One of the most personal and enjoyable parts of being a superhero fan, of being someone who crouches over glossy pages of cheesy dialogue, action, and capes, is imagining oneself as the hero. It’s the beauty of comic books, to be invested in these characters and live vicariously through their adventures, heartbreaks, and triumphs. I think this fantasy is what led to the Rocksteady Batman: Arkham video game series’ success. Batman sells, regardless of the quality of product, as very few superheroes have quite the marketing and mass social appeal that he does, but Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Origins are far more than just Bat-merchandizing. The series has proved itself yet another renovation for the superhero genre outside of comic books, in a time where the popularity of the genre has arguably never been higher. The Arkham series is a successful renaissance of the very concept of superhero gaming, proving a valuable and influential adaptation of the comic book material, and becoming an important element in the rise of the superhero genre’s current presence.
With the debatable exceptions of the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom, superheroes did not have a very strong footing in the video game world. With countless failed mobile game disasters and movie tie-ins, superheroes almost seemed like financial poison for video games companies for many years. IGN gives a more detailed history of superhero gaming, ultimately stating one of the major problems adapting superheroes into games is the money required to even purchase the rights to the various characters.
Rocksteady’s success with Batman: Arkham Asylum was the start of a new age. The game was given time to be developed, as it was not made or intended to be a tie in to a film or television series (though it’s release after the enormously successful The Dark Knight film, one of the strongest fighters in the cinematic superhero evolution, probably didn’t hurt it’s chances). The story itself was given great care and attention, written by a veteran of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series and one of Batman’s greatest scribes, Paul Dini. The game is a very loving , respectful recreation and adaptation of the comic book material, taking risks and using previously untapped potential to create a recognizable image of Batman’s universe, but one fresh and unique, specially made for the world of video gaming. The game’s playing mechanics builds a personal, almost intimate relationship with the player; all the fighting, detective work, and crime solving makes the player feel like Batman, and allows them to slip into this world of good versus evil. The game’s triumph led to the even more successful (and better) Arkham City, a game which broke barriers in how to recreate and adapt a comic book, further building the world of these characters.
Only the Nolan movie trilogy could hold a counter, but in a world where audiences are desiring less and less realism and more and more “super” with their superheroes, the Arkham games prove a more satisfying middle ground. And since the initial two Arkham games, the superhero genre is experiencing new life in video gaming, with games like Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and the online games DC Universe Online and Infinite Crisis showing how superhero games can be successful (the previously linked IGN article goes into more detail about all this as well). Even non-superhero comics have been adapted a recreated with the beloved tell-tale The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. In fact, the most recent Batman game Arkham Origins seemed to fall flat when suddenly met with a growing, successful medium.
Superheroes have a new home, and people get to live out the fantasies with quality gaming. Superhero games are now proving to be respectful, original, powerful adaptations and revisions of their sources, recreating beloved characters and universes into a tangible, playable sandbox. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City launched a new era for video games, giving comic books life, and rekindling the childhood dream of putting on the cape and wanting to be the hero.