You got your Metroidvania in my Batman!
Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate for PS Vita and 3DS took me by surprise. I went into a recent meeting to see the game in San Francisco knowing virtually nothing about the game, except that storywise it follows directly on the heels of the console-based Arkham Origins and was developed for handhelds. I was expecting a scaled-down version of the console game, but was surprised to discover a 2.5D Metroid-style side scroller.
Not that you'd guess it from the initial look of the game's visuals on PS Vita, with art assets appearing to have been lifted directly from Arkham City. Art director Todd Keller told me that Rocksteady and Warner Bros have shared assets, assisting the look. It's got a style that really screams Arkham—Arkham City especially—all the way through, and is reflected with gameplay choices made by Armature Studios in tandem with the series, right down to the same controller scheme for controlling Batman.
It's an interesting mix, and a singular challenge, to create a side-scrolling IP from a prior existing one with elements of the controls mapped from one to the other. In some ways it's like playing a sort of "ultimate" demake. In fights, controlling Batman is nearly identical to the console version, with the same mix of leaping and spinning combos from character to character, matched with having to carefully time dodging their blows. It's amazing how smoothly it plays out.
Having that part down, the elements of the game that involve exploration and character upgrades to reach new areas, the Metroidvania approach is in good hands, with Armature headed by ex-Retro Studios Metroid Prime developers, including cofounder Keller. These guys know how to build levels and gameplay around unlocking new abilities and worked together with Warner Bros. to develop a game that hit these strengths and the existing strengths of the series.
A vital part of the game is using Batman's detective mode to identify traps, find clues, and see enemy cones of vision. The game also features a new hacking mechanic that involves matching a sequence of three numbers to a grid, which can be played with or without the handheld's motion controls. On the Vita, detective mode is opened by clicking on the front touchscreen, whereas on the 3DS it drops down to the second screen, making for a different gameplay experience on both systems.
While it took a moment to get used to the sidescrolling nature of the game (and the more regular use of Detective mode to check for traps), it was almost immediately easy to pick up the traditional Arkham stealth combat and exploration aspects of the game. It will be fascinating to see how the game expands on Arkham Origins mythos (storywise, it features Batman's first team-up with Catwoman) when it drops for 3DS and Playstation Vita on the same day as its console big-brother Arkham Origins, October 25th.