen layout to boot. Still, it’s not quite enough to keep the overall experience from being an exercise in tedium.
47. BATMAN & ROBIN (PlayStation, 1997)
BATMAN & ROBIN for the PS1 was Probe’s followup to their BATMAN FOREVER console game, and much like its predecessor it is a very ambitious game. As such, it’s a game I really want to like, but ultimately I find it hard to go further than “teeth-gritting respect”. BATMAN & ROBIN attempts to do a lot of interesting things, both in terms of a 1997 3D action game, but also compared to Batman games before and after. It features a Gotham City that can be explored freely, via the Batmobile (or other vehicles using Robin or Batgirl) or on foot, it’s got a sprawling non-linear structure, and it focuses on detective work – in the form of hunting for clues to figure out when and where you need to be in order to stop Mr. Freeze’s diamond heists. That all on top of core gameplay featuring Tomb Raider-esque 3D platforming, beat ’em up combat mechanics, and a bunch of different gadgets.
Unfortunately, the game flubs the execution of just about all these aspects. The game’s visuals are pretty impressive (even if they don’t quite capture the splendour of the Schumacher film), but just about all parts of it are a complete chore to play. It’s confusing, it’s meandering, it’s sluggish, and to top it off it’s also very, very difficult. I would genuinely love to see a new Batman game take a stab at a lot of the ideas in this game (now that, like, 3D movement and cameras in games have been figured out), but as it stands BATMAN & ROBIN is sadly little more than a somewhat interesting anomaly.
46. BATMAN: RISE OF SIN TZU (Game Boy Advance, 2003)
I’ll be honest – I played this game a couple of months ago, but I barely remember anything of it. Reviewing some video of my playthrough jogged my memory a little bit, but the fact of the matter is that RISE OF SIN TZU on the GBA really is not a very memorable game. It’s got a very typical GBA side-scroller vibe with fairly plain platforming and combat mechanics, and a very bland visual style using pre-rendered CG sprites for the characters.
Although sheer, forgettable mediocrity is arguably enough to put RISE OF SIN TZU this close to the bottom of the list, the one thing that cements it as worse than some of the other bland portable side-scrollers is some particularly infuriating difficulty spikes. One especially stupid part had me stuck on the same exact screen for about 45 minutes hopelessly trying ascend a river of sewage by jumping between tiny moving platforms. Urgh.
That’s it for part one! Stay tuned for writeups on a dozen or so more Batman video games in the near future. 🦇