This article was originally published on 25th November 2014, and has been re-posted to celebrate the cinematic release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Things are really heating up in the world of superhero movies, thanks to both Marvel and DC revealing their cinematic hands like two Texan oil barons locked in a deadly game of poker. One has thrown a straight flush onto the table and is firing a pair guns into the air, while the other – confusingly, has placed a bunch of Monopoly community chest cards onto the felt. We'll leave you to determine which is which.
Still, for all of the concern swarming around the DC movie slate, it's impossible to ignore the possibility that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could just be one of the greatest mash-ups in superhero cinema. Both characters are timeless and have had an immeasurable impact on pop culture for over 50 years. That's not easily overlooked, so there's a case that the film shouldn't be written off so easily.
But when it comes to video game legacies, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for the Dark Knight and Man of Steel. So in the spirit of seeing these two juggernauts finally go head-to-head on film, we thought we'd take a look at their NES and SNES adaptations to determine which hero has been given the best treatment.
Oh, and we're not including the Nintendo 64 in this face-off, because if we did acknowledge that woeful Superman game by Titus, this would pretty much become a one-superhero race.
NES: Strange And Surprising Beginnings
Let's kick this showdown off with a something pretty weird – a game that starts you off as Kal-El's alias Clark Kent. Released in the States by Kemco in 1988, this quirky little platformer gives you a rare chance to play as the bespectacled hack himself before earning enough super power to become Superman.
Oh, and the Statue of Liberty warns you that General Zod is about to take over Metropolis.
The game itself is pretty confusing thanks to the labyrinthine nature of its many rooms and routes, as well as the cryptic, poorly-translated clues dished out by the people of Metropolis. It's up there with Goonies II in the pantheon of games where it's easy to get lost, and suffers from a few poor design choices such as pressing down to enter doors, and giving Superman a pitiful punch range. That said, it has a few redeeming qualities, too.
Superman actually has a lot of his comic powers intact, including heat vision blasts that send goons flying, X-Ray vision to find secrets, and the ability to trigger fast travel around the city by flying. It's probably worth seeking out just to deck people as Clark – the mere thought is worth a chuckle, but the game's quirky charm wears off pretty fast.
Meanwhile: in camp Batman, another Japanese studio defied the curse of movie licenses and released what is confidently one of the best film tie-ins on NES.
This little gem – simply called Batman — is Sunsoft's 1988 tie-in to the Tim Burton movie, and it's a slick and competent platformer that's both utterly brutal yet incredibly addictive at the same time. Although the levels have little to do with the flick itself — save for the final showdown against Joker in Gotham's clock tower — nifty animated cut-scenes ensure a clean segue from one stage to the next.
There's also a hint of Ninja Gaiden in there too, thanks to the Dark Knight's wall-jumping ability that really needs to be mastered if you're to survive this hellish gauntlet. Chuck in some great power-ups like batarangs and a dark soundtrack and you've got a title that stays faithful to the tone of DC's legendary detective. Well, apart from the gun special attack that totally lets you shoot dudes in the face. We all know how Brucie feels about killing...
While Superman's NES legacy is cut painfully short, Batman received not one but two follow-ups in the form of Sunsoft's Return of the Joker (shown below) and Konami's adaptation of Burton's bleak sequel Batman Returns.
Sunsoft's second stab at the cowl was as difficult as you'd expect but is more of a run 'n' gun shooter like Contra than a straight-up platformer. You can collect different shot types along the way and dispatch thugs with explosive style, but while fun and challenging it doesn't feel as revolutionary as its predecessor despite being a commendable effort.
Konami took Batman Returns down the Final Fight route – something it would do again with the SNES version, but more on that later. It's a fun affair that sees you roaming the Gotham streets punching a circus worth of gun-toting clowns and other nasties into a fine powder with your fists and legs.
There's also a special attack that sees Batters swipe enemies with his cape at the cost of energy, as if it were grafted to his body and somehow felt pain. No, we don't understand the logistics of it either, but it's hard to argue with a game that lets you hospitalise men on stilts now is it? This one is definitely worth playing but the lack of a two-player mode is lamentable.
SNES: The Death and Return of Superman
It's fair to say that Supes got off to a pretty shoddy start on NES, but will his 16-bit endeavours help bring the ball back into his court? Well that depends on whether or not Batman drops a clanger and – oh no we spoke too soon didn't we? Please, no...
Kill it with fire, lock it in Arkham Asylum and have Killer Croc swallow the key. Probe's Batman Forever was a dire tie-in that failed on almost every level. The concept of shoe-horning Mortal Kombat's fight mechanics into a platform game might have paid off had the execution not been so sloppy, but it simply doesn't work.
As you trudge through the game's murky locales you'll beg for mercy as you contend with unresponsive controls, dreadful platforming sections and some of the blandest music ever committed to code. Incredibly, each section of this bat-nippled farce is bridged with a loading screen that simply reads "hold on" — so not only is this one of the worst Batman games to date, it's also the rudest.
With plenty of gadgets, a two-player mode and lots of moves it could be argued that Probe was just a victim of over-ambition here, and to be fair the digitally-captured actors didn't look too bad back in 1995, but there's simply no excusing how mundane it all feels. In the end, Batman Forever deserves to have its spine broken by Bane.
Speaking of breaking things, Kal-El finally got his chance to shine in The Death and Return of Superman – a nifty beat-em-up developed by Sunsoft and Blizzard Entertainment. It's another Final Fight clone wrapped up in a pair of tight red Speedos, but it packs a powerful punch. Based on the 1992 DC comic arc, the brawler sees Supes fighting to save Metropolis from both Doomsday and Cyborg.
So off he trots, battering an army of Underworlders with a variety of punches and kicks, as well as heat vision blasts and a neat "Smart Bomb" attack that sees him fly off into the sky before slamming his fist down on the stage at lightning speed. It's a great brawler that finally gives Superman the video game justice he deserves in what is undoubtedly one of his most celebrated stories.
Although he can be killed by taking too many melee attacks or bullets to his perfectly-chiselled abs, you never feel too underpowered as the Man of Steel. For example, in the first stage alone you can pick up big drilling trucks and toss them about like a salad without a hint of difficulty. It's not like the NES game where you feel pathetic thanks to Superman's stumpy little punch move. This one is definitely worth a shot.
We're into the home stretch now, and Batman also got his own scrolling beat-em-up on SNES courtesy of Konami, and it was something very special indeed. It's worth noting straight away that this game also lacked a two-player mode, which is a damn shame because this one is so much fun, but would have been much better with a second person.
That gripe aside this adaptation gets it on the money, and is the only Batman title in this article to boast the Danny Elfman movie score, not to mention high-quality images from the film showing Michael Keaton and his brilliant eyebrows glaring at us from the shadows. But what really cements this game's brilliance is the combat.
He just whales on everything in sight with terrifying melee strength that sees the player crushing speeding motorbikes to scrap with a few attacks, while carrying grown, adult gangsters around by the neck like they were rag-dolls. You really do get a sense of empowerment from Batman Returns, and that's exactly what any good superhero game should do. Play it after you finish this article, trust us.
We thought we'd close our Batman v Superman smackdown with the thing DC is aiming for with all of its new movies. Justice League: Task Force is a Street Fighter II knock-off that doesn't play all that badly once you get to grips with its nuances and un-learn all of the habits you've picked up from Capcom's series. That means no quarter-circles or shoto characters, folks.
Long before Injustice: Gods Among Us graced our screens, Sunsoft and Blizzard teamed up a second time to spin a yarn about how big baddie Darkseid invades Earth, leaving only the planet's mightiest heroes in the frame to stop him. Members of the League approach each other for clues about the attacks but fall out and fight each other instead. We know, it's very tenuous.
Still, it's great to see big, chunky versions of Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Batman and Superman throwing punches at each other while looking faithful to comics of the time. Seeing them on screen fighting together reminds you that DC's universe is still rich and largely untapped on the screen, so who knows? It could all work out spectacularly.
Maybe a lot of us are sceptical about the Justice League cinematic universe because we're yet to see those heroes portrayed in films, or if we have, they haven't been given the treatment they deserve. Either way, seeing Batman and Superman face-off in cinemas - with Wonder Woman also starring - will still be interesting, and is surely something comic fans have been anticipating for many years.
But in the battle of NES and SNES games, we have to give this one to Batman.