I’m a big fan of “metroidvania” style games, even though I’m often overly critical of titles that fall under that label: either I compare them against one of the greatest games of all time, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or their hands-on gameplay experience just doesn’t feel enjoyable to me. Once in a great while, however, I come across a game that not only does a decent job in nailing the design in a way that encourages backtracking and exploration, but also feels fun to play. This post is about a game that stands out in that exact sense.
- Name: Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Genre: Action | Adventure
- Released: 2009
- Developer: Rocksteady Studios
- Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Warner Bros. Interactive
- Platforms: PlayStation 3 | Xbox 360 | Microsoft Windows
Batman has been a popular character for decades, and while he’s originally a comic book hero, in recent years he has gone through a notable renaissance of portrayal and relevance in other mediums as well. Christopher Nolan revitalized Batman in the movie industry, setting the bar for the trend of superhero movies that is arguably yet to be reached by others. Rocksteady Studios‘ series of Batman games did the same in the video game industry.
There are many elements that Batman: Arkham Asylum gets right, and the art style and narrative design is one that should not be overlooked. In fact, the feel of the game is the one thing that got me hooked on this game, rather than any of the numerous gameplay features that are also very enjoyable. The game features a number of supervillains familiar from the Batman franchise, and rather than throw a plethora of them at you for a moment on the screen and two lines of dialogue, it focuses on just a few, making those encounters more memorable for it.
As could be expected with the inclusion of such talents as Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (both reprising their roles from the animated series), the game’s voice acting is excellent. Although cutscenes are uncommon and general dialogue is rather minimalistic, the story progression is fun to watch due to its high quality, both visually and in terms of direction.
Arkham Asylum has several strengths in terms of gameplay, and not the least of them is the fact that it just feels so awesome to be Batman in this game. The combat system, which has since been adopted into a variety of other games as well, is simple but satisfying, and makes you feel like you’re actually in control of the flow. Batman can take down a dozen thugs by himself, as he should – after all, he’s Batman.
The game’s sequels feature a much more open game world that can be explored freestyle – however, I personally prefer the much more contained environments of Asylum. As the world is smaller and routes are more restricted, it’s easier to memorize where everything is, and that makes backtracking more manageable and rewarding. Some of the locations look a bit alike, which is confusing early on in the game, but towards the end of the game it gets easier to distinguish the handful of areas from one another.
Arkham Asylum‘s gameplay is well-paced between hand-to-hand combat sequences, stealth elimination segments against armed foes, and traversal which is sometimes sprinkled with light investigation elements, which mainly means following a trail of evidence to a specific location. Each segment is usually short enough that it doesn’t get tedious or repetitive, and the difficulty is also mostly quite doable, so the game doesn’t get frustrating very often. Asylum also throws a couple curveballs in the form of special stealth segments: they are different, chilling, and short enough to remain fun, although the narration surrounding these scenes gets a little boring if you play them more than once.
At any time during the game (or after beating the story), the player may strike out to seek collectibles or solve puzzles devised by the Riddler. As the map is not ridiculously big or sprawling, none of the collectibles are unreasonably difficult to find, and the riddles themselves are also rather intuitive. Both award experience points, which in turn can be used to purchase abilities to use in combat or to aid in exploration. Outside the main story, there’s a number of challenges to undertake, some of which can get quite infuriating.
Arkham Asylum is not a long game, but that can easily be considered a pro rather than a con. It’s a fun experience while it lasts, and definitely a prime example of an action game done well.
I unlocked the Platinum Trophy on May 27th, 2016, and it took me about a week of active playing (although I started the game several months prior, but dropped out after playing through just the first few story phases). In actual game time, I’d estimate it took me around 25-30 hours.
For some reason, I started the game on Normal, which is pointless, since only one playthrough is required if it’s done on Hard right away. However, I missed a couple Trophies on my first run, so I would have needed a second playthrough anyway.
I took my time completing story mode, solving a number of Riddler challenges as I encountered them. I finished the main story with about 25% of Riddler challenges. I mainly focused on destroying the Joker teeth, because those are a pain to hunt later on, if you miss them the first time around.
During the first run, I snagged such Trophies as Leave No Man Behind for saving the doctors and the thug from the gas early on in the game, Rope-a-dope-a-dope for distracting enemies by dropping a henchman hanging from a rope after an inverted takedown, Night Glider for gliding 100 meters (by jumping off the clocktower exterior above the Arkham Mansion), Freakshow Rodeo for knocking out 10 thugs while riding a Titan henchman, and Party Pooper by defeating every thug outside the visitor center before the final encounter with the Joker.
After the initial playthrough, I focused on the Riddler challenges. It was a cakewalk after finding the maps, which itself aren’t particularly difficult to locate – just explore a bit, and you’ll come across them. After finishing all of the challenges, it took me a moment to solve the final Chronicle of Arkham puzzle, but it was really just a matter of intuition and patience. After the Riddler challenges, I did a fast playthrough on Hard for the third completion Trophy, as well as some other Trophies I missed: Catch! for throwing the remote-controlled batarang at yourself, and Mano-a-Mano for defeating a Titan henchman without batarangs, which I did at the botanical gardens, where you fight two of them at once.
Finally, I tackled the Challenge mode, which I didn’t focus on until completing all Story mode Trophies. One of the Extreme Predator challenges, as well as the last two Extreme Freeflow challenges, were easily the hardest part of this game, and the biggest obstacle I had to overcome to achieve the Platinum Trophy. The Challenge mode is also where I acquired the 40-hit combo for the Freeflow Combo 40 Trophy.
Another good Trophy list in my opinion, even though I did get a bit frustrated with some of the Challenges. The “miscellaneous” Trophies could’ve been improved a bit, but I was mostly satisfied with those too.