The Wii U, with its HD graphics and improved processing power, opens the door for Nintendo to start publishing some otherwise well-established franchises. In fact, the Wii U will probably see more ports than a STD-laden sailor before June next year.
The first out of the gate is Rocksteady’s highly acclaimed Batman: Arkham City. But, as you would expect from a studio of this quality, the Armored Edition of the game isn’t a straight copy of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 original. In fact, it contorts itself beautifully, like Catwoman sleeking through a narrow air-vent, to take full advantage of the Wii U.
Before we get into the new features for Wii U owners, we should just cast our minds back to what made this one of the best Batman games of all time. Arkham Asylum, with Rocksteady’s geeky obsession for detail, is a comic-book lover’s wet dream. The setting of Gotham City is beautifully sinister, filled with shadowy tones, mismatched architecture and about a million shades of cold hard grey.
For further effect, it’s the middle of Winter and snowflakes swirl around the rooftops, clinging to Batman’s cape as he glides around the city. The Wii U manages to reproduce all of this to a similar standard as we saw on the Xbox 360, but in certain, more busy areas, there is a lack of sharpness and a slight drop in frame-rate. It’s a shame that such a beautiful game couldn’t be perfectly executed on a brand new console.
One of the biggest talking points in Arkham City was the combat. It focused on two buttons - an attack and a counter attack - and, although this may sound overly simplified, it’s still easy to screw up. Successfully taking down multiple foes from every angle and building up devastating combos is all about timing and awareness of your surroundings. By countering at the right moment, Bats can take down multiple enemies at once, while evading and throwing his own attacks into the mix.
When mastered, it becomes a smooth, rhythmic and highly rewarding process. Sort of like an evening with a Caribbean prostitute. However, there were a few occasions on the Wii U where the frame-rate dropped noticeably, especially during brawls with a large number of enemies on screen at once. While it was never a deal-breaker, it will certainly look less fluid to those who tried it on the PS3 or 360.
The movement controls are still slick though, letting The Caped Crusader sneak up on enemies, glide over the streets of Gotham, or traverse a five-story building using the Gamepad controller with ease. Of course, it wouldn’t be Batman without a trusty utility belt thrown in and Arkham City is packed full of gadgets to try out.
On top of his grappling hook, the Dark Knight will be able to use smoke pellets to evade line of sight, Batarangs to knock-out enemies, electro-guns to stun, Batclaws to disarm enemies, and plenty more. The advanced remote-controlled Batarang is a highlight, letting you take control of the spinning projectile and manually guide it towards your target for a satisfactory takedown.
The Wii U’s Gamepad controller gives you easy access and feels instantly familiar even when compared to a standard controller. But like most games ported to the Wii U, the real angle for innovation lies in how effectively the developers incorporate the secondary touch-screen of the Gamepad.
Nearly all of Batsies’ sweet gadgets work seamlessly with the secondary screen; such as bringing up a map, holding it up to scan enemies via Detective Mode (now with an Augmented Reality vibe) ,and it doubles perfectly as the Batarang-cam to allow you to aim it with expert precision using the inbuilt gyroscopic controls.
Arguably, it’s not a game to buy a Wii U for, and those who have had the pleasure of playing Arkham City need not venture back for the few extras here. Especially when considering the graphics have taken a slight turn for the worst. But, for those who haven’t, Armoured Edition is a good way to see what all the fuss was about when the original released in 2011. It’s likely newcomers won’t fully notice the graphical down-grade.
Apart from a brilliant single-player experience, the Wii U edition also includes all of the previously released downloadable content, such as Harley Quinn’s Revenge, the extra Catwoman missions, and the other character packs, such as Nightwing and Robin for added hours of brawling fun.
The Armoured Edition also throws in other features, such as something known as Battle Armoured Tech Mode, which is a shamefully lame anagram for B.A.T (I expected better from the geniuses at Rocksteady). B.A.T. adds little to the gameplay experience and is essentially an excuse for new box art where Batman and Catwoman have electrified glowing suits that add extra power-ups to your combat. There are some fancy new special effects involving blue electricity and some stronger attacks during combat, but ultimately it feels tacky and unnecessary for such an already well-polished game.
For those with limited access to their main television screen, it’s probably worth noting that the Armoured Edition can be played entirely on your Wii U Gamepad’s screen too. With some ear-buds, you can discreetly clean up Gotham’s crime ridden streets while the rest of the flat watch The Voice... or something equally crap. While the 6.2” screen isn’t ideal for such a densely visual game like Arkham City, it’s a thoughtful extra and something that will be very handy for future Wii U titles.
It fills me with a quiet confidence when I see games executed relatively well like this on the Wii U. It looks like Nintendo have finally grown a pair and are willing to partake in an older gamer’s market - delivering mature, dark, and often violent titles like Arkham City. It is also a comforting display of loyalty from a brilliant studio like Rocksteady, who haven’t just ported the game, but honestly had some genuine fun with the new hardware of the Wii U. We’re hoping that more studios will approach the youthful console in a similar fashion. But hopefully they can also maximise the graphic capabilities of the console a bit better as well.