Welcome to Joker Asylum!
Welcome to the madhouse, Batman. The Joker set a trap and you sprang it gloriously!
We’ve seen our favorite superheroes in video games before. Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man and more have all cropped up in their own games, but none of them have come into their own as well as Batman does in the first installment in Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise.
The premise of the game is simple…the Joker has allowed himself to be arrested and taken to Arkham, as it’s all part of his master plan. He has it all figured out…a way to take over Arkham Asylum and send Batman on a wild goose chase through the prison. In typical Joker fashion, he has anticipated Batman’s every move and prepared for it, meaning Batman will have to square off against Scarecrow, Bane, Killer Croc and countless other rogues from the comic book universe.
Because of the varied styles of each Batman villain, the game is a beautiful blend of genres. The Joker’s plan gives us reason to be a detective. Scarecrow’s toxin throws us into a horror setting. Poison Ivy’s plant-based powers give us a fantasy-rooted fight. It’s a wonderful melting pot of visual styles. Each chapter feels like a new sub-genre. While this is not the first time such a blending has been attempted, pulling it off can be tough for developers.
Arkham Asylum‘s greatest strength is its seamlessness. Throwing countless thugs and boss battles at a player could get very old very quick. But Rocksteady managed to mix in enough ingredients to make sure the game never feels redundant or prolonged. Yes, there are moments where you need to beat up wave after wave of henchmen, but there also sequences of suspense, puzzle solving, and platforming. It’s a hybrid game of the highest caliber. Above all else, however, rests the game’s ingenious method of tactical planning.
Very few games require the amount of forward thinking and advanced planning that are necessary to complete Arkham Asylum. If Harley Quinn finds out that any of Joker’s goons have been attacked, she’ll shoot Commissioner Gordon…so you need to be stealthy and silent when clearing the room of foes. It may require some on-the-fly decision making and it WILL get your heart pumping. You need to take time to examine the room and plot your moves wisely. It can be daunting, but who ever said being the Batman was easy?
One of the other amazing components of this game is the character design. With its own continuity, Arkham Asylum is able to draw from the best Batman elements across multiple mediums. A bit of Christopher Nolan grit here, some Animated Series there, and some comic book backstory for good measure. The result is a blend of character design and mythology that is unique unto itself, but is still undeniably Batman.
I even have to admit, this iteration of the Joker is my favorite I’ve seen anywhere. With the darkness of Heath Ledger’s filmic portrayal mixed with the charisma and humor of Mark Hamill’s depiction from the Animated Series, this Joker is the best of both worlds. Funny and sarcastic, but still sociopathic and violent. Of course, with Hamill reprising his role as the iconic antagonist, was there ever any doubt that the character would dominate the screen?
Joker’s exploding gift boxes and impromptu intercom announcements make your trek through Arkham Asylum an engrossing experiencing. But the visual and audio styles aren’t the only things that work well in this game. A lot of praise needs to be given to the engine and controls. Think about everything Batman can do. He can glide, swing, grapple, run, jump, climb, punch, and kick. Oh, and he has Batarangs, Batclaws, explosive gels, decrypters, sensors, and different methods of visions. The mere thought of juggling all that is intimidating; so now add on the constant threat of thugs, lunatics, and serum-enhanced maniacs. That’s a lot to handle. But Rocksteady does an amazing job in making all these controls intuitive and user-friendly. After playing for only a few minutes, Batman’s movements will be second nature to you, pulling you into the world even further.
Arkham Asylum is an experience that ups the ante for superhero games. Its amazing blend of genres and styles keep the game fresh, its engine and controls let you take the helm with ease, and amazing characters come to life in a beautifully created environment. You will become the Batman, and you’ll love every minute of it.
Just remember, every move you make in the game is all according to the Joker’s plan.
Alex Russo likes to talk. A lot. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.