How have Batman games evolved?
You probably know a lot of Batman games, whether Batman Lego movie tie-ins or as a seasoned, resourceful gamer locked inside the series Batman: Arkham. Even in both, he's a dark figure with cool gadgets and a permanent grim-faced expression. However, it wasn't always like this...
Batman started out as much more of a detective who worked in the early comics with his sidekick Robin. This was before the hugely popular '60s TV series popularised Batman as a milk-and-cookie-consuming baddie-catcher who had to puzzle his way out of situations via punch-ups and amusing one-liners. The theme tune was catchy, and everyone wore pajama-like outfits for small TV screens. Luckily, video games weren't invented yet(!)
After the '80s TV series...
The very first video game of Batman came out in 1986, and by then Batman had... changed. How? It was thanks to the arrival of more mature Batman comics (in fact, 'graphic novels') such as Frank Miller's classic 'The Dark Knight Returns', which went deeper into the character and why he'd chosen to be a vigilante, taking police matters into his own hands. There was a new movie that tried to tap into this vein to present 'darker Batman' to a wide audience. After all, most had never read these novels and had only ever seen that kids TV series. They were surprised how much he had changed. So in Tim Burton's Batman we had edgy Michael Keaton with Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Featuring a funky soundtrack by Prince, it did have a dark tone but it was still pretty unrealistic.
Next came a much darker animated TV series for kids featuring a cool Batman, but it would take a much later franchise, that of Christopher Nolan's 2008 re-boot, The Dark Knight to re-visit the graphic novels again, and go even darker.
But let's talk about these early video games, that were really created as tie-ins for these '80s movies. Presented in 3D graphics (do not laugh!) this action-adventure game was at this time available on Amstrad CPC with bitmap graphics. In this game, you had to gather all the parts of the Batcraft to save Robin. Quite welcomed when it came out, it marked the beginning of a long series of games. During the late '80s and' 90s, Batman games come out every year or so. The demand was growing along with new graphic novels, movie sequels and the rise of video games becoming accessible on multi-platforms: NES, Game Boy, Mega Drive, PC Engine, Nintendo, Microsoft, Mac... Anything goes!
From Lego to complex action game
Batman games target several types of audiences. With its three titles, the Lego Batman series targets a young audience. The first spell in 2008, Lego Batman: the video game; then Lego Batman 2, DC universe in 2012 and finally Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham in 2014. These games offer quite simple gameplay with collecting items, bits of action and scenario-based puzzle interaction in order to progress. They are without any violent side, of course, that could be scary or displease parents. The humor is not always obvious for these younger kids, which makes them more universal.
The series Batman: Arkham is intended for an older audience. This series started in 2009 with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum, followed in 2011 by Batman: Arkham City, then Arkham Origins in 2013 and finally Arkham Nights in 2015. Offering more complex gameplay, resource management and a bloodier story, we enter another dimension of play. In Arkham Nights, the details are impressive ... and the joker will chill your blood ...!
Nowadays there is a Batman for everyone, where the range of platforms are expanding to include mobile phone and VR. However, he still faces stiff competition from fellow superheroes like Spiderman, the most recent console receiving some incredible reviews. But this means there could also be things he could learn from them! Indeed, competition is good for the bat.
As we've seen, boosts in Bat-popularity and changes in his character portrayal can still be traced to major blockbuster movies of the day. What kind of Batman will we get tomorrow, and will the game tie-in set a new benchmark in gaming? How will his villains next be portrayed also?
However he continues to evolve, it's likely that he'll remain a dark, serious figure, plagued by his own demons just as much by an equally menacing cast of villains. Indeed, it's also likely that 'the Joker' will remain the most intriguing of all these, considering how he consists as a sort of the 'polar opposite' of the dark knight; a blend of clown-like horror and humour and yet equally dangerous and plagued from within.
The Batman may disappear for a time, but it's certain he'll be back. This could include appearances inside anything from action, FPS, fighting game appearances, yet more Lego to completely immersive, open-world massively-multiplayer RPG 'Gotham Cities'. And once more it'll be up to you to don that costume, and enter his world... and his mind! It's unfortunate, but we may need him....
After all, he's got no actual super-powers (besides a great, well-managed fortune). He's like us, but when 'push comes to shove'. He's right-wing, taking an out-of-control urban nightmare to hand, and in so doing becoming a tough nut, hardened by what his world has become. He's unconvinced by traditional methods of justice. He's a loose cannon, and can only operate as a 'dark knight' for so long, before he must become more human again... when his world has too?
Yes, there's a lot of material and themes for future games (and movies) to explore. Let's hope it stays as games, and Batman doesn't ever (have) to become a real figure(s) of vigilance, where the police are no longer trusted or hold power.