Franchise Feature: Gotham’s Dark Knight
Batman Across Decades of Gaming
Welcome back to our look at the graphic design and evolution of games. Today we’ll be taking an in depth look at into the graphics and gameplay of the varied Batman franchise games.
‘I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman” [ 1 ]! The iconic line, delivered by Kevin Conroy in Batman: The Animated Series, sets the tone for modern Batman stories. There is so much to be explored from the world of this one superhero that, when combined with its popularity, it made the transition into the world of video games inevitable. But how well did these games translate the iconic world of Batman onto the small, playable screen?
Batman: The Video Game (NES, 1990)
The first game most Batman fans will remember is the NES platformer by Sunsoft. This game was based on the motion picture by Tim Burton. It was a departure from the old Adam West style of Batman, which was much quainter and more lighthearted. Burton’s Batman was gritty, dark, and visceral, and the NES game consistently followed this formula. For most gamers or fans of Batman, this game represented their first experience with superhero video games, which both grants it a special place in the halls of nostalgia and meant that it would set the bar by which all future Batman game titles would be measured [ 2 ].
When the game starts up, we are treated to a loading screen with a surprisingly defined rendering of Michael Keaton as Batman. The in-game sprite is a wonderful low-res representation of the iconic character. The limits of the color palette led Batman to be purple, rather than all black, that shade reserved for sections of the background. Even so, it’s easy to see that this is Batman with the easily recognized cowl, cape, and chiseled body armor. As he strides forward on the screen, his cape billows behind him. For attacks, Batman can deliver rapid punches or throw one of his stock of ranged weapons, like the Batarang. His jumps can be precisely controlled for height, and he can also cling to walls for a moment, and then jump off that wall in the opposite direction. This wall jump platforming mechanic is central to the game, and requires some time investment to master, but is ultimately quite rewarding when done correctly.
The interface is about as simple and pure as they come. You have Batman’s health in the top right, with a placard of his name above it, indicated by eight light blue bars that will darken to purple when damage is taken. To the immediate left of his health bar is his currently equipped weapon—P representing Punch, a gun icon to represent his Spear Gun, which looks and shoots more like a missile; a crescent representing the Batarang, which can hit an enemy both on its first throw and its return motion; and a curved, four-pointed glaive to represent the Dirk, which blasts out three projectiles simultaneously. Apart from these interface indicators are the item drops—the letter B to indicate bonus points, a small missile symbol to indicate ammunition, and a heart to indicate health. Some of the icons don’t make 100-percent logical sense, but they are easy to learn, even if you don’t happen to have the instruction manual which details everything [ 3 ].
There are five stages in the game, each one of decent length and with a lot of platforming obstacles to overcome. First is the Gotham City Streets, where Batman arrives after a dramatic cut scene of him driving his Batmobile. The background is dark, wreathed in the shadow of night, with Gothic-style brick laid buildings contrasted by the rusted-steel looking platforms that are prominent in the foreground. Our second map is the Axis Chemical Plant, a location only briefly featured in the movie that the game expanded upon. The interior location is marked by pools of deadly green liquid, churning fans, pipes, and sections of bare electrical wires. This place is an OSHA nightmare for sure, but for a video game level it works well.
Next is Gotham sewers, where the walls are coated green, presumably with moss or lichen, but the water itself looks relatively clean… at least in the first section, after which we see green water (ick). Many hazardous machines churn the water around, perhaps purifying it, but none the less dangerous to get nearby. After that we come to the Mysterious Laboratory, a place seemingly abundant with illegal experimentation, as its massive test tubes in the background would indicate. The stage changes in its second phase to look like the interior of a massive machine, with turning gears and innumerable pipes, and then changes again in its third phase, with electronic tracks that have gun-machines zipping back and forth, and a massive open furnace at its base. The final stage, the Gotham Clock Tower, is a long ascent to the top. It has brightly colored red brick and orange girder backgrounds, with silvery-steel clock gears and simple gray bricked side walls. While you can note that the color palette here has an absolute limit, the amount of detail that can be conveyed even with only these few colors is quite impressive. There’s never a feeling of any of the set pieces being out of place.
The stage bosses have some interesting variance. The first boss is Killer Moth, a villain with a jetpack who flies around and shoots four simultaneous shots downward. He can be hit in melee when he swoops down to change his positions on the screen, but it is simpler and safer to use one of Batman’s ranged weapons to attack when he does this. The Chem Plant boss, called the Machine Intelligence System, consists of several pieces that need to be destroyed to finally damage the core unit. The third-stage boss is the Electrocutioner, who uses an arm mounted device to attack with a ranged shockwave that he shoots from a standing position, then jumps across the room. This shockwave is so large; it can only be avoided by jumping to the above platforms. You can, at full health, simply spam Batarangs at him until he is defeated, and there is also a way to make him bug out and only face away from Batman, making him perhaps the least difficult boss.
Stage four features another machine boss called the Dual-Container Alarm. True to the name, it is two container-like objects that move around the “track” of the boss stage that is created by the vertical platforms, and occasionally shoot projectiles out both sides. When one of the containers is destroyed, the other goes into an overdrive mode of sorts, revealing a central red eye and blasting out multi-shot fireballs. The last two bosses are faced in rapid succession. First is Firebug, whose in-game appearance suggests that he is some sort of demon, despite him being human. His sprite is an approximation of his costume, and it unfortunately does not translate very well into 8-bit. Still, this is a difficult fight. The battle takes place at the top of the tower. There is nowhere to run, and only small walls to the left and right most side to jump on to avoid his large fireballs and rapid flame punches. As soon as you defeat him, the Joker delivers a monologue, and then it’s time for the final confrontation.
Much closer looking in appearance with his unmistakable green hair and purple suit, this Joker is far more powerful than any of his comic book or television adaptations, with a long gun that shoots both a small projectile and a shock wave, and the ability to call down multiple lightning strikes. This battle requires a combination of patience and proper timing, ducking under or jumping over his shots and standing in between the gaps in his lightning.
This game is incredibly well done for its time period. Sunsoft knew how to capture the feel of the movie without the game needing to be a shot-for-shot remake of it. The stages and sprites captured the dark overtones set by the film. They added interesting elements of platforming and an intuitive combat system that made this game a joy to play. This title set the bar high when it came to superhero video games, and fans’ expectations for future titles. When I first played this game many years ago, I was only a budding fan of Batman and things related, having seen the Burton movie and knowing only a little bit about the caped crusader. While I liked the game, a younger me found it difficult to get through. These days, I’d say it’s still a hard game, but definitely beatable.
Batman Returns (NES, SNES, Genesis, 1993)
Yes, it is another movie tie-in game. There were many developers involved in this one, thanks to it being cross-platform, but it was primarily published by Konami. This time around we’ve got a side-scrolling beat-em-up, a seemingly perfect game setting for Batman, and particularly the second Burton movie game, where there was a lot more fighting and more colorful foes [ 4 ].
Batman is back in action in glorious 16-bit. The detail in the sprite is obviously improved from the previous generation title, the figure this time clad in the traditional black with the yellow bat symbol in the center of the chest and the bronze-gold utility belt. Batman can attack quickly with his punch and kick combination, which dispatches most weaker foes. He can grab and throw enemies, either against the background wall, onto the ground, or even into each other. He can also throw his signature Batarangs for an effective ranged attack. He can do a sliding kick across the ground, a jumping kick, and he can block attacks, though only in the direction he is facing. A sort of special move Batman can perform is his cape sweep, which deals a large amount of damage but at the cost of health. Finally, Batman has a limited supply of Test Tubes, a special item attack that explodes, and clears all regular enemies currently on screen, and deals massive damage to bosses. He also has a utility item in his grappling hook, which will allow him to traverse over certain obstacles. While some of these abilities are not part of either the movie or comic series, you must allow some invention when it comes to video games, and everything here adds a level of depth to the game play [ 5 ].
The game interface is standard fare for beat-em-ups. The top left corner has Batman’s health bar, which is orange outlined with white that will empty when he is damaged. We also see his total extra lives count and how many of the special Test Tube weapon remain. Top center shows which special item is currently selected for use—either the Batarang or the Grappling Hook. There is a score kept at the top right, and under this will appear the enemy health bars. The active bar changes depending on which enemy you hit last. This can lead to the bar changing rapidly when fighting many kinds of foes at the same time, but I’d call that a minor flaw, if indeed it is a flaw at all. The ability to track the health of every foe on the screen without cluttering it is helpful.
Speaking of the foes, Batman Returns has many, drawn primarily from the Red Triangle Circus Gang from the movie. Most common are Thin Clowns, men dressed in typical clown motley, albeit dirty looking. They are easily dispatched with any attack. The Bikers, who wear giant skull-head helmets, are never on screen for long, preferring to zip by on their motorcycles. If you are quick, you can bash them off their bikes for more points. Bazooka Clowns are Thin Clowns with Bazookas. Their attack deals a lot of damage—it is a bazooka, after all—but is slow. Fat Clowns are big men in clown suits and makeup, tougher than Thin Clowns.
Fire Clowns wear an all-red suit with bells on their tasseled ends, as well as a hood with devil horns. They have pitchforks that are aflame on the pointy end, and they will use this as an ignition point for their fire breath attack, keeping with their devil motif. The Tall Clowns walk on stilts, wearing extra-long pants and juggling flaming batons, which they use to attack. Sword Swallowers aren’t in clown attire, instead wearing what looks like light leather armor on their torso, with either thick tights or yoga pants. As the name implies, they swallow swords, but more importantly they will attack with that sword. The last regular enemy is the Knife Thrower, who is dressed in a somewhat problematic Native American style with a feathered headdress. As you might have guessed, they throw knives, which fly across screen quickly. As the stages progress, these foes appear again and again, with the typical beat-em-up trope of palette-swaps indicating a more powerful version of the same foe. The visuals for these enemies match up with the movie quite nicely, and while the fighting can become repetitive due to the limited variety, it remains satisfying to smash these enemies around the screen as the caped crusader.
The stages are mostly taken directly from the movie sets. The first stage is Gotham Plaza, with its Christmas celebration under way, interrupted by the attack of the Red Triangle Circus Gang. Next is more of the Streets of Gotham, a basic city-scape setup at street level, with plenty of street signs, sidewalks, trash cans, sewer grates, and shop windows. Stage three, titled “On The Prowl,” takes Batman up the outside of several apartment complexes, via painters scaffolding and later some light platforming through an under-construction skyscraper. The fourth stage, “Penguin’s Trap,” takes place inside an abandoned warehouse, where the Penguin has taken a hostage, and his thugs are waiting for Batman to arrive. The interior is dimly lit, with only outside moonlight coming in through the windows to break up the darkness.
The next stage is a change in the pacing, being a Batmobile driving scene. The Batmobile races down the Gotham highway, with the looming image of the city far in the distance. The skull-helmet Bikers are here in force to attempt to stop Batman from pursuing Penguin’s campaign van. After this we come to the Circus Train, where Penguin’s gang has kidnapped and taken all (or at least a lot of) the children of Gotham’s elite socialites. The train cars have a classic amusement park look to them, with bright coloring and elaborate patterns. Eventually the train stops, and Batman takes to the ground for the stage’s boss battle. The finale stage is “Penguin’s Lair,” which is the old Gotham City Zoo that he and his gang have taken over and converted into their base of operations. The detail in these stages is good, matching the tone and overall feeling of its movie counterpart, but each takes enough of its own liberties to keep the game flowing.
Now we come to the bosses. Our first encounter is with the Stun Gun Clown, whom you may remember from the movie as the guy briefly holding Selena Kyle hostage. In the movie, Batman beat him easily with his grappling gun. In the game, the fight takes a little bit longer, with this clown jumping and spinning around the screen, threatening Batman with his stun gun. Next is the Tattooed Strongman, also from the movie, who in the film seemingly survived a bomb that was strapped to his chest exploding. He is just as tough in the game, throwing powerful punches and calling in constant reinforcements of Thin Clowns.
Next, as we take to the rooftops, naturally we face off against Catwoman, whose appearance is practically identical to Michelle Pfeiffer’s costumed movie portrayal. She moves across the screen acrobatically, doing handsprings and cartwheels, and is even capable of quick bursts of speed that make her appear blurred. Batman will battle with Catwoman again in the next stage, “Penguin’s Trap,” only this time she comes equipped with her cat claw, which she uses in a dashing thrust attack. Immediately after beating her is our first encounter with the Penguin. His in-game sprite matches up quite well with the costume and makeup that Danny DeVito wore in the movie. He takes to the sky with his propeller-like umbrella and throws even more umbrellas at Batman, both straight down and across the screen, which explode on impact.
The Batmobile stage boss is Penguin’s campaign van, which has members of his gang hanging off the sides that shoot their bazookas at the iconic car. On the Train stage, we face off against the Organ Grinder, who holds his grinder up as if to strike with it like a hammer, but instead plants it into the ground and activates the hidden chain-gun inside it, rapidly firing bullets at Batman, while several reinforcement waves of Thin Clowns come in to help. The final stage, of course, features the Penguin, in two forms. First, he drives his Duck Vehicle, the giant yellow duck on wheels that you may remember from the movie. This duck extends into the air on hydraulics and comes slamming down, attempting to smash Batman in its gears. When this battle is done, Batman faces off against the Penguin alone inside his underground lair. He fights both on the ground with his gun umbrella and in the air using his propeller-like umbrella once more, and he has increased health and speed. While the canonical depiction of the Penguin is that of a physically weaker man, having a fight that only lasts a few punches would be anticlimactic after such a long journey. Overall, these bosses provide a somewhat typical but nonetheless entertaining challenge, and their sprites match up beautifully with their movie depictions [ 6 ].
This is a decent entry into the world of Batman video games, particularly for fans of the second movie. The mirroring of that Burton art style is done very well, and the game play is satisfying, if a bit repetitive. Then again, repetition is the nature of beat-em-ups, so one can hardly fault the game for that. This game was well received by fans of the franchise, particularly the SNES and Sega versions, though the port to the Amiga was known for its terrible optimization and bugs. That aside, the game at least met with the expectations of fans, giving them a decent dose of Batman beat-em-up action. It didn’t particularly innovate or change anything in the beat-em-up genre, but it was a competent entry therein. This is another title that I got to play around its original release, and I have to say it holds up well. You can hardly go wrong with a little bit of ass kicking, Batman style.
The Adventures of Batman & Robin (SNES, Genesis, 1994)
Another tie-in (sensing a pattern yet?), this time of the popular Warner Brothers cartoon series, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, comes to us once again from Konami. This game is an action-adventure platformer, combining elements of platforming with beat-em-up, as well as a bit of mystery and investigation, to create an interesting fusion [ 7 ].
This time around, the art style mimics the cartoon series, and does so quite well. Batman looks and moves just like his small screen animated counterpart. His movement is exaggerated running, with his cape billowing behind him. His combat moves consist of straight punches and kicks, low side kicks if he ducks down, and jumping spin kicks when he leaps into the air. He can grab and throw enemies a short distance. He can also roll across the ground, allowing for quick repositioning, and he both hangs from ledges and does a rebound jump from walls. Between stages, you also get to select what equipment to bring, though not all equipment is available right away. The Batarang and Grappling Gun are always on, being the basic iconic equipment of Batman. There are throwing stars, which do a bit more damage than the Batarangs, but are limited in number; the Spray Gun, which makes enemies fall down temporarily; Plastic Explosives, which are used to shatter breakable walls; Smoke Bombs, which create a cloud of smoke and cause enemies to fall at a distance. Utility equipment includes a Gas Mask, which partially protects Batman from toxic gas; a Flash Light, to light up dark rooms; X-Ray Goggles, used to find hidden traps and doors; and the Master Key, which is only available on the 3rd stage, used to open doors. You can equip all or none of these items, depending on what you prefer, the only difference being how long it takes to cycle through these items. Overall, this Batman has quite the arsenal at his disposal [ 8 ].
Our interface is simple and stylized. In the top left we see Batman’s health bar, displayed in yellow next to his name, which is showcased in the iconic show’s font. The corner of this display shows which item is currently equipped for use, with the corresponding symbols for the Batarang, Grappling Gun, Flashlight and so on. Lastly, underneath Batman’s name plate is the current score, which increases by defeating enemies, collecting items, and completing stages. It’s a well-thought-out HUD that doesn’t take up too much screen space, while at the same time not sacrificing any important information.
The game stages are presented in a semi-drawn pixel style, and they are titled episodically, matching the appearance of the TV series quite well. The first stage begins with Batman on the streets of Gotham, making his way to the Joker’s Amusement Park, where the clown prince of crime has set several explosives. The park is quite colorful, with a sort of toy land theme with giant, multicolored, six-sided dice making up the foreground, and the background showing giant teddy bears. The stage moves onto a roller coaster, where Batman and the Joker do battle. Our second act is set in the forest outside the Gotham suburbs. It is a lush location, with plenty of floral greenery and tall oaks, as well as collapsing floors that contain hungry, man-eating plants. Next, we have the Gotham City Art Museum, where it appears that Penguin’s gang has broken in to steal some of the priceless art. This stage is where the flashlight comes in handy, as it will reveal traps that are otherwise hidden in the darkness.
Our fourth episode, the Tale of the Cat, takes place along the rooftops of Gotham. Batman must chase down Catwoman, through an elevator, down the sides of buildings, across roofs, and eventually facing off against her in an alleyway. The fifth stage, Trouble in Transit, is a top-down driving stage reminiscent of GTA1 and 2. Players take control of the Batmobile, racing against the clock to track down Two-Face and his gang after a bank robbery. You’ll race down the streets of Gotham, doing your best to take the correct turns when prompted, and eventually hit the Gotham highway, where you catch up with the getaway car. Episode six, Perchance to Scream, begins in a university, where Scarecrow used to be a student. The villain releases his fear toxin, which makes regular people see Batman as their enemy. Batman must avoid harming the civilians whilst at the same time battling Scarecrow’s thugs and avoiding the toxin himself. Stage seven, Riddle Me This, takes place in the Riddler’s maze, where Barbara and Commissioner Gordon have been taken hostage. This stage has its own map display in the top right, as the maze is extensive. Batman must battle foes, solve riddles, and navigate the maze to free his friends. The final stage, The Gauntlet, is a boss rush, where Batman faces off against most of his foes once more, along with two new ones, Clayface and Man Bat. The styling of these episodic stages makes one feel as though they are living, or at least directing, the TV series.
As far as foes go, outside of boss battles there’s not too much. You’ll encounter three forms of basic enemy, being an unarmed thug, a pistol wielding thug, or an SMG wielding thug, all of which are quickly dispatched with a few punches or kicks. In the forest stage, there are garden keepers with chemical spray, and plant vines that whip violently when Batman draws near. The fights against the series main villains are where the real meat of combat lies. Before Batman faces the Joker for the first time, he must defeat the mini boss of a giant toy soldier. Then, he faces Joker on his roller coaster, and must throw back the bombs that Joker lobs at him to defeat him.
Poison Ivy doesn’t fight Batman directly, instead controlling a giant mutated Venus Flytrap to battle him. Against Penguin, Batman must first knock out his pet vulture and then, on the rooftop of the art museum, Batman gets to fight Penguin, who takes to the skies with his umbrella and his drone helicopter, which shoots at Batman from afar with dual machine guns. The entirety of the fourth stage is one prolonged battle against Catwoman, though the actual boss fight doesn’t begin until you reach the alleyway at the end. The Batmobile battle against Two-Face’s vehicle is back and forth, with Batman sometimes doing the chasing and firing the guns of the Batmobile, and then Two-Face’s car dropping back behind the Batmobile to launch bombs at it. The fight against Scarecrow takes place atop his glider’s wings, with the balance of the glider dipping left or right as the two move across it, and Scarecrow eschewing his nerve toxin for a sawed-off shotgun.
The end of Riddler’s maze features a chess board, with a gigantic floating Riddler head and hands. These hands first harry Batman with laser beams that destroy the floor. Then, when Batman reaches the stage’s end, he must destroy the two giant chess pieces of both the black and white kings that Riddler attempts to crush him with. The final boss rush stage features Penguin sans his drone helicopter, Scarecrow, this time on the ground, and newcomer Clayface, who launches bricks and globs of clay at Batman, as well as turning himself into a boulder to attempt to roll him over. The next section features Catwoman, as well as the Man-Bat, who flies from background to foreground trying to swipe at Batman with his claws. Then, finally, the Joker, who comes equipped with a jet pack, and when that fails, his trusty bombs. These boss battles once more capture the feeling of the show, where the main villains feature heavily in every episode, with most of the plot centered around how Batman foils their schemes.
On a whole, this game is a fantastic re-imagining of the series that remains true to that cartoon art style, and manages to create a truly fun and unique Batman game. It’s not completely combat focused, making it a departure from previous Batman game titles. While you do fight some criminals and super villains, the addition of investigation, exploration, and the various gadgets needed to get around obstacles or solve puzzles gives this game a slightly more complete Batman experience. He is the world’s greatest detective, after all, and having a game that finally displays Batman’s intellect is a welcome change to the previous combat-centered formats. This game showcased how future games featuring the Dark Knight could be about more than beating up bad guys, as well as a near seamless transition from television animation to an in-depth game experience. While I was a fan of the animated series, I never got around to playing this game before now. If you can’t tell by now, I found it to be a great representation of the themes of that show, as well as challenging and engaging enough to keep both show fans and gamers interested.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
The first big hit of the then unknown Rocksteady Studios, Arkham Asylum is the game that Batman fans around the world were clamoring for. After many disappointing games featured in the first wave of next gen consoles, fans had become disheartened at the thought of another disappointment. Fortunately, this game knocked it out of the park with its world building, graphic quality, and gameplay. The game’s plot centers on the Joker, voiced by the legendary Mark Hamill. The Joker tricks Batman into bringing him to Arkham, where the villain has already planted his men in key positions and quickly takes over the facility. It’s up to Batman to bring the now released criminals down and re-secure Arkham before it’s too late [ 9 ].
Batman’s look is a beautiful fully 3-D rendering that is a combination of his comic book persona and television cartoon appearance (also voiced by the great Kevin Conroy). His armor is sleekly designed, his cape even bigger than before, and his imposing presence much more pronounced. This time around, Batman has a ton of gadgets and skills at his disposal, though many of them are not available right away, being unlocked as the game progresses. His basic abilities include jumping, gliding via his cape. which expands into bat-like wings, crawling through vents, wall hanging, and for the first time, the ability to move stealthily.
Now, Batman has the option of sneaking up on unsuspecting criminals and taking them out quietly, a huge departure from earlier games. The signature Batarangs and Grappling Gun (this time called the Batclaw) make their appearance, as well as some new tech like Batman’s “Detective Vision,” a mode reminiscent of Eagle Vision a la Assassins’ Creed. This vision allows Batman to see his foes and the terrain, even in total darkness, and highlights interactable objects. The player will use this often in stealth sections, where running headlong into combat is ill advised due to the weaponry enemies might have. Apart from stealth movement and take downs, Batman also has explosive gel, which he can use to blast through some walls or weakened floor structures and to set up traps. The Remote Controlled Batarang, apart from being a useable weapon, functions as a long-range puzzle solver, allowing Batman to hit switches he otherwise could not reach. The Cryptographic Sequencer is essentially a code-breaking device, used for quick hacking of certain computer terminals. The Line Launcher allows Batman to create a tightrope between two walls, allowing him to reach locations previously unreachable. Finally, the Sonic Batarang emits sounds, which will draw enemies towards it, allowing for more tactical play. When it comes time to fight, this game features a wonderfully implemented free-flowing combat system, where you can target one or multiple foes simultaneously, intercept attacks and counter, mix in gadget attacks, and honestly just look cool. It’s an awesome feeling to control Batman’s combat in such an intuitive way.
The game’s map is extensive, covering several different areas of the island asylum. We have the exterior of Arkham East, West, North and South, the Arkham Mansion, the Botanical Gardens, the Caves, the Intensive Treatment wing, the Medical Facility, and the Penitentiary. Each of these locations is rendered with great care and attention to detail, creating a game world that feels natural while retaining the dark and Gothic undertones of the Batman series. There is both the feeling of empowerment in playing the Dark Knight himself, but also a sense of dread as to what the Joker has in store. For first time players and longtime fans, this place looks and feels like the real Arkham would.
The foes in the game aren’t too varied in appearance, but they will implement new weapons and armors as time passes and the prisoners gain access to the Arkham armory. The bulk of foes will be prisoners from Black Gate who were transferred to Arkham’s penitentiary due to overflow. Released by the Joker, these prisoners don’t present much of a threat to Batman, but they want him dead all the same. Apart from punches, kicks, and grabs, the inmates will try to beat Batman with pipes, throw objects like crates or chairs, and some even come equipped with knives—those ones need to be carefully dodged.
Later there will be thugs with stun batons, which Batman can’t engage directly, instead needing to jump over them or otherwise incapacitate them at range. There will be some thugs who can get a hold of guns via weapons lockers that might be nearby, and it’s very important to stop them from doing so. Then we come to the special enemies, the Titan mutants. Titan is a more potent, and more dangerous version of Venom, Bane’s super drug that enhances his body. The Titan thugs can’t be harmed by normal means, instead they must be baited into a charge, then blinded with a Batarang, causing them to crash into nearby walls. With them stunned by the wall, Batman can get on their shoulders and force them to swing at other enemies, or he can deliver effective attacks to knock them out [ 10 ].
There are several game bosses, each one an iconic Batman villain. First up to the plate is Bane, whom you fight inside Arkham’s furnace room. He’ll charge and attack in a very similar way to the Titan thugs and is taken out in the same fashion. Harley Quinn makes an appearance, though you don’t fight her directly except in a cutscene. Rather, she siccs her thugs on you, and you beat them down. Scarecrow also isn’t a direct fight, rather a struggle inside Batman’s mind, as he’s reeling from the effects of the fear toxin. The massive mutant, Killer Croc, lurks in Arkham’s sewers, and when Batman finds him, he must lead him back to a trap he laid earlier in the old pipes.
Poison Ivy stalks the halls of the Botanical Gardens, and when Batman confronts her, she takes refuge inside a massive flytrap like mutant plant, attacking Batman with constricting vines that plow through the ground and attempt to grab him as energy blasts from the upper flower pods. Finally, is the Joker himself, who injects his body with the new Titan drug to take on Batman in a death match atop a specially constructed ring, with electrified bars all around, Jim Gordon as hostage and Joker’s “special guest referee.” He’ll only fight for brief moments, sending in numerous thugs to battle Batman while he watches from on high, laughing all the while. Each battle has a distinct mechanic to it, requiring the player to make use of Batman’s various gadgets while avoiding the deadly attacks of his foes. Some people have called the final fight with Joker anticlimactic, but I’ll be among those that say it was a solid ending battle.
Arkham Asylum brought back a fan favorite franchise from the depths of video game purgatory. For the first time in a long time, a Batman game gave people something to look forward to, rather than a disappointing reminder of days’ longs past. The amount of control the player has as the caped crusader, combined with the supremely immersive world, attention to detail, and reverence to the source material makes Arkham Asylum the ultimate Batman gaming experience—at least, until its sequels surpass it. This game, and its sequels, showed the world that you could, in fact, make a fantastic Batman, or even superhero game that remained true to its roots. They rekindled a fondness for the dark knight that had not been seen in a long time.
There are a lot of games that I did not cover here, such as the fantastic Telltale Batman series, which, unfortunate revelations aside, I also recommend, as well as Lego Batman for some more lighthearted fun. The problem with post-Batman Animated Series games but pre-Arkham is the abysmal quality. Batman Forever, another movie tie-in, suffered from incredibly bad controls, an unexpected disappointment from Midway (RIP). Batman and Robin was the first foray into a 3-D open game world, but the execution of it was horrible, with buggy graphics and a chugging frame rate. I wish I could say that Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was a good game, because that was an amazing television series, but sadly it’s not. While the art style is on point, it suffers from sub-optimal controls and poor pacing. There are many more disappointing Batman games I could list but I’d rather spare myself, and you, that pain. Suffice it to say, only a few genuinely good Batman games exist. It’s very difficult to capture the correct atmosphere of the Batman world, while at the same time implementing game play that lets the player really feel as though they are the caped crusader, and those that got it right created truly impressive games.
- “Batman’s 8-bit adaptation for the NES.” Batman: The Video Game. Sunsoft. 1989. NES.
- “Batman Returns got multiple adaptations, across Genesis and SNES. Batman Returns. Konami. 1992. SNES/Genesis.
- “Even The Adventures of Batman and Robin, inspired by the animation, got an adaptation.” The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Konami. 1994. SNES.
- “The Arkham Trilogy stands hands and feet above most other iterations of franchise fiction as seminal.” Batman Arkham Series. Rocksteady Studios. 2009-2019. Multiple Platforms.
A man of many talents, Clayton has worn several hats. His work focuses on visual mediums like film and gaming. A practiced martial artist and a graduate of Johnson and Wales University with a Bachelor’s in Graphic Design & New Media, he brings both tactile experience and academic credentials as measures of his considerable expertise. Clayton is both Manager of Steam-Funk’s core writing staff and part of the firm’s senior creative team, helping craft both The Living Multiverse and firm policy.
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