The celebration of the Batman’s recent seventy-fifth birthday proves that the Dark Knight has placed himself into the public consciousness as one of history’s greatest heroes. Batman has conquered every type of media out there. From his original comic books, to television, to movies, Batman had appeared in every conceivable medium. Even Prince’s “Batdance” reached the top of the charts as a number one (one!) single in 1989. And for the most part, these iterations of Batman were usually well received by the public. The Batman television show of the 60s was praised for its light tone and campy fun, “Batman: The Animated Series” received tremendous acclaim for its balancing of darker themes and family suitable, if not friendly, action, and Tim Burton’s “Batman” was hailed as the best cinematic portrayal of the Caped Crusader until Christian Bale donned the cowl. There was, however, one medium in which the Bat had failed to assert his dominance as one of our most compelling characters, despite numerous attempts: video games.
The first attempt to bring Batman into the video game world was “Batman” released by Ocean Software in 1986. Ocean Software passed on the opportunity to follow the game up with its sequel “Batman: The Caped Crusader” and pawned the job off to developer Special FX in 1988. Ocean then developed “Batman” aka “Batman: The Movie” which was received with some critical acclaim upon its release and even won the Game of the Year Award from Crash Magazine in 1990. This high point would prove to be the end of any quality gaming experience featuring the Hero Gotham Deserves. For almost two decades afterwards the moniker of Batman is plastered over a staggering twenty-one games, each one more mediocre than the last, merely as a tool to bring in overeager fans. The biggest reason these twenty-one games were made was to cash in on whatever version of Batman was dominating the media at that time. Batman games were released as afterthought tie-ins and cash grabs for Burton’s “Batman”, “Batman: The Animated Series”, “The Adventures of Batman and Robin”, “Batman Forever”, and “Batman and Robin” just to name a few. These games only existed to bring in the money from people who were hyped up on whichever Batman they’d seen onscreen. “Who cares whether this game is good or not, they see Batman and they’ll buy it!” the publishers surely must have thought to themselves. Never once did the minds behind these games actually care for the characters or for the universe in which they were meddling.
In 2009, though, developing studio Rocksteady was given their chance to have a swing at the Batman piñata. With “Batman: Arkham Asylum” Rocksteady somehow managed to breathe new life into a franchise that had long since stopped breathing. “Arkham Asylum” managed to bring Bat-fans a game that so perfectly blended gameplay and presentation that it was simply difficult to believe. In the months of hype leading up to this game’s release, I thought this game would be built up by the media and fall flat on its face (much like “Rise of Sin Tzu” had done a few years prior). I’ve never been so glad to be wrong. Asylum brought players a combat system that was remarkably fluid. It was incredibly easy to pick up and get the basics, but difficult to master the timing and finer points. It also gave us a story penned by someone who cared about the Bat and knew how to write a Batman story, Paul Dini, who had written for (arguably) the best version of the Batman in “Batman: The Animated Series.” Multiple TAS alum including Kevin Conroy, Arleen Sorkin, and the magnificently voiced Mark Hamill as the Joker added their voices to the game. The game was released to praise from every corner of the gaming globe for its gameplay and its genuinely creepy story and themes (that part with Zsasz? Goosebumps, man). By following Asylum up with an even better sequel, “Arkham City”, and the upcoming “Arkham Knight”, which will hopefully live up to its predecessor’s impeccable standards, Rocksteady has finally given the Batman the final feather in his pop culture cap.