Metroidvania Meets Batman in Arkham Origins Blackgate - Preview

By Chris Matulich, October 13, 2013
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Given its popularity, you would think the Metroidvania genre would have many more mainstream titles under its belt. However, releases are few and far between, with many reaching platforms via the indie or downloadable route. Those that do get released are usually met with universal praise, so it's good to finally see that a series so well-received like the Batman Arkham series has fully adopted the Metroidvania style. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate shows a lot of promise on both the 3DS and the Vita, but it is set to make some missteps.

Warner Bros. had both the Vita and the 3DS demo on display, and it was quickly apparent that the Vita definitely holds more defined and crisper visuals. Most of the game looks generally the same, except for some details like Batman and Catwoman's suits, which display some finer touches on the Vita.

While they both have the same animation sequences and move with the same fluidity, movement as a whole feels a tad sluggish compared to the rest of the Arkham series. There were times I felt Batman had a bit of a stutter step when lunging at opponents.

Motion comic scenes cut in to progress the story, with an amazing art style created by the art director and his team. Each panel has certain parts of it moving like any motion comic, and the drawings look like they've been lifted right out of DC's own pages. The absence of the iconic Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy is definitely noticeable, though the new actor Troy Baker does a decent job and fits Batman particularly well in his early days.

Much like the XBLA title Shadow Complex, the game has a 2.5D style, with Batman able to move both in the foreground and background of the screen when grappling to other buildings or fighting a bunch of enemies. Many of the same mechanics and gadgets from the Arkham series make an appearance in Blackgate.

Detective Mode also returns and can be toggled on or off to see enemies and their movements or scanning for paths to progress through. It also lets you look for decrepit fire escapes or construction work that can be knocked down with a Batarang to dispose of enemies more efficiently. The only difference in controls between the two versions sees the Vita requiring more finger movement along the touch screen, whereas the 3DS version utilises the circle pad more often and feels more natural.

Countering is still the focus of combat, yet the system's hit recognition can be a little off. It's also a little less challenging due to the countering window being too open. There were times that I would be in the middle of a combo and going to attack a thug in front of me, and the enemy behind me that was a bit too close would get hit instead. Other times I would be 3/4ths of the way through an attack, then notice I was about to be attacked and instinctively try to counter, and more often than not Batman would awkwardly transition into a successful counter. The AI is pretty decent, though occasionally enemies will, strangely, sit and wait for you to attack.

 Combat ultimately moves fluidly enough to provide a good challenge and impressive maneuvers, yet the mediocre hit recognition, slight stuttering at times, and occasional awkward transitions holds it back from becoming as good the other games in the series. The demo's one boss, Catwoman, was also bit on the easy side, though it should be noted she is likely the introductory boss. And yet, she still only required easily timed counters and a couple of cape stuns in order to bring down.

The Batman: Arkham games have become some of this generation's best, and Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate hopes to continue this tradition. The gameplay has, overall, been simplified and adapted to handheld consoles, and while there are some issues, it’s not enough to detract from the experience too greatly. It's still very entertaining, especially with a bunch of secrets to find and Mega Man-style boss progression. Be sure to grab your cowl, your cape, and your 3DS or your Vita, and get ready for some portable Batman action on October 29th.

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