As today is Valentine’s Day, I should really be writing about something within that theme. I’m a sucker for holiday motifs. I have mixed feelings about Valentine’s day though and the sentiment it pushes. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with it. Well, I don’t ‘hate’ it–but I can understand why people do. I don’t blame folks for seeing through all the commercialized bullcrap that swirls around the date. Flowers go up in price, cheap chocolates are passed off as a grand romantic gesture, and restaurants create inane and expensive prix fixe menus. It can be a bit much, especially if you’re in a relationship where you dote on each other already. You don’t need a Hallmark card to tell you when to say something sweet! On the other hand, it can be a good excuse to book a weekend away somewhere nice and drink more expensive wine than what you usually purchase. But, I’m not NOT writing about something Valentine-centric because of my cognitive dissonance about it all. No, that’s not why. It’s because I can’t stop thinking about Batman: Arkham Asylum, that’s why. I just can’t stop plugging into the world of the video game–not even to blather on about conversation hearts. Thank God I’m partnered with sort of a nag. It’s only because I love my girlfriend that I pull myself away from it at all. (She expects me to, you know, pay attention/converse with her sometimes.) If it weren’t for her, I’d be a corpulent and ashen blob with blistered thumbs–never engaging in social interaction or stepping outdoors. As it is, I’m halfway to that description now.
119: Batman: Arkham Asylum
It’s pretty much an undisputed fact that this game kicks ass. It was developed by Eidos and Rocksteady, both of which are based in Britain. Now, I’m not saying that everything made in Britain comes out classier (Lesbian Vampire Killers, anyone?) but this game certainly reaped the benefits of being designed by folks who walk the streets of London. They’ve got a real eye for creepy old buildings and that viewpoint is vital to any depiction of the asylum, which is Batman’s dumping ground for his craziest villains . The Onion rated it as the year’s best game. I love it when things I like get hipster credentials. Guinness Book of World Records also lists it as the most well-reviewed superhero video game of all time.
One of the reasons why this latest foray into video games is beloved by so many Bat-fans is that most of the previous Batman video games have essentially been gaming remakes of the film projects. This is important to Arkham Asylum’s success beyond those games, in my opinion, because you’re not spending the game comparing the likeness of Batman to Christian Bale, or predicting what’s around the corner on the next board because you’ve already seen what happens in the film. Original material rules.
Another reason people are going ape for this game is because of the voice talent. Arleen Sorkin as the voice of Harley Quinn is especially excellent. Sorkin has voiced most of the animated appearances of this character. Other veteran Bat-animation voice actors also reprise their characters, including Mark Hamill as The Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman. Here’s a little sample of Harley from the game:
Paul Dini created Harley Quinn whilst he was writing scripts for Batman: The Animated Series and she first debuted in that cartoon. Her first foray into the comic-book world was in the one-shot “Mad Love” (which was a Batman-centered story, of course). Batman: TAS was great because it was safe for kids to view but had wonderfully entertaining little crime-yarns and real Batman-universe credentials (in other words, it stayed close enough to comic book continuity to keep nerds like me happy and asking for more.) Batman: Arkham Asylum is kind of like that cartoon but rated PG-13 instead of PG.
Speaking of Dini, he may be the biggest reason as to why this game is such a success. Getting a real comic book writer to pen the story of the game was a brilliant move. It’s about time that the story took the wheel in the world of video games. We’re familiar enough, as gamers, with the language of gaming that we need to take the medium to the next level of sophistication. God knows I loved playing Sonic the Hedgehog but I never really understood, from a narrative viewpoint, why he needed all of those gold rings. The fully developed worlds and intricate storylines make games like this current Bat-title, and Bioshock, and others like it excel.
The combination of combat and detective work that you must complete is also a draw. The martial arts style is flashy but also semi-realistic and really just looks super cool. My favorite move has to be the ‘ground takedown’ where Batman jumps on a baddies chest and, depending on which way he’s facing, either punches the villain’s face–or his groin. Snigger snigger. The amount of sneaking around and strategizing that you have to do also make this feel more like a Batman video game and less like your standard punch-em-up. Lots of marquee villains show up, including Zszasz and Bane but other favorites are simply alluded to as Dini is clever enough to know that story comes first. Mr. Freeze, for example, wouldn’t have made sense in this story–even if it would’ve been cool to fight him. They resist the temptation. Superhero film-makers…take note. Yes, sometimes too many villains spoil the broth.
Having said that, the handful of fan-favorites that they did select are some of the heaviest hitters…real nightmares. Killer Croc actually made me jump at one point and I was dreading the level where he was the ‘boss’. Even the random lunatics that run around the island wigged me out proper. This trailer is particularly villain-heavy.
There’s a good interview with Dini about his first foray into video game writing posted here: TheReticule
The official website features more clips from the game but also interviews from some of the designers and creators if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about the effort that went into Batman: Arkham Asylum: Official Site
At this point, I’ve already won the ‘story’ part of the game. But, I just can’t bear putting the paddle down. I’m retracing my steps to pick up all the bonuses (little puzzles left around by The Riddler) and having a blast trying to beat my scores on the ‘challenge’ portions of the game (extra fighting and stealth boards). When you successfully complete a challenge, the Mark Hamill-voiced Joker usually says something sarcastic. My favorite is “Nice moves, Bats! Thanks for showing me them!”. Hamill nails it–it sounds perfectly deranged.
Now, I wish they’d hurry up and make another one but I know that quality takes time. So, I’ll have to wait.
Characters I’d like to see in sequels:
Robin (or Nightwing), Batwoman (the current incarnation), Black Mask, and Catwoman. For an extra baddie or two they could throw in Penguin and Scarface. There–you’re halfway there already Eidos. Now just put that all together…