Continuing from where we left off last time, here are my continued rankings of every Batman video game I played for the Caped Crusade over the past two years or so. This time, we’ll check out games #45 through #35 – how many hot takes are going to be served up this time? Well, let’s read on and find out!
45. BATMAN: GOTHAM CITY RACER (PlayStation, 2001)
BATMAN: GOTHAM CITY RACER is a bit of a misnomer – the title suggests a Batman-themed racing game, but that’s not really what this is. Rather, it’s more of a mission-based driving game where you are tasked with driving to checkpoints, catching criminals and various other scenarios recreating episodes from The Animated Series.
Well, sometimes, anyway. The game starts off with a sequence of missions bookended by FMV snippets from an episode of the show, but before too long the game kind of forgets about this conceit, and starts giving you mission briefs in text form instead. There’s not really much of an attempt to tell a coherent story, you just drive to where you’re told within the time limit; sometimes there is a narrative justification, other times there really isn’t.
Presentation issues aside, my bigger beef with this game is that, predictably, it’s not terribly fun to play. The Batmobile handles poorly, and each mission takes place in the same Gotham city map, just with different sections blocked off. The combat-oriented missions are a chore as your enemies are massive bullet sponges, and hitting them in the first place is tough due to the Batmobile’s awkward handling.
Even as someone who’s not into cars or driving games, I can see the appeal of a Batmobile-themed game – but as far as I’m concerned at least, GOTHAM CITY RACER fails to hit the mark.
44. BATMAN BEGINS (Game Boy Advance, 2005)
BATMAN BEGINS on the GBA is yet another half-baked portable companion to a significantly better console game, and it’s yet another generic GBA action platformer. It’s got some slightly more elaborate animation and mechanics than RISE OF SIN TZU, but it still falls firmly into ‘mediocre GBA side-scroller’ territory. You’ve got your ugly pre-rendered CG sprites, terrible-sounding sampled music, and highly compressed still images approximating CG cutscenes – the works.
The mechanics are a bit hit and miss; double-jumping, gliding and climbing is occasionally fun, but it’s severely hampered by clunky and slow-paced combat, unforgiving checkpoints and mostly pretty uninspired level design. The game is missing several sections from its console counterpart, including a few Batmobile stages – but it’s probably for the better, as this game would not really be improved by having to play more of it.
43. BATMAN: VENGEANCE (Game Boy Advance, 2001)
How much more could there be to say about all these mediocre GBA platformers? Not an awful lot, frankly. BATMAN: VENGEANCE doesn’t do a ton to set itself apart from the other GBA games, but there are a few things about it to appreciate. It mixes up the side-scrolling action with some slightly more puzzle-oriented top-down levels where you play as Robin, and there’s a couple of Batmobile levels (neither of which are terribly impressive, to be honest), but most importantly in my book, it doesn’t have that horrible CG visual style plaguing so many other GBA games.
Sure, the pixel art isn’t really that much to write home about – but I truly loathe that ubiquitous pre-rendered GBA style enough that any attempt at traditional pixel art really comes across as a breath of fresh air. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to distinguish BATMAN: VENGEANCE as at least somewhat superior to the other GBA Batman games.
42. THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES: CHAOS IN GOTHAM (Game Boy Color, 2001)
CHAOS IN GOTHAM is another portable Batman game that’s largely mediocre, but elevated – quite significantly, in this case – by its visuals. It’s got all the hallmarks of a subpar platformer; a temperamental camera, highly questionable collision detection, uninteresting level layouts, dodgy combat, confusing driving/flying stages – you name it. Still, I have no reservations about ranking this game above the GBA games, simply on account of its terrific graphics.
The Game Boy Color is rarely thought of as a particularly capable machine, but CHAOS IN GOTHAM does a great job making use of the GBC to create a vibrant, striking look. Background, cutscene artwork and character sprites all look truly excellent, and the animation in particular really stands out – few if any Batman games have characters as expressive as these little fellas! As far as action-platforming gameplay goes, this game doesn’t really deliver – but I would still strongly recommend any fans of high quality pixel art to check it out.
41. BATMAN: THE CAPED CRUSADER (Amiga, 1988)
BATMAN: THE CAPED CRUSADER is one of the rare Batman games based directly on the comics as opposed to a movie or TV adaptation (largely on account of predating the 1989 Burton film), and the game takes this inspiration to heart. The comic panel presentation and text box narration makes for a cool and unique style to the game, but unfortunately it’s not quite as fun to play as it is to look at.
The game is an awkward action/point & click adventure hybrid; Batman isn’t quite agile enough to handle the action parts, and a very cumbersome UI and unimaginative puzzle desgin makes the adventure parts kind of a chore. There certainly are aspects of the game to appreciate: I always like to see a focus on detective work (however slight), it’s cool that the game features two full scenarios, the game over screens are hilarious, and the theme song is the single greatest piece of music in a Batman video game – but that doesn’t quite add up to a game I’m particularly excited to revisit anytime soon.
40. BATMAN: VENGEANCE (Xbox, 2001)
The console version of BATMAN: VENGEANCE was the first 3D action game based on Batman: The Animated Series. A valiant effort in some regards, it definitely shows its age – even by 2001 the issue of how to move a character (and camera) through a 3D space hadn’t necessarily been quite solved. The game suffers from this in about the ways you’d expect: clumsy movement, awkward camera, needlessly confusing level design, occasionally frustrating combat, annoying first-person gadgets, etc.
For as poorly as the gameplay has aged though, the game is still fairly nice to look at. Sure, some of the locations are definitely pretty bland, but overall the game does a surprisingly good job of capturing the look and feel of the TV show – not least through the use of gorgeous title cards for each level, and CG cutscenes featuring voice overs by the show’s voice cast. It’s hardly the ultimate interactive BTAS experience, but it’s not completely terrible either.
39. BATMAN: TOXIC CHILL (Windows, 2003)
TOXIC CHILL is one part of a pair of adventure games based on Batman: The Animated Series, released by The Learning Company in 2003. Clearly aimed at a young demographic, none of the puzzles/mini-games are particularly challenging even on the highest difficulty level – and there isn’t a terrible lot to the narrative aspects either.
While hardly the most engaging point & click adventure ever made, the game is presented quite nicely from a visual perspective and has a certain charm to it. It even features some brief sections of side-scrolling platforming with some pretty nice high-resolution Batman sprites! I struggle to think of anything too generous to say about this game, but at the same time I can’t think of any major faults either. A small, brief, simple – but ultimately inoffensive experience.
38. BATMAN: JUSTICE UNBALANCED (Windows, 2003)
JUSTICE UNBALANCED is the other part of the 2003 educational Bat-adventure duo, and with the game being essentially identical to TOXIC CHILL in its setup, there’s not a lot to add. I have to rank them somehow though – ultimately I gave the edge to JUSTICE UNBALANCED as its platforming sections were a tiny bit cooler, involving some neat batarang puzzle mechanics.
37. THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN: CARTOON MAKER (Windows, 1995)
The Batman instalment of the CARTOON MAKER series released in the mid-90s is a really fascinating piece of software. Coming to it in 2020, it is obviously extremely limited in terms of being a tool for creating animation, but as a toy it is undeniably neat, even today. Using a wide variety of prefab backgrounds, portraits, animated characters, props and more, THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN: CARTOON MAKER does what it says on the box – lets the user create their own little animated shorts.
The interface is on the one hand pretty clunky, but at the same time pretty impressive in its ease of use for a piece of kids’ software from 1995. It’s very difficult to use CARTOON MAKER to make anything… good, but it is impressively easy to make… well, something. It’s not necessarily something you’ll want to come back to time and time again, but it is a very charming novelty with some really cool little art assets and stuff included.
36. BATMAN RETURNS (SEGA Mega CD, 1992)
Sega’s 16-bit version of BATMAN RETURNS is a game I have fond memories of, but ultimately I must accept that it’s a game I just can’t quite like, no matter how badly I want to. Fundamentally it’s a fairly sound action platformer with decent enough controls, including pretty fun gliding and grapple/swinging mechanics. The problems arise when, well, you try to traverse the levels and/or engage any enemies in combat. Both enemies’ and Batman’s hitboxes make it almost impossible to fight enemies without taking damage, and the level design compound this issue with a lot of annoying placements of pits, traps, enemies and other dangers.
I really like the game’s atmosphere (especially the cartridge version, which has a unique and really cool prog rock soundtrack), but the high level of difficulty makes it an exercise in frustration rather than any kind of thrilling challenge. The CD version adds a set of new Batmobile levels which are very technically impressive – but unfortunately suffer from issues much like the platforming part of the game; the level of difficulty is simply too high for it to be really fun.
35. BATMAN: RISE OF SIN TZU (Xbox, 2003)
This followup to BATMAN: VENGEANCE trades exploration and platforming (as well as first-person gadgets) for a more combat-focused, co-op action experience. With simpler movement, camera and level design, it avoids a lot of its predecessor’s issues; it’s a pretty straightforward beat ’em up that plays decently well – and looks pretty alright to boot.
BATMAN: RISE OF SIN TZU isn’t without issues though. The biggest problem is probably the game’s structure, more specifically how it handles progression. You get a choice of four playable characters (Batman, Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl), each of them with their own individual progression – primarily unlocking more powerful moves and combos. Only characters you use will level up, and with no way of revisiting older levels or otherwise grinding to level up characters, actually switching characters between stages will all but guarantee that you’ll be under-levelled and incapable of tackling later parts of the game.
What’s maybe the worst part about it though is that being under-levelled doesn’t exactly make you too weak to deal with enemies – but rather it leaves you unable to defeat enemies quickly enough to pass the constant and oppressive time limits. RISE OF SIN TZU isn’t an amazing beat ’em up – but it feels pretty decent to play. Sadly though its struggle to figure out the balance of arcade and console game design leaves it a noticeably flawed game.
And there you have it, part two down! Part three will arrive soon, and with it a look at Bat-games ranked #34-24. See you then! 🦇