For as long as portable games have existed, the trend of developing handheld versions of popular console titles has been present and correct. These games tend to be inferior versions of the originals, taking a substantial hit graphically and often limiting gameplay, depending on what the portable console is capable of. In some cases, handheld ports even defeat the game’s original purpose, making their existence as a quick cash-in entirely transparent. This probably isn’t news to anyone who has been playing video games in the past 20 years, but the surprising thing is that we’re beginning to see the opposite happen with 3DS titles. Starting with Resident Evil: Revelations and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, developers are beginning to take notice of the success of particular handheld games, then reinvent them for current home consoles. The most recent portable title to get the big-screen treatment is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition, a case in which the word “deluxe” is used very loosely.
If you’ve already played Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate when it originally released on the 3DS, then it’s likely that you’ll find absolutely nothing new here beyond a high-definition coat of paint. The same storyline is retained, featuring a small cast of Batman’s most iconic villains taking over Blackgate prison, and the gameplay hasn’t changed at all. This 2D Metroidvania style platformer with beat-em-up action is nothing more than a re-release of a game that was never all that great to begin with. If that sounds like something you might be interested in playing, keep reading before you reach for your wallet. Everyone else will likely know what we're going to say here.
Blackgate – Deluxe Edition, despite being on the Wii U, controls almost identically to the 3DS version, minus the use of the touchscreen. The controls will feel familiar to anyone who played the original, but that familiarity is not necessarily a good thing. The controls being recognizable may help in that players accustomed to them will feel comfortable right from the beginning, but they’ll also immediately recognize that the problems plaguing the original game still haven't been fixed, especially those related to manoeuvring. Batman still feels heavy, with sluggish movements and sometimes unresponsive controls. Dodging and countering – necessary actions for players interested in not dying – don’t always work when the right buttons are pressed, and combat is still just as chaotic.
An attempt was made in this game to allow Batman to move fluidly from one enemy to another during combat just as he does in Arkham Origins or any of the other console Arkham games, but the implementation of three-dimensional combat in a two-dimensional world puts limitations on what can be done. Rather than smoothly clobbering one thug in the face before moving onto the next, the Caped Crusader will often attack one enemy, then jettison himself in the complete opposite direction instead.
As a game with heavy focus on exploration and backtracking, having a world map always available to you via the GamePad’s screen seems useful at a glance, but the fact that it doesn’t support touch navigation completely misses the point. As it stands, the only map area that you can see on the screen is the room that you’re currently in and those immediately surrounding it. To explore the map further or zoom in and out, you still need to bring up your Batcomputer – the canonical term for your menu – and navigate from the television screen. The GamePad does support off-TV play, but even then the controller doesn’t react to touch input when looking at the map or inventory. Beyond improving the graphics during gameplay, any opportunities to enhance this game and make it more than an HD port were ignored, especially the features that are specific to the Wii U. If you ignore the beefed-up visuals, what exactly makes this game “deluxe” is beyond us.
The best part of the handheld iteration was the use of beautifully drawn motion comics used to convey story elements between gameplay. These make a return in the HD port, but something has gone wrong in the process. While they retain the same comic book style and are animated just enough to be entertaining to watch, it’s obvious that the motion comics weren’t upscaled to the necessary resolution. When looked at too closely, or when looked at with the expectations of high definition, it’s obvious that these cutscenes are grainy, full of blurred lines and jagged edges that don’t look at all good on the big screen.
While the meat of the game does look better than it did on the 3DS, especially when compared to the cinematics, this proves to be a double-edged sword. The environments and character models are much more detailed and textured, but this also means that it’s more obvious when graphical errors occur. We can’t begin to count the number of times we saw Batman’s fists and feet sail right through his enemies on attack, the limbs of downed baddies sink into the floor, and Batman’s cape pass through walls like a spectral sheet. At one point during play, the Dark Knight lunged right through an enemy and out of the environment, eventually dying after about 20 seconds of being lost in the vast nothingness. It seems that even Batman himself wants nothing to do with this game.
Exploration and repeated environments are in the nature of the Metroidvania genre, but going from one area to another and back again in Blackgate – Deluxe Edition is rather boring. The environments don’t change, and while they look good with their new coat of paint, they’re still not particularly interesting to look at. The enemies that you encounter in each area are also bland, repeating the same cookie-cutter prisoners and thugs in every location. This is all justified by the fact that you’re exploring a prison full of prisoners, thus accounting for the lack of attractive environments and variety in enemy type, but it makes for an uninteresting experience for the player. The bleak, grey reality of prison is clear, but it doesn’t make for a fun experience from the outside.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition is as problematic as its title is long. The cinematics are ugly, the controls aren’t as responsive as they need to be, and the characters and environments are boring. The most offensive part of all of this, however, is the fact that none of the issues that the original version faced were addressed, leaving players with a sloppily put together platformer that isn’t much fun to play. Like the 3DS version that came before it, this game is full of great ideas that are poorly executed, making for a disappointing experience overall. Almost everything has been left exactly the same, and the changes that have been made only provide cosmetic alterations rather than much needed enhancements. It’s not entirely fair to say that this game is worse than the 3DS version, but it’s certainly just as underwhelming.