A history of Batman games

We look at the past, present and future of playing as the Dark Knight

The hero we deserve

In case you haven't heard, there's a new game called Arkham Origins. It's about some rich guy named Wayne who likes to put on armor that makes him look some sort of Bat-Man. He fights tons of colorful characters, including a happy fella named The Joker.

With a Batman returning to gamers once more, we've assemble a timeline of Batman's triumphs and follies in the video game world. Yes, there was a time before Batman: Arkham Asylum, a time when criminally bad super hero games roamed the streets unchecked. They were a superstitious, cowardly lot...

Batman - 1986 (Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, MSX)

Before our hero fought crime in glorious Technicolor, he sported green and black visuals in this monochrome-ian adventure. Apparently, boy wonder Robin has been kidnapped and this slightly chubby Batman needs to fight through over 150 isometric rooms to locate him. Based off the comic license and campy TV show.

Batman: The Caped Crusader - 1988 (ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64)

Split in two parts - one for each villain, Penguin and Joker - our hero battles his way through an arcade-style beat-em-up. Not only does Batman appear just as he did in the comics (in color, no less), but every time he walked into a new doorway, the screen overlaid the previous like a comic book panel.

Batman: The Movie - 1989 (PC, NES, Genesis)

The Batman movie sold its license all over town - hence the reason why the caped crusader was on every system under the sun. Loosely based on the first film, the computer version varied in that Batman was able to use a grappling hook to scale levels and partake in Batmobile driving sections. The NES version enabled you to fight through five sidescrolling levels as a smaller Batman, donning a suit composed of two shades of purple. The game pitted you against mutants and robots as well as thugs. The Genesis version was just like the NES version, only with added Batmobile and Batwing sections. Fun fact: after you pummel the Joker into submission in the NES version, Bats literally chucks him off the cathedral rooftop in the games closing cutscene. Thats a bit out of character.

The Revenge of Shinobi - 1989 (Genesis)

Shinobi? Really? Yes - in early versions of this ninja thriller, you fought a likeness of Spider-Man, who upon defeat would turn into a purplish/demon-looking Batman. Equipped with actual bats and pure evil, you had to defeat him to clear the sixth mission. In later versions, Batman was replaced with an actual demon bat. Spider-Man was kept in the game because Sega still held the license to produce Spidey games. Interesting!

Batman: The Movie Arcade - 1991 (Arcade)

Again based on the film, this old-school beat-em-up featured actual voices and themes from the film. There were also first-person driving sections in the Batmobile and Batwing where you had to shoot cars and helicopters out the way. Of note - the batsuit is modeled exactly like the one worn in the movie - none of that cute purple nonsense.

Batman: Return of the Joker - 1991 (NES, Sega Master System)

Strangely billed as a semi-sequel to the film yet primarily taking inspiration from the comics, the Joker is back and Batman needs to stop him - again. Side-scrolling action levels rule the roost here, with different weapon power-ups. Also known for having some of the best graphics ever seen on the NES as the actual Batman and character sprites were much larger than before. Inventive and also one of the last times wed see the Batman license based solely on the comics.

Batman Returns - 1994 (Super NES, Genesis)

Never mind the already saturated market in the early-mid 90s of Final Fight clones, Batman Returns was actually pretty damn good (at least on the SNES). Based on the dark Tim Burton sequel, you walked from left to right, beating the crap out of clowns, Catwoman and the Penguin in levels based on the film. The Genesis version contrasted wildly - with levels containing a darker color palette and overall resembling a more straightforward action game.

Batman: The Animated Series - 1992 (GameBoy)

The first game based off the amazing cartoon, you control Batman (and occasionally Robin) in another side-scroller beat-em-up. At the end of each level, you fight one of the main villains from the series - Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, etc.

The Adventures of Batman & Robin - 1994 SNES (Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear)

Two wildly different games. In the SNES version, only Batman is playable as he traverses environments faithful to the animated series and fights just about every main villain. The Genesis version on the other hand was notoriously frustrating (seriously, we hated that game), but at least Player Two got to play as Robin. Each boss fight was also played in a different style (Mode 7-like scrolling for Mad Hatter, use of jetpack versus Mr. Freeze). The Sega CD version was just like the Genesis one, except with added driving levels and animated custcenes made specifically for the game.

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