What Comic Book Games Can Learn From Batman: Arkham Asylum

Last year, one game took everyone by surprise.  Rocksteady Studios came out of nowhere (literally; it was their second game they ever made) with Batman: Arkham Asylum.  I would go so far as to say that they re-wrote the book on how to make a game based on a comic book.  This year, another superhero looks to rise from the video game ashes after several disappointing efforts. Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions will be arriving shortly, so let’s go over pages from the Batman: Arkham Asylum manual that Spiderman:Shattered Dimensions should take from.

Comic Book Games: You're doing it right!

  1. Throw the storyline from the movie out the window. The first thing any comic book game needs to do is come up with a completely new and original story.  I hate to say this, but if I have seen the movie and know how the story goes, what is going to keep me playing all the way to the very end?  Batman: AA’s story was original, compelling, was stayed in line with the Batman canon for the most part, and brought out the best in the Batman universe.  All your favorite characters make an appearance in one way or another.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, with enough plot twists scattered throughout to keep you saying “Just fifteen more minutes!”
  2. Put me in the character’s shoes. I can’t tell you how many times bad voice acting has ruined a good story.  Rocksteady Studios did exactly the right thing: they got the most beloved actors from the Batman series for the roles.  Yes, that means Mark Hamill for the Joker and Kevin Conroy to voice the Batman.   Just hiring these two actors alone did wonders for the story, as it brought me back to the days were I watched the cartoons on Saturday morning.  All of the sudden, I was playing these cartoons.  And that is a really, really good feeling.  In addition, the graphics fit the game just right.  The graphics were dark and gritty, which really enhanced the “creepy asylum” aurora.  It was so satisfying to crunch a bad guy, and then see a bunch of tiny bats fly out of his body.  All the character models look amazing, and you can see the influences from the comic books sneaking through, which is vital.  The small details like Batman’s suit showing damage over the course of the game helped immerse you into the game.  And the cut scenes looked and sounded fabulous and they helped move along the story at an acceptable rate.
  3. Make the game fun to play. Everyone knows how horrible controls have ruined Spiderman and Superman games for years.  Rocksteady took a “easy to learn, difficult to master” approach which was implemented beautifully.  And it wasn’t just a button-masher either.  Rocksteady did a fabulous job introducing various mechanics into the game that allowed you to vary the way you took out the bad guys.  In addition, the game played in a stealth-like manner similar to the Tom Clancy games, which was really different and ran counter to my “superheros can do everything and beat anybody, no problem” mentality.
  4. Spice things up. As I alluded to above, Rocksteady put many different styles of gameplay in their game.  All the boss battles are different, there are some puzzle sections sprinkled about, and the whole “stealthy Batman” mindset really makes this game stand out from many of the other comic book games I have seen.  Compare Batman: AA to one of the recent Iron Man games and it becomes clear the variety of gameplay really do make a difference in keeping the game fresh for 8 hours.
  5. Give us the unlockables and extras we crave. For all the comic book fans and achievement hunters out there, Rocksteady didn’t forget you.  There are a bunch of riddles set up by The Riddler for you to unlock.  These often revolve around obscure comic book villians or Gotham City lore that comic book fans will crave.  In addition, there are tons of audio tapes for you to unlock to take the story to another level altogether.  Solving all these riddles and finding all the secrets will add on many more hours to the campaign length, because there is just SO MUCH for you to do.
  6. Don’t deny your heritage. Whatever you do, don’t forget the comic books that you are coming from.   Batman: AA gave a shout-out to these comics in the form of riddles and Easter eggs, but most importantly they did their research and they designed a game where you were Batman, not some modern evolution of such.   That might have been their biggest decision of all.

Amazing Spiderman is one of the four universes in the new Spiderman game, but will the finished product amaze the critics?

As I have been writing this story, it appears that the newest Spiderman is taking many of these suggestions to heart.  They have chosen to branch out into four unique worlds, with different Spideys in each one, and more importantly, different play styles.  In addition, many famous voice actors from the past have returned to their roles in this newest titles, including heavyweights such as Neil Patrick Harris.   I believe that Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions will be this year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum because they are making a game, not a movie-cash in.   However, it is going to be very tough to top the best, which in this case is Arkham Asylum.   Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions has some big shoes to fill after the blockbuster Batman: Arkham Asylum, but I am cautiously optimistic that they can pull off an upset here.

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