Armature Studios was more than willing to admit that it wanted to go with the Metroidvania theme when developing Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, the handheld tie-in to the console game Batman: Arkham Origins. Unfortunately, it might have been better off thinking about ways to make the Batman: Arkham series’ hand-to-hand combat system and gadget-based exploration mechanics work better within a “2.5D” side-scrolling perspective.
I was pretty thrilled about Blackgate leading up to its release. The idea of a Metroid-style Batman video game sounded like it could never go wrong. His gadgets could easily fill in for Samus’ various suit abilities, and his combat abilities could make up for his lack of firearms.
Unfortunately, this is exactly where the game snags its cape. Blackgate is definitely similar to the Metroidvania game design, but some of the ways it puts a spin on the concept fall completely flat. The traditional Metroid and Castlevania games encouraged diligent exploration, curious interaction with the environment, and careful scanning of your surroundings. They were rewarding not just because of the hidden collectibles and secret areas but also because the effort required and the process of finding them was engaging and entertaining. Due to numerous design flaws, this simply isn’t the case with Blackgate.
Before I dive into all of the things that make Blackgate such a subpar Batman experience, I would like to say that the game at least looks decent from the standard perspective. The environments are large and full of detail, with many areas based on large set pieces that are interactive. The 3DS version was clearly a port of the PlayStation Vita game, and this is especially apparent when the camera zooms in a little closer. This is where Blackgate’s visuals look their worst. Textures are blurry and look like they came from the PS2/GameCube era.
The smoothness of Batman’s hand-to-hand combat animations are totally lost, not to mention the attacks of his opponents are very difficult to see, resulting in a choppy and jarring mess on the small screen. Batman can still perform some of his evasive/counter/stun moves from the console games, but the fact that the enemies are so difficult to distinguish from the murky backgrounds (in addition to the tricky timing of some of these moves) results in a fighting system that simply doesn’t work as well on the handheld.
Unfortunately, it’s not the graphics or cheesy voice acting that tear massive holes in Blackgate’s cape. As I mentioned before, it’s the dedication to making the game feel like a Metroid or Castlevania game that ultimately makes it so boring and tiresome to play.
You see, Blackgate Prison is broken up into three smaller areas, with each being controlled by a different villain: Black Mask, Penguin, and the Joker. The game advertises that players can tackle these three areas at their own pace, choosing which to enter first and which villain to pursue last. Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the way the game works, partially due to the huge amount of backtracking that is required to track down additional pieces of equipment, gear, and access to higher-level security locks. This all should sound familiar to Metroidvania fans, but the way it works in Blackgate is ultimately a mess.
This can be blamed on several things. First, the game has an aimless sense of progression, resulting in a lot of confusion related to where you should be going or who you should pursue next. Second, the map on the bottom screen – an essential part of exploring and finding hidden goodies in any Metroidvania game – is a total mess. Rather than projecting the areas from a side-scrolling viewpoint, the map projects each area from a top-down perspective. As you can probably imagine, this leads to a lot of confusion in areas with multiple floors. More often than not, you end up going the wrong direction without even realizing it.
Lastly, the Detective Mode from previous Arkham games returns in Blackgate, but its use is so excessive and forced that it takes away from the playing experience rather than nudging players to be curious and explore the game. There are points where Batman must use one of his gadgets to interact with the environment in order to proceed. Unfortunately, even if you already know that you have to throw a Batarang or use the Gel Launcher to blow up a wall, you can’t actually do this without “scanning” with the Detective Mode on the touch screen. This “activates” the object in the environment and allows Batman to lock onto it. This little design flaw really irked me several times throughout the game, where I didn’t realize I had to scan something before I could move forward, often resulting in more aimless wandering.
Perhaps the worst offense Blackgate commits is its forced stealth sections. Like any of the Arkham games, this one has a few moments where Batman is forced to sneak around his foes, using the grappling hook to spy from above and avoid enemy sightlines. The problem with this is it simply doesn’t work on the small screen or with the side-scrolling perspective. The levels are rarely designed to be large enough to ensure that Batman can avoid the sightlines of his foes, never mind the fact that his movement and controls are so damn clunky that it is difficult to make precise actions.
Although Blackgate offers a few different Batman gadgets to play around with, their use in the game becomes pretty repetitive: blow up walls with the gel launcher, take out lights with the Batarang, and so on. These things have been done before in the Arkham franchise, and Armature Studios does little to innovate with these ideas. You would think that it could be fun to go back to previous areas with new gadgets, but even when you find new hidden areas or collectibles, the process of tracking them all down becomes tedious and even lonely. The enemies that you’ve taken out in previous trips do not respawn, so you can trek through the same areas multiple times without encountering any resistance. It may sound like less of a hassle, but ultimately it leaves you wanting a way to get around faster without the need to navigate the same sections of the environment.
Blackgate ends up being one of the biggest personal disappointments of the year. I was looking forward to it for quite some time, and perhaps this is why I ended up quitting the game before I finished it. I normally try to trudge through every game before writing my final review, even if I don’t particularly like them, but this one left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I felt like I was completely wasting my time every time that I sat down to play. Any progress I made felt inconsequential. Finding secrets and collectibles didn’t have the sense of reward that can typically be found in Metroidvania games.
Although I feel like Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate might have a bit more to offer for diehard fans of the Caped Crusader, I also feel that its failure to capture the “Metroidvania” style that it so desperately tries to imitate ultimately serves as its biggest flaw.
Perhaps Armature Studios should have spent more time thinking about smart ways to make a Batman game from a side-scrolling perspective and less about the things that make Metroid and Castlevania so successful. Unfortunately, Blackgate swings and misses at both points. Playing as Batman should never feel so sluggish, so choppy, so limiting; these are exactly the factors that make Blackgate fall flat on its face.
Quite like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, another 3DS game I was constantly reminded of while playing Blackgate, this Batman title was an ambitious third-party project that simply didn’t work out as well as it should have. Sadly, Mirror of Fate fared far better than Blackgate, which I will remember as one of my biggest let-downs on the 3DS.
This review has been updated and proofread with the help of Proofreading Monkey. If you are an author, blogger, or professional writer and need error-free content, check out Proofreading Monkey for their affordable proofreading services.