Being from a generation where most games were made of cardboard and movement was decided by dice, I’ve had the benefit of living through just about every form of video game platform. Along with that, I’ve had the pleasure, frustration and chance to don a towel around my shoulders, pull tights over my head and pick up a joystick/controller/mouse and keyboard to play every iteration of the Caped Crusader’s adventures while claiming in various silly voices… I’m Batman!
This top five list of games covers the early years to the current day of the Dark Knight’s pixellated battles in Gotham against possibly the best team of deranged villains in comic book history. What better way to spend the 75th anniversary of Batman than actually taking control of the man in the suit and slapping seven shades of insanity from the many disfigured faces of evil that Arkham Asylum has to offer?
The first Batman experience for many in gaming form, The Caped Crusader was an action-adventure title from Ocean Software, one of the biggest developers in the eighties and nineties, for the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Split into two separate stories, you took on the role of old pointy ears, fighting goons, solving puzzles and hunting down either the Joker of the Penguin, depending on which chapter you decided to play.
In true Batman form, you had to solve a series of conundrums to help you progress. Finding and using items worked much like a survival-horror game in which you would use a seemingly innocent object to further your score and move onto the next area. I recall there being a room in total darkness and having to search previous areas for a torch before being able to move on. Surely Batman had a gadget to help him see in the dark, you say? Ummm… No.
The game was displayed in 2D, quite well done for the time and each room was portrayed in a comic book style, with panels overlapping each other as you changed your surroundings while blippy SID music played in the background. Although tough at times, with fights being a bit hard to get to grips with, the gameplay was spot on, giving you the chance to sling deformed batarangs at baddies and do dome Dark Knight detecting for the first time without looking like a plonker while wearing bathroom-wear on your back.
This Batman game was based on the highly popular animated series of the nineties and the plot worked itself loosely around the stories told in the cartoon. Visually and aurally, TAOBAR was a perfect accompaniment, transferring the scenes, characters and music of the series straight to console.
Each level had it’s own villain and theme, such as the Joker’s chapter featuring a toy-filled theme park, complete with roller-coaster boss battle as the main event. Catwoman, The Riddler, Two-Face and the rest of the cadre of villains have chapters of their own to work through and each have their own theme, keeping the game fresh throughout and bringing new gameplay elements.
Possibly still my favourite Batman game ever, The Adventures of Batman and Robin was as faithful to it’s base material as any of the games have. So many gadgets, so many bad guys and so much fun to play.
While not the first game based on a Batman movie, Batman Begins is possibly the best of the bunch. It runs you through the plot of Christopher Nolan’s retelling of Bruce Wayne’s journey from depressed orphan to DC’s biggest bad-ass and pays close attention to the story that the movie tells, with a few exceptions.
Taking a few cues from the Splinter Cell series, the game is the first in history to allow you to use the element of fear instead of wading in, batarang first. Combining stealth, surveillance gadgets, the use of environmental hazards to scare and maim foes and that weird, growly accent of Christian Bale himself, Batman Begins offers a new style of play to the series.
Although Batman Begins didn’t pick up as much acclaim as the movie and some were disappointed, no one can argue how good Gotham and it’s denizens look. The cast from the film is rendered perfectly for graphics of the time and adding almost the entire voice acting skills of the characters, it was amazing to behold.
No one can deny that Lego games have managed to squeeze their way into the hearts of everyone, young and old. Lego games, smarty, inject some of our favourite childhood action heroes into little plastic men and give them entire worlds of stud hunting (ooh err missus), baddie smashing and building puzzles so full of humour and character that they’re hard to resist.
Lego Batman is no exception, travelling around Gotham in colourful brick form is absolute heaven and solving the mysteries of how the hell to get across that pool of toxic waste! Each hero, villain and bystander having their own personality, comedic mumbling voice and parody moments.
Although not the most exciting game in the Lego series, Batman still has oodles of fun to offer, especially in co-op mode with a friend, child or partner. Just make them play as Robin, because nobody wants to be the sidekick…
Finishing the top five with, most likely, the best Batman gaming experience we’ve ever had the pleasure to play, Rocksteady’s Arkham games truly encapsulate everything that is Batman. More apt to following the events of the comic-books than other media, Arkham’s writers have managed to make Batfans feel like they’re in those armoured boots.
Arkham Asylum plunged you into the depths of Gotham’s sanitarium, introducing you to the psychotic world of the Joker and the rest of the rabble that Batman has managed to lock up over the years. A terrifying and exciting episode in the canon. Arkham City bettered this by opening up the entirety of Arkham Island, a huge playground of butt-kicking, puzzle solving and boss battling glory that immerses you in everything that is truly the best Batman game series ever made.
Then came Arkham Origins, a game that was handed over to Warner Bros Montreal while Rocksteady work on the upcoming Arkham Knight. It keeps the same values, gameplay and setting as previous games, but takes you into the past when Bruce is an up and coming vigilante, still on the police radar and more so in the eyes of a group of colourful assassins, intent on delivering his head to Black Mask. It’s also set at Christmas…
So there you go, from the days of bad perms and brown corduroy to an era of stupid kids who wear glasses without lenses and hate everything because they’re too cool, one consistency still remains: Batman is top dog of the comic book/gaming crossover. Let’s hope the Arkham Knight continues to keep that title on a shelf in the Batcave…