Best Batman Games: From The Arcade To Arkham
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Who doesn't want to be Batman? Fast cars, a utility belt full of gadgets, and a brain loaded with punch-based dental techniques for discouraging criminals makes for the ultimate--and believable!--superhero, provided that you have the cash and willpower to adopt that lifestyle. For most of us, the closest that we'll get to being Batman is to boot up one of the many video games that have been released over the years: vigilante simulators that have attempted to merge the many elements of Batman together into a cohesive package of brains, brawn, and Batmobiles.
Not every game has succeeded, and there have have been more than a few misfires over the decades. Batman: Dark Tomorrow is an infamous digital disaster that did more damage to the icon than Bane's Venom-powered chiropractic arts, there's at least one Batman Forever movie tie-in game that plays like a clumsy Mortal Kombat clone, and the official Batman & Robin game on PS1 makes the film it's based on look like Citizen Bob Kane in comparison.
But when a Batman game nails the essence of becoming the Dark Knight, it's something to celebrate. Here's a look at the best games that embodies the Caped Crusader spirit, a collection of retro and modern titles that defined the world's greatest detective as a video game superstar.
16. Batman: Return of the Joker
Batman: Return of the Joker can best be described as Batman meets Contra. Swapping his fists for particle cannons and lasers, Return of the Joker makes very little sense, punishes you for the slightest misstep, and revels in stacking the odds against you. And yet, there's a genuinely fun game here, a gauntlet of firepower and pesky gargoyles barfing lightning at you before you begin a final showdown with the clown prince of crime as he straps himself into his own personal Metal Gear weapons platform. Wild and unforgiving, Batman: Return of the Joker is a blast of silly fun.
15. Batman Begins
There used to be a time when movie tie-in games were all the rage, interactive retellings of blockbusters that gave fans a chance to relive some of the most epic moments of cinema. Batman Begins is a prime example of a good Batman game in an ocean of duds, an adaptation with ambition, a star-studded cast, and a breath of fresh air after several terrible Caped Crusader games on console. This game had several novel ideas--like the ahead-of-its-time fear mechanic that could be used to psychologically weaken enemies--and it was still a faithful and fun tie-in to the first chapter of the Dark Knight trilogy.
14. Batman Forever: The Arcade Game
Much like the 1995 film, Batman Forever is an all-out assault on your senses with its colorful levels, non-stop barrage of enemies, and special moves that look like they belong in an episode of Dragon Ball Z. Sure, Batman and Robin might be rocking dollar-store spandex costumes in this beat-'em-up, but the sheer zaniness of every stage combined with the satisfying justice-punches that you can throw out makes for a surprisingly fun brawler. It's a shame about the costumes lacking rubber nipples, though.
13. Batman (NES)
Sunsoft's tie-in to the 1989 Batman film is still widely considered to be one of the best Batman games, even if it does appear crude by today's standards. Batman: The Video Game was a challenging and merciless experience when it first came out, condensing Tim Burton's Gotham City into an 8-bit gauntlet of thugs and bonus supervillains who never shared screen time with Michael Keaton's vigilante. Setting a high bat-standard for future games, Sunsoft's Batman game is still a fondly remembered classic.
12. Batman Returns (SNES)
What happens when you take Final Fight and throw in a billionaire with parental abandonment issues? You get a surprisingly satisfying Batman beat-'em-up. Batman Returns was available on a wide number of platforms at the time, but the SNES version is easily the best of the lot. A good-looking side-scrolling slobber-knocker from Konami, Batman Returns hit that sweet spot for a Batman movie tie-in game. The action is a decent mix of knockout blows and challenging stages, but combined with Michael Keaton's burly digital doppelganger, fun driving stages, and an underrated soundtrack, and you've got one of the best Batman games of the 16-bit era.
11. Batman (2013 arcade game)
Show us someone who hasn't fantasized about taking the Batmobile for a spin, and we'll show you a liar. The ultimate dream for any Batman fan--this 2013 arcade game is a power fantasy of V8 engines, machine guns, and hot pursuits with a little Burnout flavor thrown in for good measure. It's a simple game at its heart, as you chase down various supervillains and flunkies while driving one of several Batmobiles. The eye-catching arcade cabinet design and exhilarating destruction derby focus as you inflict massive property damage around Gotham City makes it worth pumping an obscene amount of tokens into this arcade treat.
10. The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1994)
Provided that you're playing the superior SNES version, The Adventures of Batman and Robin is a superb adaptation of the groundbreaking animated series. Colorful and beautifully animated, it's a two-fisted adventure that looks like it was ripped straight from your television screen on a Saturday morning with its imaginative set-pieces and big boss battles. Players could even choose which bat-gadgets they wanted to bring with them on a level, making a tangible difference in levels. Batman games had been kicking the stuffing out of crime for years, but with the release of this TV series tie-in, DC's favorite vigilante had raised the bar on home consoles.
9. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
By the time that Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate entered the scene on PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, the Arkham formula of action, stealth, and detective work had been thoroughly established. But could that system of clobbers and counters be recreated on a 2D plane? With this spin-off, the answer was a resounding yes. Developer Armature Games attempted to recreate the 3D console experience on handhelds, an ambitious plan that actually captured the core of those bigger titles and successfully brought them to smaller screens.
Some cuts had to be made--sorry, stealth fans--but alongside creative camera cuts, imaginative boss fights, and punch-tastic combat, this entry in the Arkhamverse was worth sinking your teeth into.
8. Injustice: Gods Among Us
NetherRealm's first Injustice game might be a multiversal tale of good vs. evil, but Batman is undeniably the star of this adventure. In a universe where Superman has crossed the line from benevolent savior to iron-fisted dictator, Injustice is an underdog story in which Batman races against time to save the planet from the Man of Steel and his cronies. An excellent tale backed up by an even better fighting game experience, Injustice makes every character on its roster feel unique, but even when standing against DC's heaviest hitters, it's still a Batman-centric showcase of brave and bold storytelling.
7. Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Lego games seldom deviate from their formula, as these kid-friendly toyboxes revolve around smashing your way through a level and then picking up the pieces to construct a contraption that helps you move forward. Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham didn't shake that bat-boat, but it did add to that established series direction with new game modes--the Resogun-inspired sections are surprisingly great!--and a gigantic roster of characters from across the DC Universe to collect in Batman's quest to save the galaxy. It's a joyfully silly and light-hearted romp, family-friendly entertainment enhanced by a silly number of secrets and extras in every level.
6. Batman: The Telltale Series (Seasons 1 and 2)
While the golden age of Telltale Games was coming to an end--at least in that incarnation--the studio did manage to crack out a pair of narrative Batman games that took the DC franchise in shocking new directions. Revamps and misdirection to the world of Batman helped put a fascinating new spin on the world's greatest detective, with Telltale finding a comfortable groove between crime scene investigations and action-packed quick-time events with its take on the Dark Knight. The first season rocked Batman to his core with revelations from the past, and the second season gave players more choices that would have major ramifications, including a bizarre reinvention of the Joker as either Batman's greatest villain or ally.
Throughout all of these story threads, Telltale preserved the core of Batman as it made him face off against reimagined adversaries, but seeing how this younger and less experienced incarnation of Gotham's hero reacted to these changes made for thrilling storytelling.
5. Batman: Arkham Origins
Batman: Arkham Origins often gets a raw deal when it comes to discussing Batman's best video game adventures, as this prequel often gets left outside in the cold. A pity, because even though Rocksteady didn't develop this entry in its superhero series, it's still an essential chapter in the franchise. Warner Bros. Montreal turned in a fine effort here, one that delivered a brutal prequel tale on Christmas Eve as Batman took on a gauntlet of supervillains looking to score a massive payday by permanently ending his legend.
Roger Craig Smith stood in for Kevin Conroy in this game, putting a raw and violently focused spin on the Dark Knight as he explored Gotham City. Interestingly, Arkham Origins also experimented with bringing multiplayer to the series as players alternated between Batman and crooks trapped in a warehouse. It's a fascinating departure from the single-player focus of other Arkham games, but one that didn't get a chance to shine before servers for the mode were shut down in 2016.
Read our Batman: Arkham Origins review.
4. Batman: Arkham Asylum
After years of middling and disappointing Caped Crusader games, Batman: Arkham Asylum was a revelatory experience. Rocksteady's focused attention to detail, rhythm-orientated action, intriguing detective work, and stealth-hunter sections rewrote the rulebook for the action genre, as this Gotham-flavored metroidvania's influence was felt for years after release across the industry. Not just a love letter to the legendary vigilante, Arkham Asylum is a cohesive fusion of ideas that worked brilliantly, as this first entry in the series wisely focused on a tighter and more decrepit arena in which Batman could inflict some fist-based justice against his rogue's gallery.
Read our Batman: Arkham Asylum review.
3. Injustice 2
Injustice 2 may have given a spotlight to more characters in its storyline, but behind the scenes of Braniac's invasion, it was still Batman calling the shots. Leaping over the first game in a single bound with its technical and graphical improvements, Injustice 2's best moments are arguably reserved for Batman as he once again prepares for battle against former friends and new foes alike, and thanks to the late Kevin Conroy's stellar performance, this tale hits as hard as a sunburnt Kryptonian during its more nuanced moments. Accessible clobbering mechanics, a surprisingly rewarding loot box system, and a steady stream of new challenges made this NetherRealm's strongest fighting game set in the DC Multiverse.
Read our Injustice 2 review.
2. Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City hits all the right notes for a sequel, dropping players into a metropolitan penitentiary that expands on the themes of the previous games with a gripping story, polished gameplay, and a shocking ending that still packs a punch more than a decade later. While it wasn't a drastic departure from Arkham Asylum at first glance, it's under the hood where the game truly rises up to feel superior to its predecessor. Every system in Arkham City just feels better, every loose bolt and nut tightened up with NASA levels of mechanical precision to create a more focused Caped Crusader. Combined with its expanded open-world setting, atmospheric environments, top-notch voice acting, and a bevy of engaging side quests to take part in, Rocksteady's first Arkham sequel was an unforgettable return to Gotham.
Read our Batman: Arkham City review.
1. Batman: Arkham Knight
Several years after it first released, Batman: Arkham Knight is still a masterpiece of refinement, bold new ideas, and a red (hood) herring that helped hide an excellent narrative twist in its dark story. If Arkham Asylum established the foundation for what Batman games could be, then Arkham Knight was the grand design of high-powered action, high-tech detective work, and black ops brutality built on top of it.
While Arkham City improved and iterated on Arkham Asylum's core gameplay pillars, Arkham Knight took those ideas and dialed them up to 11, creating an unstoppable power fantasy as you wielded billion-dollar technology in the war against crime. The Batmobile, a long-requested feature, finally made its debut and helped evolve the Arkham formula to new heights, Gotham City was a treasure trove of secrets, and the explosive finale cemented Rocksteady's threequel as a superhero romp that has stood the test of time.
While Rocksteady's previous efforts were excellent experiences that made you, this grand finale served as the ultimate Batman simulator.
Read our Batman: Arkham Knight review.