I have owned a Vita for almost two years now, and in that time I have purchased a grand total of five games. Out of those five, I have managed to finish only one, and that’s Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate. I mean sure, I didn’t have a ton of choice in the matter considering it is a sort of stipulation for being able to sit here and write this review, but all the same, I would like to think I would have finished it regardless. So what sets Blackgate apart from some of its Vita brothers?
Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate takes place just after its console counterpart (which I sadly have not gotten to play at length) and opens with the first meeting of Batman and Catwoman. You see this meeting through Blackgate’s animated cut scenes, an aspect of the game that I initially wasn’t too keen on, though I did eventually come around on the idea. It allows the game to not tax the Vita (and I would imagine the 3DS to an even greater extent) while simultaneously giving the game a good dose of character. The meeting also serves as the game’s tutorial mission, and in playing it you discover that if you have ever played an Arkham series game before, these mechanics will be extremely familiar.
Blackgate is a 2.5D version of the console Arkham games, boiling the Metroidvania-style retreading of the series and the unrivaled free flow combat system down into a size that is more suitable for a handheld system. So lets look at both mechanics. Traversal in the world of Blackgate is fairly straightforward as you attempt to take an overrun prison back from the hands of some of Batman’s most dubious villains. There are three sections of the map — one run by The Joker, one run by Black Mask, and one run by The Penguin. You’ll spend most of your time moving left or right in the traditional side-scrolling manner, grappling up to higher points and crawling through vents and ducts as needed. You’ll also occasionally move deeper into the background or up into the foreground, adding some extra depth to the world. Along the way you’ll find four of Batman’s many gadgets, each one allowing you access to parts of the map you weren’t able to reach before. This results in a decent about of backtracking, but usually with a fresh goal in mind, and it only felt tedious a few times, mostly when I was stuck or was unsure of what exactly what to do.
Also along the way to tracking down these super villains, you’ll run across the never-ending supply of henchmen they all seem to have ready and waiting. On somewhat of a side note, I would really like to know where these always-defeated super villains get these idiots from in the first place, and why so many of them line up to be cannon fodder. Anywho, fighting all these henchman is really the point I’m driving at, as the combat feels exactly like a simplified version of the traditional free flow style. It is simplified in that you’re not using gadgets in combat at all. You do however use counters, cape stuns, and beatdowns on many occasions.
One last note on the gameplay for Blackgate, and that is the boss fights. You might have guessed that there are three main bosses in the game — Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask. You may not have guessed that there are many other bosses as well. These lesser boss fights are quicker and simpler, but each one has a different strategy to employe and is presented very well. The bigger boss fights do these things equally well. The Penguin fight in particular took me over an hour to finish, though it is easily the hardest point in the game. These fights also don’t hold your hand too much, making checkpoints few and far between. There is also on final boss, and while the mechanics of that fight are based on the simple and standard combat you’ve employed the entire game, it’s presented in a very unique and original way, making it stand out above most of the others.
Story-wise Blackgate isn’t going to win any awards. It exists mostly to serve the gameplay, often times feeling as though plot points are shoehorned in so that the plot will make sense as you progress through the map. It is a classic video game issue as it’s finest, with the story having almost no punch or even interesting points after you strip away the fact that you need to find explosive gel only because it’s the only way to get to the room the Joker is in. The story is never aggressively bad, it just puts the work in and goes home. If middle management were a video game story, it would be Blackgate.
Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate is a must own for the PS Vita, though maybe less so for the 3DS, given it’s more sturdy library of content. While the story is lackluster, and prevents it from being great, I never tired of the mechanics and the boss fights are extremely well designed and executed. The game is exactly what I wanted in a handheld version of one of my favorite franchises.
Checkout our review of Batman Arkham Origins here!