When Batman: Arkham Asylum was first announced, it made nary an impression. Rather, it fell victim to the curse of the comic book-movie video game: the preconceived notion that it will be terrible. So when it turned out to be incredible, the community was thrilled. Of course, this meant that there would be a sequel, and so we were given Batman: Arkham City, and lo, it too is a gift from the gaming gods.
In Arkham Asylum, Batman was as much a prisoner as the thugs he gave a firm walloping to within the confines of the asylum. In Arkham City, he’s set loose in a city turned prison to strike fear into the hearts of the criminally insane, as if they weren’t afraid of their own voices to begin with.
Batman has always been a hero known for inflicting massive amounts of damage on his enemies, despite having no actual super power, unless we’re counting the billions of dollars he sleeps on. Arkham City allows the player to harness his brutal power and become the Dark Knight, countering attacks and producing combinations at such an amazing speed that reality will seem boring afterward.
Where Arkham City improves over its predecessor is in refinement. Expect no massive amount of variation from the original, but rather a keen attention to detail. The ability to use gadgets mid-fight, for instance, is just a small but important new feature that streamlines battles so that Batman can get in and out as fast as, er, Batman.
The story is still rather linear, and if you chose to play it straight, ignoring all else, it would take about 10 hours to complete. But there are side quests that tack on the hours, and experiences that are too good and crucial to the story to ignore. Villains previously unseen in the world of this brave new Batman show up to menace the city. Mr. Freeze, for instance, is a terrifying enemy who uses his freeze ray to murder while the Penguin harnesses the power of Solomon Grundy to do his dirty work.
Batman has always been a brutal vigilante, maiming but not killing in order to get to the bottom of the greater mystery. His counterpart, a nonviolent thinker, could maybe teach him a thing or two in the art of diplomacy.
Professor Layton, the perennial favorite of the Gamer’s Notebook, is the opposite side of the detective coin.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter is set to be the final curtain for the Nintendo DS as it slowly fades away into obscurity, replaced by the 3DS. In this final Layton installment on a 2D platform, Layton’s history is explored and, of course, there is a seemingly unsolvable mystery to be unraveled in the midst of miniature puzzles and questions of logic.
We find the professor in his hometown of London under attack by a mysterious ghost. The series’ famous clean art and beautiful soundtrack guide the player through the streets, unlocking clues that aid in solving the mystery.
But truth be told, this is an old game. How old? Very old. Two years old. First released in Japan in 2009, The Last Specter was almost considered a Japanese exclusive until the surprise announcement of its release during E3 earlier this year. So consider yourself lucky that this last in the Nintendo DS series of puzzle-solving antics has reached our shores, and then devour it. Professor Layton and the Last Specter is a must-have for those of us enthralled by the fancy world of a gentleman’s quest.
Of course, it won’t be the last time we’ll be seeing Batman or Professor Layton. (Layton’s next will be released in January for the Nintendo 3DS.) Could a crossover be in the works? One can only dream of leading Batman through the streets of London, pummeling foes as Layton works out puzzles in his stead.
Batman: Arkham City is available now for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Professor Layton and the Last Specter is also available now for the Nintendo DS.
Chris O’Neal is one top hat away from having a problem. Follow him on Twitter @AgentONeal.