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Let’s just admit it now: handheld versions on big AAA console/PC titles are usually not great. They are usually shovelware only existing to serve one purpose, fool parents and kids into buying a game based on a much more popular game on a different system. It is even worse when it’s based on a popular IP like a TV show, movie or comic since they the handheld version is delegated with the smallest budget.
But not every handheld companion is developed by some of the leads behind the three Metroid Prime games, some of Nintendo’s best modern work. WB has teamed with these folks, now in their own studio called Armature, and are bringing the Dark Knight into the very appropriate Metroidvania style of game with Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate.
Taking place a few months after the console version of Arkham Origins, Blackgate has the caped crusader infiltrating Blackgate Prison after Joker, Penguin and Black Mask took over three different sections of it. Aiding him is a newly met Catwoman who guides him to his equipment, which are in the prison beforehand for some reason, in order to explore the prison successfully and take down these dangerous guys. The story in unraveled by the run-of-the-mill motion comic cutscenes that we've all seen before in other comic-based game, something I’m never a fan of because it screams cheap.
What makes Blackgate great is that it is a very dynamic 2D game. With a very active camera, you traverse the prison with hallways that twist and turn, changing the player’s perspective. Batman even breaks the 2D plane when he’s in combat or when going through certain exits. It is a successful implementation of the art and it’s nice to see the gadget-heavy Batman executed in this very popular Metroidvania genre. Sadly the map doesn't help too much because unlike Metroid Prime’s 3D map, these flat images are confusing to read. Mix in the fact that a Blackgate look like a prison, meaning that it’s boring and drab throughout the game (though clean texture-wise), backtracking can be tough.
The great combat system of the Arkham games have been translated intact for the most part, though regular combat in the game isn't initiated often. Mix in the fact that enemies don’t respawn when Batman returns to previously explored areas results in some boring backtracking, a necessary part of the genre. The bosses however aren't as cleverly built as their console cousins and require much trial-and-error.
I’m really proud that WB didn't just want another lackluster handheld installment of a successful console game. They thought hard and hired talented folks that could take their property to a whole new direction. Granted Blackgate’s a bit rough around the edges and inconsistent, but what we have here is a Metroidvania game based on a character who is perfect for the role, and it succeeds. It is great to see that the Arkham games continue to be one of the great new IPs of this aging generation, even in this newer form.