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Don’t Mess with the Bat

January 21, 2010

When I heard that the Batman video game Batman: Arkham Asylum was going to feature Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, I was sold.  These two defined those characters in Batman: The Animated Series, and really, there’s no one better.  So in this story, which is largely based on the lore of the comic books, Batman brings the Joker into Arkham Asylum yet again.  But this time, the Joker has an evil scheme cooked up, and with the help of various Blackgate inmates and Harley Quinn, he takes over the island.  As Batman, you must traverse your way through the Joker’s various traps, defeat all his assistants, fight off many different Batman foes, including Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy, and discover the mystery behind the Titan drug in which the Joker seems to be so invested.  Most of the action is third-person stealth, involving you seemlessly pummeling hordes of badguys with flowing punch after dynamic kick, and sneaking up on armed guards so you don’t get shot.

Well, IGN.com called this the best comic book video game ever.  Normally, I disagree with most of what IGN says.  This time, not so much.  Because Paul Dini wrote the story for this game, not only does it have the wonderful elements of the Animated Series (Paul Dini’s interpretations of Batman and the Joker), but it has all the good stuff of the comic book continuity.  It has references to dozens of Batman’s villains, even to someone as random as the Ratcatcher (who I didn’t even know before this).  The plot is very fun, even if the Titan concept isn’t terribly original.  The gameplay is really exciting and dynamic, with the superb free-flow combat making beating up bad guys more fun than ever.  Occassionally, it can get wonky, like when somebody’s about to punch you, and you go to punch him (not counter) before he hits you, but the game instead registers you kicking forward at absolutely no one.  But aside from that, the fighting is great.  I love the inclusion of all of Batman’s gadgets too, from the grappling hook to the famous Batarangs, and I love traversing the island and finding all the little stuff with Batman’s detective vision (which was an awesome way to incorporate Batman’s genius as an actual gameplay function).

The game itself also looks great, with absolutely superb graphics detailing the imposing body of the Batman and the visual insanity of the Joker to perfectly compliment the great voice acting.  It would have been nice if all the normal bad guys didn’t hold their heads when you beat them into the ground (since sometimes you actually hit them in the chest or something), but again, that’s nitpicky.  The voice acting is of course awesome, particularly with the two main characters.  Wally Wingert as the Riddler and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn are also quite good.  A few characters’ voices were less interesting, like for Bane, but you only see him for a little bit, so it’s okay.  The Riddler’s little puzzles were a lot of fun, especially the ones that revealed stuff about the characters (like the tapes or the Spirit of Arkham ones), though it would have been nice to have greater variety at times.  The Challenges are also fun, if a tad repetitive (with only fighting and sneak-and-defeat ones).  And the music is appropriately dark and forboding, if not terribly memorable.  With the mention of Two-Face at the end, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a sequel.  And I would love to get a sequel to this superb game.  If only all comic book video games payed homage to their source material as well as this one did.  Maybe they just all need great writers like Paul Dini to make them work.

Story: 9.4      Gameplay: 9.3      Soundtrack: 8.7      Acting: 9.4      Overall: 9.3

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