Batman and Spider-Man are two of the most recognizable faces in popular culture. They're both multi-billion dollar franchises, with scores of comic books, movies, and cartoons all detailing their adventures in superheroing. When it comes to video games, though, each hero has had a storied past. Some of their games have been exceptional, others were so monstrous they were an affront to all things holy. Let's take a look through some of the highs and lows of these heroes' gaming histories, and see which of them swings ahead.
Batman's best (and worst) games
Best retro era game: Batman (NES)
Loosely based on the Tim Burton film of the same name, Batman's first NES adventure was a side-scrolling, platforming, Ninja Gaiden-esque marvel. The Dark Knight had plenty of gadgets at his disposal -- batarangs, bat-rockets, and bat-discs, which are totally different from batarangs. Though the game was lacking in recognizable Batman foes, it made up for it with highly detailed animated cutscenes between levels.
Best digital era game: Batman: Chaos in Gotham
Developer: Digital Eclipse Software
Batman: The Animated Series was a landmark cartoon. It had sharp writing, incredible voice-work, and introduced some new characters so lively and original they made their way into the comics. Chaos in Gotham takes the same world and art style of The Animated Series and shrinks it down to a bite-sized portion suitable for the Game Boy.
Best modern game: Batman: Arkham City
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Few games so truly capture the feeling of being a superhero as Batman: Arkham City, the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum. There's sneaking, there's detective work, there's brawling, there's slews of thugs and supervillains to deal with, all wrapped up in a wintry Gotham City borough entitled Arkham City. The game was met with near-universal acclaim from critics and consumers alike, and, given its success, it would be no surprise to see another sequel of some sorts come creeping out of the woodwork in the near future.
Worst game: Batman Forever
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Poor level design. Overly complicated controls. Dull gameplay. These are but a few of the problems in Batman Forever, the console game based on the movie of the same name. Players took control of either Batman or Robin, and fought against scores of Riddler and Two Face's thugs, all of whom were so brain dead they would have been inconsequential threats were it not for the aforementioned control issues. Also, the game was rendered using Mortal Kombat-style graphics, meaning that real actors were digitally imposed into the game. While this somewhat odd graphical style worked for the MK series, here it mostly felt like the player was controlling some goober who was cosplaying as Batman.
Spider-Man's best (and worst) games
Best retro era game: Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage
Developer: Software Creations
Beat 'em ups were a Godsend for any '90s kid with siblings, as there just weren't many options for simultaneous co-op back then. Unfortunately, Maximum Carnage eschewed that option and instead, presented the player with a huge, complex brawler that dove into Spider-Man's history and brought in more than a few cameos from his Amazing Friends.
Best digital era game: Spider-Man 2: The Game
Spider-Man 2 is to Spider-Man what Arkham City is to Batman: it's a game that captures what it is that's fun about being a superhero. You could be web-swinging across the vast New York City landscape one minute, then fighting thugs the next, then down in a train station dodging energy blasts from The Shocker. While many licensed games of the era tended not to be good, Spider-Man 2 managed to buck the odds and become not just good, but spectacular.
Worst game: The Amazing Spider-Man (DOS)
Developer: Oxford Digital Enterprises
Everything that Spider-Man 2: The Game managed to do right, The Amazing Spider-Man (DOS) does wrong. Instead of battling Spidey's vast rogue's gallery, you spend most of the game avoiding traps and jumping gaps. Instead of an agile, web-slinging web-head we get a hero slower than molasses that'd been dropped on its head as a baby. Perhaps the most egregious of problems with this game is the unusual life meter: instead of a traditional life bar, the player is presented with a picture of Spider-Man. As you take damage, Spidey gets skinned away and replaced with a skeleton! Hey kids, like Spider-Man? How'd you like to watch him die?
Overall Winner: Batman
While Spidey has starred in several fine games, Bats has had two that met nearly universal acclaim: Batman: Arkham Asylum and its follow-up, Batman: Arkham City. The first combined stealth gameplay with an intuitive brawling system and gadget use/upgrades reminiscent of Metroidvania-type games, and the second took everything that was great about the original and applied it to a sprawling open world just teeming with things to discover. Spidey's had plenty of good outings, but, in the end, the Arkham series is what sets the Caped Crusader's gaming resume ahead of ol' Web-head.