Batman games were of a hit-and-miss variety before Arkham Asylum changed the whole game for the superhero genre. Previously, most of the good Batman games were side-scrollers, with the occasional third-person action game that was mostly mediocre. Since Arkham Asylum, Batman games have been some of the best games on the market. Arkham Origins Blackgate is the first side-story game in the Arkham franchise and returns to the side-scrolling days of old with a few twists. This was an unexpected style of game since the Arkham Asylum format had been so successful that I never thought we would get a handheld game with Arkham name attached, let alone a side-scroller. The game is 2.5 D, like most modern games of the genre, and it's comparable to Metroidvania-style games, especially Shadow Complex. While the idea was solid and interesting, it was still something I had to see for myself.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate takes place three months after the events of the console game and aims to emulate the success of Arkham Asylum in a new way. The game is similar in that it takes place in a sprawling prison over the course of one night, during which Batman will encounter different enemies from his gallery of villains. The story starts with Batman meeting and capturing Catwoman and delivering her to Blackgate, which is rocked two weeks later with an explosion that Batman has to investigate. Catwoman becomes your voice on the headset as she knows her way around the prison and helps Batman save the hostages, secure his equipment, and lead him to his arch villains. The story is pretty basic and forces you to do a lot of backtracking as you collect new equipment. You constantly see yourself encountering areas that you know you will be coming back to at some point.
The most amazing thing about Blackgate is the fact that they nailed the Arkham style gameplay in a side-scroller. It sounds crazy (which it kind of is) but it completely works. Since the game is 2.5 D you have more of a plane that the characters stand on rather than a flat surface. When you are running around you do run as if on a one track path but when you engage in combat you will move around the plane depending on where the enemies are standing. The combat is the same combo strung fighting from the console games and is incredibly impressive on a handheld game, though it wasn't an entirely seamless transition. You can flip over, punch and stun all of the enemies, but sometimes they don’t stand up as quick as they do in the other games so combos can stop fairly easily just because everyone is downed. It’s frustrating that you can’t get the long strung-out combos like on the console version but when you do get one it’s extremely satisfying and the combat in general is great. The stealth element that everyone knows from the previous Batman games is present here as well. You are still sneaking around and ripping of grates to climb through air ducts, only on a 2D plane. You even have a lot of the same gadgets that you’ve seen before like the zip line, batclaw, and even detective vision. From a gameplay perspective, Arkham Origins Blackgate is one of the more impressive games I’ve seen on the Vita. The biggest problems are the breaking up of combos and just the fact that there aren’t always a lot of guys to fight. There are some stretches of the game where it really feels more like a puzzle game where you are just solving environmental puzzles. The combat is great when you are engaged with it, it’s just a little too far spread out sometimes. The boss fights (of which there aren’t many) are all primarily puzzle based. You are presented with the bad guy in a room with a set of roadblocks that you have to get around to defeat your opponent. There is still a lot of punching going on but the game gives you some tasks that you have to be clever to complete before you can do that. One of my biggest complaints is the game's map. When you have a game like this you expect a simple map laid out on a grid but you don’t get that here. Instead you have this blueprint that is very difficult to maneuver and because of the shifting planes. As you move around the prison it becomes very difficult to even determine where you are going. It’s one of the worst maps I’ve seen in a game like this and caused me to get lost and backtrack a lot more than I should have.
The visuals of the game are really good for what it is, though the environments are really stale and can really bring down the game after you’ve been in it for a while. They are all pretty gray and industrial looking and really just lacking any variety. Arkham Asylum was a prison, but it was full of character and inspiration. Blackgate is just a cold tomb and really starts to feel that way after a while. What are really noteworthy about the visuals are the character models and the comic book style cutscenes that tell the story. The art in the comic panels really evokes the gothic style of Batman that fits really well with the tone of Arkham and the voice acting is on par with the other games. All of the voice actors from Arkham Origins return for this game as well, and while you don’t get the satisfaction of animated character models, the voice over works really well with the comic scenes and is some of the best stuff in the game.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is surprisingly a lot of fun. I wasn’t really expecting to like this game very much and wound up being pleasantly surprised. If you have a Vita then Batman is honestly a game worth adding to your library. It has great combat for a handheld, interesting and challenging puzzles, and is just an overall enjoyable experience. It’s not a game that’s meant to blow your mind and has some flaws in its execution but it’s meant to entertain and it certainly does that. Blackgate should be a good time for anyone willing to pick it up as long as you can look past some speed bumps.