The lights are on
Portable Batman games have…not been good, to say the least. I shudder now as I recall having played Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker on Game Boy Color, which ranks right up there as being one of the worst games ever created. Before the Arkham series, his console exploits weren’t really all that great either (I did enjoy Batman Begins and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, though). Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is meant to be a companion to its console brethren, Batman: Arkham Origins. It’s not a very memorable experience.
Set three months after the events of the Arkham Origins, Blackgate begins
with Batman being introduced to Catwoman. Batman catches her and she is
placed in Blackgate Prison. A few weeks later Captain Gordon (he hasn’t
been promoted to “Commissioner” just yet) contacts Batman and informs
him that an explosion has occurred at Blackgate, which has led to the
prison being divided into three sections, each being controlled by Black
Mask, Penguin and the Joker. Batman must journey between each section
several times and figure out what’s REALLY going down. All is not as it
The combat system in Blackgate is almost exactly the same as it was in the other Arkham games,
which is remarkable considering it’s a side-scroller. The familiarity
of it is undeniable, though, once Batman starts leaping from opponent to
opponent, delivering blows and racking up combos. However, the combos
in Blackgate don’t really matter; they’re really just there to make players feel powerful. Blackgate features no upgrade system like the other Arkham games, relying instead on a few of Batman’s gadgets.
That’s because Blackgate is concerned more with
Batman’s detective skills than it is with his fighting abilities. Batman
spends the majority of his time in Blackgate Prison figuring out which
of his items will open which door/gate/vent and deciding which section
of the prison he needs to visit next. One section might require an item
that Batman doesn’t have yet, so he must visit another section to
acquire it. This could lead to a boss battle, and the boss battles in Blackgate are
composed of that rare trait that makes them the best thing in the game
they’re in. All of the bosses are fun to fight, but even some of them
are just puzzles.
Batman must use his much-touted Detective Mode in just about every area
to plan his next course of action. Necessary objects in the environment
are highlighted while the mode is activated. Interacting with each and
every one of these objects is the key to success in Blackgate. Since Blackgate does
play out like a Metroidvania-type game, hidden power-ups are
everywhere, but they’re usually pretty easy to find as long as Detective
Mode is constantly active.
Blackgate unfortunately suffers sometimes visually as a
result of being a portable experience. The moody, dreary atmosphere
present in the other Arkham games is still there, but
character models aren’t that detailed. Batman looks as if he doesn’t
have eyeballs, and the thugs Batman takes down are hard to tell apart
aside from the fact that some of them carry weapons. It’s not an ugly
game at all, but some of its graphical discrepancies are pretty
noticeable. The cutscenes are odd, taking on the appearance of a comic
book in motion, and they look good as long as the characters in them
aren’t moving. Then they just look silly.
The soundtrack is made up of music from the other Arkham games,
which means it’s pretty good, but sometimes doesn’t fit. The music is
so loud at times it seems as if it’s going to bust the 3DS’ speakers.
All the voice actors from the Arkham games are present (save
for Mark Hamill, who was of course replaced by Troy Baker). They’re all
good in those games, and they’re all good in Blackgate.
Blackgate constantly gets in the way of itself. It strikes a
nice balance of exploration/combat for some decent stretches of time,
but then it does that annoying thing that all Metroidvania games do
where it requires players to backtrack to obtain an item in order to
progress. Blackgate does this a lot, to the point
where it’s almost unbearable. However, sticking with it will usually
lead to another enjoyable stretch. Still, it’s irritating to, for
example, figure out how to open a gate only to find a locked door behind
it, leading to more backtracking.
Also, Batman just can’t seem to stay out of vents in Blackgate. Were
doors included in the blueprints for Blackgate Prison? If so, you’d
think Batman would be able to use them. Instead, in the interest of
“stealth” (which isn’t required at all in Blackgate), Batman
rips at least 72 covers off ventilation shafts and then crawls through
them at .5 mph to reach a new area. The new area usually has a door in
it that LEADS DIRECTLY BACK TO THE AREA HE ENTERED THE SHAFT IN. The
thing is, he couldn’t open the door from the opposite side. Batman, the
world’s greatest detective, can’t open doors. Gotham City is screwed.
As I mentioned, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate has
some good stretches, and because of that it’s an OK game. It’s merely
playable because much of it is a drag. I believe Armature could create a
great Batman-style Metroidvania game, but they haven’t yet. They
developed one that is interesting, but filled with all sorts of
inconveniences. The handheld crowd is still begging for a worthy Batman
game. They’ll have to keep waiting.
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