It’s time for part three of my ranked list of all the Batman games I played for The Caped Crusade – this time we will be taking a look at the games ranked #34 through #24, taking us up from the bottom half and into the… good games? Well, technically it’s all smack dab in the middle of mediocrity I guess, relatively speaking, anyway. In any case, let’s find out which games make it to these, uh, coveted spots. Here we go!
34. BATMAN RETURNS (DOS, 1992)
The DOS version of BATMAN RETURNS takes a pretty different approach to most of the other numerous adaptation of the 1992 film. In place of side-scrolling action and/or platforming, Spirit of Discovery’s game is a point & click adventure focused on detective work, with some interesting time progression mechanics as well as gorgeous art.
That all sounds like a slam dunk, so how come it ends up relatively low on the list? Well, simply put, it’s really not that great an adventure game. While the presentation is top notch, the puzzle design leaves a lot to be desired. Progression is extremely linear, with most locations being perpetually devoid of anything to interact with – with the exception of whichever particular place the game wants you to go to at that specific point. The game gives you very few options as to what to pursue, and even less clues about which option is correct.
On top of that the game features some ill-conceived semi-interactive fighting sequences, failure in which will lead to missing crucial interrogations, often leaving the game in an unwinnable state. I do think there’s still a lot that’s cool about BATMAN RETURNS, and I’d certainly recommend fans of point & click adventures to at least give it a look . Ultimately though, while it may suggest that a Batman point & click adventure could be something pretty great, BATMAN RETURNS fails to prove it.
33. LEGO BATMAN: THE VIDEOGAME (PlayStation 3, 2008)
I was a bit apprehensive about playing LEGO BATMAN for the Caped Crusade – I’d played it in the past, but hadn’t been particularly impressed, and fell off the game fairly quickly. I think in the end, that first impression ended up being pretty accurate – LEGO BATMAN isn’t without charm, and it plays… competently, but once you’ve played a handful of levels, you’ve really seen everything the game has to offer.
Puzzles (and even calling them that feels like a stretch) are very simplistic, and combat is both far too imprecise and too inconsequential to ever really be engaging. Fighting really is complete busywork, and the endlessly respawning goons only serve as a distraction, slowing you down as you desperately try to complete whatever puzzle so you can eventually move on.
Compared to its DS counterpart, the console LEGO BATMAN at least has a few more positive things going for it. The pantomimed cutscenes are pretty cute, visuals are at least somewhat more interesting, and you actually get to build things other than ladders and switches. But no parts of the game ever really rise above competent mediocrity, and while playing through a level is rarely terrible (with the exception of the vehicle stages – those are terrible), having to go through 30 or so of them to beat the game gets to be a chore.
32. THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN (SEGA Mega CD, 1995)
Building off the technology developed for the Mega CD version of BATMAN RETURNS, the Batmobile action returns in force in THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN. As far as the gameplay goes, it’s very similar – for good and bad. The sprite-scaling looks terrific, with tons of action on screen at any given time, and the art does a great job of replicating the look of the show. Handling feels good, and overall it’s pretty fun to play.
Yet, it suffers from the same major issues as the driving levels in BATMAN RETURNS. The action is a little too intense for what the Mega CD can handle, so framerates get pretty rough (the rare section with less going on see a noticeable FPS bump, making me wish more of the game played like that). And perhaps most importantly, the game is absolutely ruthless. Time limits are very strict, health refills are few and far between, and bosses are incredibly bullet spongy.
However, there are a few notable features which to me clearly make THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN & ROBIN the superior game. For one, it doesn’t have any annoyingly shitty platforming levels! But the more significant difference is that this game features essentially an episode’s worth of original high-quality animation FMV, exclusive to the game. The unforgiving level of difficulty is this game’s biggest downfall in my book, but either way the cinematics alone make it worth checking out for any fan of Batman: The Animated Series.
31. LEGO BATMAN 3: BEYOND GOTHAM (PC, 2014)
LEGO BATMAN 3 expands and diverges quite a bit from the formula established by the original game. There is – on paper anyway – a lot more you can do, with the ability to swap costumes (and eventually characters) on the fly, and longer, occasionally more open levels. It ultimately doesn’t amount to a ton though; the game rarely if ever quite manages to escape that LEGO repetitiveness.
Perhaps the biggest difference to the overall experience compared to the original LEGO BATMAN is the focus on narrative. In the years since the first game the LEGO games transitioned from pantomime cinematics to fully voiced dialogue, and with that comes a much stronger focus on story. The story however isn’t super compelling – it’s a little all over the place, not particularly well-paced or structured, and its frequent attempts at humour often fall flat.
Like most LEGO games there is a lot to do if you’re eager to revisit levels multiple times to find optional hidden doodads, but as far as playing through the story from start to finish, I didn’t enjoy this a ton. It’s perfectly serviceable, and under other circumstances I’m sure there’s plenty of fun to be had with it, but personally I found it a big disappointment after the second game, which… well, more on that later.
30. BATMAN: DARK TOMORROW (Xbox, 2003)
Ah, now for what could very well be the most scorchingly hot take in this entire ranking. BATMAN: DARK TOMORROW is frequently cited as “the worst Batman video game of all time”, and I’ll admit that by certain metrics, that is a perfectly fair assessment. The game is shockingly, if not impressively, incompetent in how it’s put together; the movement, camera, combat, and clunky handling of weapons and equipment make DARK TOMORROW feel like a mid-90’s ripoff of ALONE IN THE DARK, not a 2003 action game. And on top of all that, it features bafflingly awful platforming, confusing gadgets, and possibly the worst implementation of a grappling hook in any Batman game.
YET… I really enjoyed my time with this game! I frankly can’t fault anyone for hating DARK TOMORROW, but personally I found it weirdly charming, and far more memorable than many other, arguably more competent, games. I’ll always appreciate the sheer novelty of a Batman game based on the comics and not another movie or TV adaptation, and DARK TOMORROW manages to hit quite a few unique notes to make it stand out. A lot of the character designs have a refreshingly old-school feel to them (not to mention the awesome classic Batmobile!), it features a bunch of villains not seen in many other games, and best of all, the Joker legitimately only has a bit part.
Even if half of the enjoyment I got out of BATMAN: DARK TOMORROW was sheer bafflement and incredulity at what was presented to me, I nevertheless enjoyed it. Simply put, it was more fun than most of the bad Batman games, but not exactly better than the actual good ones. Given that it was both one of the most memorable experiences in all of the Caped Crusade, yet undeniably one of the most poorly crafted ones – I feel like putting it somewhere close to the middle of the list feels fair.
29. BATMAN FOREVER (SNES, 1995)
We previously saw Probe’s BATMAN & ROBIN further down the list, a game I praised for its ambition and innovation, even if it ultimately resulted in a nigh-unplayable game. Probe’s earlier effort, the console version of BATMAN FOREVER, shares some of those qualities. It’s something as unique as a MORTAL KOMBAT MYTHOLOGIES: SUB-ZERO-like… released two years before that game. It’s arguably a more elaborate version of MKMSZ even, with huge levels to explore, filled to the brim with puzzles and secrets.
Probe had previously developed several MORTAL KOMBAT home ports for Acclaim, and I can only assume those experiences inspired them to use MK’s controls and core combat mechanics as the basis for their Batman game. Although collision is frequently dodgy and the AI gets all kinds of weird, I think there is a fundamental joy to having such a wide range of attacks, abilities and gadgets to use, especially in a type of game where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it. The digitized sprites is of course another standout feature, and it has to be said that Probe did an excellent job with them. Technically anyway – the costuming and performances of some of the actors are a bit questionable, but the sprites themselves look better than pretty much anything like this that wasn’t done by Midway.
Similar to BATMAN & ROBIN, BATMAN FOREVER is annoyingly if not unfairly difficult. The game more or less relies on you finding a lot of the well-hidden secrets to unlock extra lives and additional gadgets, but even then it’s an incredible challenge. All things considered though, I find the balance between “cool shit” and “unplayableness” a lot more palatable in BATMAN FOREVER. If it had only been a little less stingy with lives and continues, I think it could be a legitimately really fun game.
28. BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (Wii, 2010)
I’ve long felt that WayForward Technologies is a developer that it’s a little frustrating to be a fan of – their games are generally very appealing on their surface; gorgeous and with a lot of fun ideas, but faltering in execution, in one way or another. Good games, with the notable exception of one or a few issues that kind of drag the whole down.
BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD for the Wii certainly fits that description. It is absolutely beautiful to look at, the combat mechanics feel good and are fun (despite occasionally awkward waggle controls), boss fights are pretty neat, and generally it just plays well. However, the game does have a glaring issue – pacing. The game consists of a mere four levels, and they each take somewhere between one to two hours to complete. That is an absurd amount of time to spend in samey locations fighting the same enemies, and just makes the game feel really repetitive.
The issue is also made worse by the game’s really fun gimmick – each level has Batman partner up with a different character. So not only do you end up really wanting more levels just for variety in locales, but it’d also allow for more fun team-ups. Obviously having more playable characters would have been more work, it’s understandable they had to cut corners somewhere and make the most of what they had. Still, I find it impossible to play this game without wishing it had eight 20-minute stages instead.
27. BATMAN (Arcade, 1991)
Atari’s arcade BATMAN based on the 1989 film arrived weirdly late, but despite that seems a bit rushed – though frankly that feeling can probably be largely attributed to the game’s healthy dose of typical Atari jank. BATMAN is essentially a clone of ROLLING THUNDER or SHINOBI but a lot jankier. Movement and animations are oddly choppy, platform collision is a little unreliable, and physics are, uh, questionable at best.
Despite these technical issues though, the arcade BATMAN is still a pretty cool game. The mechanical jank is largely made up for by the game’s presentation, which do a notably better job than any other adaptation of actually capturing the feel of the 1989 film. Burton’s Gotham City and its population of thugs are distinctly recognisable, the game uses FM synth interpretations of Danny Elfman’s iconic score, and you frequently get to hear voice clips taken straight from the film. In addition to tone and atmosphere, the plot is also faithfully adapted – including cutscenes with movie stills, and some pretty cool Batmobile and Batwing stages.
26. BATMAN (Amiga, 1989)
BATMAN for the Amiga is notable for being a massive hit that really made the Amiga take off as a platform, as well truly cementing the viability of basing games on a movie license, which then became Ocean’s standard practice for years to come. More than a novelty though, Ocean’s BATMAN is a legitimately pretty good game, and its success is owed to more than a recognisable license.
The game has five levels, with the first and last featuring the same side-scrolling action gameplay, while the middle three sees you drive the Batmobile, concoct a Smilex antidote, and fly the Batwing, respectively. The side-scrolling stages aren’t extremely noteworthy perhaps, but they’re pretty solid and definitely do the job. The variety in gameplay types is really cool though; the Batcave level where you analyse the Smilex sample to create an antidote is a pretty simple puzzle, but a welcome change of pace and a novel way to include a key plot point from the film that’s omitted in pretty much every other game adaptation.
The Batmobile and Batwing stages are where the game really shine, though. The Batmobile stage in particular might just be my favourite of all Batmobile sections in any Batman game! At its core it’s a fairly straightforward first-person driving segment, but the simple addition of using the grappling hook to make left and right turns is incredibly satisfying and make an already fun driving segment even cooler.
25. BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES (Game Boy, 1993)
BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES on the Game Boy isn’t a super remarkable game – but as we’ve seen, the bar for portable Batman games is not particularly high. Not to say the game is purely mediocre though; the platforming, while perfunctory, works well, and the visuals are really quite good! Even with a very limited colour palette and resolution, it manages to evoke the feel of the show, and the game even features a surprisingly faithful recreation of the show’s opening for its intro.
As expected from Konami, the game features a rockin’ – as well as moody – soundtrack, and overall the presentation of the game really quite nice. Mechanically it doesn’t hold up as well – there isn’t anything really wrong with it, but nothing too special about it either, really. I’d recommend it more for its presentation than anything else, but all in all it’s still a solid little game.
24. BATMAN: ARKHAM VR (PlayStation 4, 2016)
I really didn’t know what to expect going into BATMAN: ARKHAM VR. All I’d really heard about it was that it was a neat little sandbox VR experience kind of thing, but not much of a game. I think that’s a fair way to describe it, but going in with low expectations meant I was able to enjoy it quite a bit more than I thought I would.
ARKHAM VR is a pretty short game from start to finish, about 90 minutes or so. If I’d stopped playing once credits rolled, I probably would have ended up putting it a lot lower on this list – the story is mostly complete nonsense, and the ending shits the bed really badly even by BATMAN: ARKHAM series standards. However, upon completing the story, you unlock the ability to revisit each of the game’s little vignettes, freshly populated with hidden collectibles, riddles, and various other little secrets and challenges to discover.
Ignoring the narrative aspects, and just enjoying ARKHAM VR purely as a VR sandbox where we get to explore Wayne Manor, the Batcave, back alleys in Gotham and other neat locations, is where the game really shines. Well, calling it a “game” seems weird even; there are challenges to complete and items to collect, but most of the enjoyment I got from playing ARKHAM VR was simply taking in and lightly interacting with the highly detailed and atmospheric environments. One of the absolute highlights for me was the part in the Batcave where you can examine a handful of different character models – I always enjoy model viewers in games, but it is orders of magnitude cooler in VR.
BATMAN: ARKHAM VR not only made me wish more games had specific VR-enabled model viewers – but legitimately had me considering shelling out for a high-end PC VR headset just so I can mess around more with 3D model viewing and stuff. It doesn’t exactly have a ton to do with the game – but I still feel I gotta give it some credit for sparking that kind of excitement.
Three parts down, two to go. Stay tuned for the next instalment, where we start getting into the legitimately good games! 🦇