Philip Tang ’15 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
It’s common knowledge that Batman is always prepared. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, he had an extra Batcave hidden away within the asylum grounds for emergencies. The game happened to center around one such emergency. In Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, the Arkham series’ first foray onto the Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS handheld systems, Batman stashed Waynetech crates throughout the titular facility in case of prison-wide breakouts.
If you guessed that the game happened to center around a breakout at Blackgate prison, you’d be unsurprisingly correct. The story of Blackgate is told through 2D comic style cutscenes that are fully voiced. The voice work in general is stellar, definitely on par with Arkham Origins, the console game that released simultaneously with Blackgate.
The Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask have each taken over a section of Blackgate prison amidst the breakout. Batman cooperates with Catwoman to take down the three crime lords, rescue the hostages holed up in the treacherous Arkham wing, and end the riot.
When it comes to gameplay, it’s quite clear where developer Armature Studio got its inspiration from: the ‘Metroidvania formula,’ affectionately named after the 2D Metroid entries of old like Super Metroid, and Castlevania games such as the highly regarded Symphony of the Night. The formula entails a few basic tenets:
1. The game is a 2D platformer at its core.
2. Exploration is a major part of the game. There will be times where progress will be impeded because you don’t have the required item yet. Branching off to find that item, and returning to unleash its newfound power, is a major source of progression.
3. Combat and boss battles are incorporated in some form.
4. Postgame revolves around backtracking and using a complete arsenal of tools to unlock previously unreachable areas.
5. Optional upgrades and power ups tend to be rewards for careful and thorough exploration.
Although successful in the 90s, the ‘Metroidvania’ formula has rarely been seen in major releases lately. Luckily, Armature Studio was bold enough to pick it back up, stick Batman in the middle of it, and make compelling additions to the formula while they were at it. A great gaming formula plus a great hero and his world is bound to produce an intriguing result. Limitations of handheld systems aside, Blackgate is definitely a worthwhile game.
The game obeys the first tenet by having the gameplay remain in 2D. Character models and the environment, however, are rendered in 3D. This combination of 3D models on a 2D plane is often referred to as 2.5D. Blackgate takes advantage of this unique pairing by allowing Batman to occasionally interact with objects in the foreground and the background.
There is plenty of exploring to be done in Blackgate. An array of four handy gadgets assists Batman in making his way around the prison. For example, when his progress is blocked by a door that fails to stay open, Batman takes a detour to obtain a glue upgrade for his explosive gel gadget. When he returns, he is able to shoot an explosion of glue at the gears of a mechanism that was causing the door to malfunction, holding it open long enough for Batman to dash through. With the glue upgrade, he can also return to previous areas in the game to access areas that were once closed off by similar mechanics – the reward for doing so would be goodies such as upgrades to Batman’s overall health, new gauntlets that boost his attack power, or a new piece of armor that can change his appearance and bestow stat bonuses once the whole set of five is collected.
Blackgate takes the Arkham series’ signature free flow combat system and adapts it into a 2D environment. Enemies will attack from either side, but Batman can of course counter and retaliate at the press of a button and proceed to unleash his own flurry of strikes.
One of the only major flaws to the game is a severe lack of variety in the environment. Of course, it’s understandable why most of the game would take place in a prison – just refer to the title – but it still makes for a very dry experience. The background is constantly a mix of grey and more grey. Prison cells, elevator shafts, and ventilation ducts are the primary areas Batman will explore throughout this adventure. The only things to break up the pace are some sewers and a brief outdoor section at a lighthouse. But most of the time, it’s just going to be the dreary, dull prison. This is perhaps the only area where Blackgate fails to live up to other games in the ‘Metroidvania’ formula, which generally featured a colorful variety of areas to explore.
All in all, Blackgate is a strong offering in the 2D action adventure genre for handheld systems. It goes without saying that the Vita version of the game is graphically stronger, but the 3DS does have a 3D mode that compliments the game’s 2.5D style very well. All things considered, Blackgate is a strong entry into the Arkham series.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is available now for Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS.