Arkham Origins is about to do to other video games’ sales what Batman does to crooks’ faces, and round out the hot streak of the previous two Arkham games. It’s hard to remember that “a good Batman” was once as ridiculous an idea as a millionaire using fancy dress to beat up poor peolpe. For decades the Dark Knight’s games were more like the Riddler’s deathtraps: certainly built with Batman in mind, but by idiotic lunatics, and no fun to be stuck in.
Rocksteady Studios changed that by spending years and millions of dollars working out how a non-lethal vigilante could kick ass. No wonder they made such great Batman games: they are the Batmans of gaming. But before Arkham Asylum and Arkham City changed the face of simulated crime (by swooping down from a gargoyle to punch it), most Batman games were worse attempts to grab money than most Batman villains.
1986, Amstrad, Spectrum
The first Batman game aced the first Batman game test, “Would the cover work for a Batman comic?”
Unfortunately, back then that was the only Batman game test. This game started the tradition of carelessly throwing Bat-sprites into a completely unrelated games. The plot was Joker kidnapping Robin, so you had to search the Batcave for parts for your Bat-Hovercraft. That was the entire game. That’s like an entire Superman game about typing a resume to apply to The Daily Planet.
The contents couldn’t have had less to do with the spirit of being Batman if they’d been a surrender flag. Batman’s entire deal is always being prepared for everything, and in this game he’s not even ready to leave his own house without rebuilding his vehicle’s transmission. And as for the Bat-hovercaft, he owns so many vehicles it’s sort of impressive they managed to choose one he doesn’t have.
Battling through your own most intimate sanctum, which is full of things trying to destroy you, trying to build the fantastically improbable vehicle which will let you go outside. That’s not a Batman game, that’s a psychological simulation of depression. Although violent mental problems are a large part of the Batman universe.
1990, PC engine
Batman sounds like Pac-Man. That’s actually more thought than went into the game.
Loading the game, you can tell it’s gone wrong even before you see that. The title screen says it’s Batman, but the title music clearly announces a 1980s beat-em-up about a disco bouncer battling the drug dealers who’ve stolen his girlfriend and CASIO synthesizer, and both promise a game far better than the one you’re about to play.
The game isn’t just Pac-Man, it’s Pac-Man with fewer things to pick up and you can shoot the enemies. That’s the most boring game ever made. If you told me this had been programmed by lab rats to make fun of human children for being even stupider, I’d tear off your human mask and ask you how you escaped your maze, Professor Whiskers. And your plan would still have been more believably Batmanny than this game.
1993, Atari Lynx
The Batman Returns games were such a blatant cash-grab you expected Batman to turn up to prevent it. The game was released on every system in existence, and was a completely different game on each one. It would have been more honest if each developer had just printed notes saying “We paid for the license so give us money or Batman gets it.”
And nowhere did he get it more than on the Lynx.
Atari’s entry into the portable gaming market, the Lynx, was kind of like a batarang – black, incredibly expensive, didn’t last very long, and it really didn’t work in the real world. And that was still the most Batlike thing about the entire game. It was a scrolling beat-em-up where you had only one life, and trying to fight armed criminals with your fists guaranteed that you were going to die. Which makes an extremely accurate simulation of being Batman, but not a fun one.
1995-6, Genesis, Super Nintendo
This was based on Batman Forever, so yeah, bad start. But Acclaim dug deep inside themselves and also under the barrel to make it even worse by using the Mortal Kombat game engine. Mortal Kombat was about clumsily killing people: that’s two exact opposites of being Batman. It was a terrible idea.
Digitized graphics looked cool, for about ten minutes, in the early nineties. This game was much later and much longer. It was the computer game equivalent of cutting out photos for a scrapbook and wiggling them around to pretend you could had friends, and a scrapbook commemorating Batman Forever is even sadder.
The controls were even worse. For those who haven’t played Mortal Kombat, it’s like playing Dance Dance Revolution with your fingers. Special moves work by inputting a series of button presses, because “inputting” sounds more like data entry than actually playing anything. Getting special moves to work involves more arrows than the Battle of Hastings, and was less fun to experience. The button combinations were so fussy that sometimes even the game forgot what you were doing, turning you around instead of triggering an item so that your enemy got your ass instead of your wrist grapplers. When you look like you’re presenting to an enemy instead of incapacitating them, you might suck at fighting.
It was the sort of idiotic beat-em-up where crouching directly in front of your enemy renders most of their attacks useless. The result was a barely two-dimension walk ‘em up. The first Mario game had more flexibility. Kung-Fu Master had more complexity.
How does this cavalcade of computer crappery end? The same way all things end: BAT-VICTORY. Arkham City isn’t just the best Bat-game ever, it’s one of the best games ever. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still haven’t found all the Riddler trophies.
We didn’t include Injustice: Gods Among Us because only a lunatic would pick that one.
Enjoy Batman’s best idiocies in The Dark Knight’s Dumbest Moments Come from His Best Bat-Qualities, and Bat-Villains Too Lame to Be in a Dark Knight Movie.