The developers messed with the Caped Crusader!
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (I won’t be typing that again) follows directly on from its home console brother Batman: Arkham Origins and mostly successfully squeezes the kind of gameplay you know and love from the Arkham series onto the handheld, albeit with a fair number of differences that create a game that’s decent, but really only for fans of the Batman.
First of all Blackgate is set almost entirely in Gotham’s prison Blackgate, and sees Batman taking down villains one by one in order to stop the horrible things that are going on in the prison – think Arkham Asylum but less interesting. The game has an interesting prospect that ultimately ends as a prospect. We are told you can play the game in what order you wish (as it follows Metroidvania roots), this however is not the case. You can go to each of the three areas at whatever point you want, but you cannot access much further than the opening of each section without certain items.
This may not sound bad, but believe me when I tell you it does not make for that engrossing a time. In order to get items you have to do an unholy amount of backtracking. Indeed, a fairly large chunk of the 8-13 hour playtime you will spend going back and forth between different areas. Like the Metroidvania games that inspired it however, Blackgate does have a certain amount of exploration, with different collectibles and upgrades scattered across the fairly large maps; it is quite nice to reach new sections that were previously out of your reach and each upgrade adds something very good that you can have a fair amount of fun with.
Like Castlevania and Metroid games, Blackgate contains some memorable visuals, with highly detailed environments being quite a joy to look at. There are some drab grey areas to trudge through, but there are far more walls covered in Joker graffiti and crumbling walls. The scenery graphics are a sight to behold for the most part, but the character models do leave a little to be desired beyond Batman and Catwoman. But credit goes to the artists who made this look and feel like Batman almost as well as the home console games.
Credit does not go to those who designed the map screen, which never works. A top-down map of a 2D game just does not work, you will without fail go the wrong way, and at times the map makes it very difficult to know where you are, where exactly you want to be and where collectibles are. It’s a crying shame that they did not implement a side-view map akin to the Metroid series and it really is beggar’s belief that they would use a top-down map in a game based around finding new things and backtracking.
Detective Vision works very well, and acts as something of a highlight in the game, as it always does with the Arkham series. As there are hidden items scattered around that act as side-quests, parts of detective cases, you will find yourself constantly scanning the environment. It’s a neat touch, and really helps to brighten up the otherwise dull game.
In general, Blackgate does not run well enough. Running around never feels quite smooth enough and there is the occasional glitch (never very major), giving the game a slightly unfinished feel. There are times when it does decide to run well and these times show some of the potential the game has. As does the combat.
The combat in Blackgate works as well as you would imagine a 2D version of one of the most fluid combat systems to work, fairly well, but not as good. Batman still glides around to each enemy depending on circle-pad direction, he can counterattack perfectly and can dive over enemies and stun with his cape – but it never feels quite fluid enough, never does it feel great; it feels a tad disappointing despite the best efforts of the developers in moving a 3D game onto a 2D plane.
Combat does liven up a bit in stealthier sections (which are almost as good as on the home console games but few and far between), and boss fights liven the action up a bit. One or two of the boss fights are tricky, with attacks that kill in an instant, and the penultimate boss fight is just plain difficult (especially if you’re inclined to setting the brightness setting lower than 5). But there are a couple of boss fights that are puzzles, and they feel and look great, giving you a good sense of achievement when achieved.
This I feel is the major issue. Batman does not feel as good on a 2D plane as he does on a 3D plane, he feels almost there, but not quite. You urge yourself to enjoy it, but you never quite believe yourself. It’s not a bad game – it is actually decent – but after a few years of wishing and wanting a Batman game on my handheld I can’t quite shake my feeling of disappointment. Maybe with more time in the development oven, Arkham Origins Blackgate would not quite feel underdone.
Moments of promise, great environment graphics, detective vision, stealthier sections and fun development of gadgets make this look and feel like Batman, but a Batman that never quite feels right, a stupid map system, a bit slow, glitches, too much backtracking, hit-and-miss boss battles and dodgy character models stop the game from being as good as it could’ve been. The best Metroidvania game on the 3DS is still Castlevania, which shares the same problem as Blackgate: it feels like it should be a 3D game, 2D does not feel quite right.
Decent, but disappointing, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate never feels quite right.