Batman: Arkham City was easily one of the best games of 2011, managing to leapfrog over the more constrained aspects of its predecessor—particularly its linear Arkham Island environments—to deliver a full, rich experience that no Batman game had offered before. Where other Batman games were more focused on the combat aspects, the Arkham games brought all of the Dark Knight’s wonderful toys into the mix, reminding us of why Batman is so damn cool: he’s basically James Bond with deep pockets and even deeper psychological issues. Every man with a pituitary gland wants to be Batman…well, except for the whole dead parents thing.
Batman’s overflowing utility belt is pushed even more into the forefront with Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition, a port of the 2011 game for Nintendo’s tech-heavy new Wii U system, which promises to push us even further into the game’s world by basically turning the GamePad into your very own Bat-Computer. However, those who’ve already tamed the wild streets of Arkham City may wonder if it’s worth a revisit. The answer, much like the disfigured Harvey Dent, is quite two-faced.
First, let’s talk the GamePad integration. From the first few moments of the game, it’s apparent that a lot of thought went into how to use the peripheral in an immersive but practical fashion. Batman’s avatar in the game now has a glowing LCD screen mounted on one of his gauntlets (wouldn’t having an illuminated iPad on your arm be counterintuitive to Batman’s stealthier aspects?), and the game immediately reminds you that what you have clutched in your hands is that very system. Communications are transmitted through the GamePad’s modest speaker, which threw me for a loop for a few minutes as I usually have its volume turned down, but it was a subtle touch that did give the game a fresh feel. Inventory management is much more intuitive as well, as opposed to the original game’s attempts at managing your arsenal off of the D-pad. Best of all was the always-on map screen, which saved me plenty of headaches as I navigating the mutilated metropolis of Arkham City. The streets are as expansive as ever, and having the city map only a downward glance away is more convenient than you could imagine.
Gadget integration is also well implemented, with many of the game’s microgames for cracking passwords and descrambling radio chatter now translated onto the touch screen. Shockingly, even controlling Batman’s radio-operated Batarangs feels novel and natural using the built-in gyro sensors in the GamePad, allowing me to take shots that gave me grief in the game when I played it on my 360. There’s also the game’s new B.A.T. mode, which—as Alfred explains rather long-windedly—converts kinetic energy built up in battle into a handy-dandy energy store which you can activate to become even more efficient at battering the mentally ill. It’s an interesting addition, but not one that felt as good as the other changes to the controls. There’s even the ability to push all of the gameplay straight to the GamePad, which does strip out the cool controller aspects, but it does allow you to play Arkham City on the toilet (assuming your crapper is within range), which is commendable in its own right.
Thoughtfully, WB Games included all of the game’s original DLC on-disc, including the Catwoman side quests, although Catwoman now has her own version of the Bat-Computer strapped to her feline forearm. Being a little liberal with who gets access to Wayne tech, aren’t we Bats? There’s also the Harley Quinn’s Revenge add-on, as well as all of the various costumes you had to preorder/pay for in the past. I guess if you’re going to ask consumers to pony up 50 bucks for a year-old game, you’re gonna make sure they get their money’s worth.
Unfortunately, and this is very unfortunate, Arkham City Armored Edition falls prey to the disease that plagues many a launch title. Despite the promised horsepower of the Wii U, which is allegedly greater than either the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, the game is rife with choppiness and graphical glitches which certainly break the immersion that the GamePad establishes, and sometimes even costs you a combo multiplier when Batman’s smooth combat unexpectedly judders. It indicates that the focus on the port, handled by an internal WB studio, was less on smoothly translating the game and more on adding the bells and whistles to justify the port in the first place. It’s reminds me—and this is a weird and dated metaphor—of the old MTV show Pimp My Ride, in which cars were loaded with lots of sweet tech without any real care given to how the car actually ran. It feels sloppy, and certainly knocks your enthusiasm down a few pegs for what is otherwise an excellent reimagining of an already amazing game. Were it not for these inexplicable framerate issues, Arkham City Armored Edition would earn a hearty recommendation. As it stands, it’s a fascinating tech demo for those that want to show off what cool stuff the Wii U brings and don’t feel like loading up ZombiU again.