What is it that makes Batman such an icon? Is it his tragic background, his unflappable determination, his colorful rogues gallery? Or is it something as simple as the mask? Batman has no powers but those achievable, with some measure of disbelief suspended, in our own world. Under the right circumstances, we can all imagine the twist of fate that would lead us to inhabiting the cape and cowl ourselves. How would it feel to peer down a city from its rooftops, to effortlessly overcome all obstacles in your path, to always make the perfect entrance?

As a medium, video games are uniquely disposed to cater to that particular fantasy—to literally put you in control of your dream hero. Early Batman games in the ’80s and ’90s were not all that concerned with replicating this experience. Platformers and sidescrolling beat-em-ups—not without merit in their own right, the Sunsoft Batman NES game and the Sega Genesis Adventures of Batman & Robin are particular standouts—were mostly genre staples which cosmetically presented Batman’s world, but largely avoided exploring the particular nuances of the character.

That state of affairs would change significantly with 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and its subsequent sequels which now comprise Batman: Arkham Trilogy. Together, they’re a series of games which fully allow the player to explore how it feels to operate as the Dark Knight. Not mere video games, but the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Batman Simulator.

A Brawling Ballet

For its time, the freeflow combat system of the Batman: Arkham games was revolutionary. Playing it, you can almost understand developer Rocksteady’s comments that Arkham Asylum was envisioned as a rhythm game. A single button, punctuated by an occasional timely dodge, dictates the flow of the action, Batman snapping from knocking one enemy out to the next in beautiful, fluid dynamic motion. In execution, it feels like the great martial artists who advise that true mastery comes with combat without thought—relying on pure, finely crafted instinct to move from one move to the next as the evolving situation allows. After all, one of the most perilous challenges to indulging the Batman fantasy is coping with the divide between Batman’s skill and the player’s own. With its unique approach to combat, the Arkham Trilogy elegantly fords that division by simply enabling complex motion.

Theatricality and Deception

Truth be told, the Arkham video games owe much to one predecessor in particular—the 2005 Batman Begins video game developed by Eurocom. Although the Batman Begins game mainly held fast to the events of the film it tied into, its greatest innovation was a mechanic which allowed you to skulk in the shadows around your enemies, increasing their terror by allowing fleeting glimpses of your presence before you struck from above. This principle is refined to pristine execution in Batman: Arkham Trilogy, presenting the player with systematic scenarios to pluck off a room of increasingly fearful foot soldiers to Gotham’s greatest villains one by one. In its stealth sections, you become unseen vengeance; you become the sudden night.

The World’s Greatest Detective

But there’s a reason Batman is the star of Detective Comics, and not Action Comics. First and foremost, the mission of a proper Batman is the capability to solve a mystery. Prior to Arkham Asylum, Batman games really weren’t very concerned with the solving of crimes so much as the fighting of them. The games’ implementation of a “Detective Vision,” which coats the world around Batman with blueprint-like notated accuracy, is one way it accomplishes this, but more effective is in the cat-and-mouse game Batman plays throughout the trilogy against the Riddler—an adversary who some might argue is Batman’s truest foe through these games.

Edward Nygma challenges Batman and the player to think laterally throughout in order to unravel his clues and solve his fiendish puzzles. Puzzle-solving has always been a cornerstone of video games, and it just makes sense to adapt that as part of the Batman experience. The Arkham Trilogy does so with aplomb.

Pick a Bat, Any Bat

As Bat-Mite once wisely taught us, “Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways.” Over more than 80 years, Batman has evolved in disparate fractalizing directions, one no less valid than any other, to the point that the “True Batman” doesn’t quite mean the same thing to one person as any other Batman fan.

To accommodate for this, Batman: Arkham Trilogy caters to those tastes by providing as many variants of Batman’s costume as possible, so you might raid the depths of Arkham or take to Gotham’s rooftops as the Dark Knight of your dreams. Even after Arkham Knight’s release in 2015, new Batman costumes are still being released for the series to this day, with a new costume based on Robert Pattinson’s The Batman appearing in the Arkham Trilogy. Whether your personal Batman is more Adam West, Frank Miller or Bruce Timm, Arkham has you covered.

First Person Trauma

For all that Batman: Arkham Trilogy indulges in the fantasy of being Batman, where it truly excels is in its willingness to accept the horror of Batman along with its delights. Fueled by the chemical delusions of the Scarecrow and the mental manipulations of the Joker, the Arkham Trilogy presents Batman’s greatest traumas, and his greatest failures, in a deeply personal way that no other medium has been able to achieve.

Having witnessed interpretation after interpretation of the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents in Crime Alley, I have to say that the simple horror of how it’s depicted almost entirely in soundscape during Arkham Asylum is the most affecting adaptation we’ve gotten to date. Arkham Knight presents further horrors still, from Batman’s personal guilt to his own greatest insecurities about himself, in a way which cements it as one of the greatest Batman stories in any medium. But to see it played out in a comic, or even a film, wouldn’t quite be the same.

Batman: Arkham Trilogy thrives because it never forgets its primary state: it is not a Batman story, and only incidentally a Batman game—it is a Batman experience. And you can experience all of it now for the first time on the Nintendo Switch.

Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about games, movies, TV, comics and superhero history for DC.com. Follow him on Bluesky at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Alex Jaffe and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros., nor should they be read as confirmation or denial of future DC plans.