Thursday, August 12, 2010

Batman Arkham Asylum

I picked up a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum based solely on reviews, despite having no interest in the subject matter. The podcast Gamers With Jobs, whose tastes generally fall in line with mine, raved about it when it came out, but it took the accolades of co-workers before I gave it a chance. I mainly picked it up because it was cheap and reportedly had a fantastic melee fighting system, but before I knew it I was totally engrossed.

Engrossed--despite the subject matter. I don't really like the old DC Golden Age treatment; I think the heroes and villains have goofy names and look dumb, but I think the game walks a good line by making Batman and Joker interesting characters. But the animation and character art of Batman totally sold me. I still find myself using Batman's door opening animation on the bathroom door at work, pulling it open as I whip my cape around and hurl myself through the doorway. I set myself up to only like only the combat mechanics, but ended up loving the character treatments and animation.

I honestly didn't really get the game at first. I played an hour or two and was confused by the scope. I wasn't sure where the game was going to take me and how big or small it would be. Then I picked it up when I was home with a cold and played it for three days straight. Batman has exactly what I like about Zelda and Metroid games: overworlds and repeated trips through content that is opened up with new items. It has a perfect mix of size and variability that rewards exploration, yet I could pick up the game in the middle and instantly know where to go and what to do next with solid level design and a good map system. It's rare for a game to leave that kind of impression on me, especially when I wasn't really looking for it.

In fact, I kind of hope that the new Zelda learns a little bit from Batman. I really appreciated that the combat and item use mechanics in Batman built up evenly through the entire game, and that all boss battles up to the final one used skills you had learned throughout the game. It never switched things up and introduced a new mini game you just had to pound through to kill a boss; every boss battle had me feeling prepared and confident, yet still challenged me and left me feeling accomplished. The combat permeated the entire game, and it was simple, elegant, deep, and satisfying, and reminded me that a game franchise doesn't have to break new ground to be just right.

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