Backlog Review: Batman: Arkham Trilogy (Switch)

Two swings and a miss in what would have been an otherwise exceptional compilation!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 03/12/2024 09:36 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Incredible voice performances throughout; combat is precise and engaging, rewarding thoughtful execution versus mindless button mashing; settings are highly atmospheric and memorable; a ton of content to play through in each game
Poison Mushroom for...
Arkham Knight is broken, to the point that it is nearly unplayable. As a third of the collection, it's a major blow.

Welcome to another Backlog Review, where we take a look at an older game that fans might have sitting waiting to be played or are still considering giving a purchase. This time we’re looking at Batman: Arkham Trilogy.

Right now, Rocksteady has lost some of its luster as a developer thanks to the spectacular failure of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, but it wasn’t long ago that the studio was considered one of the best in the business. And for good reason—its trilogy of Batman Arkham games is the stuff of legends. Starring the late Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker, the Arkham series combined various elements of the cartoon series, movies, and comics to form an irresistible whole. Now, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman Arkham Knight have been assembled into the Batman: Arkham Trilogy collection, resulting in what should have been a must-have for Nintendo Switch owners—but one big flaw holds the whole package back.

Launching in 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum was the first game in the series. It immediately differentiated itself from the typical licensed shlock that is typical of comic book-based video games. With the aforementioned Conroy and Hamill reprising their Batman: The Animated Series roles, it immediately granted the entire adventure a huge sense of gravitas by having such notable actors onboard. However, while the presence of Conroy and Hamill was a serious boon, it was the gameplay and world design that truly cemented Arkham Asylum as a legend.

The asylum is rich with atmosphere, a foreboding labyrinth teeming with secrets to discover. As the game progresses, the grounds become more fraught with danger, and Joker’s constant berating of Batman makes it feel like the player is in a living, breathing world. The combat, meanwhile, is a brawling system where combos and blocking work together to create fluid, riveting engagements with swaths of foes at a time. The nature of fighting in the Arkham games is very empowering, rewarding players for chaining together attacks, parries, throws, and blocks in a way that few games ever have, all while staying true to the character’s history as a master combatant. What’s more, being able to opt between stealth and all-out action let’s players be the sort of Batman they want to.

As the series progressed into Arkham City, everything introduced in Arkham Asylum was scaled up. A bigger environment (this time, a small chunk of Gotham that’s been cordoned off from the rest of the city) is featured, but is nonetheless atmospheric and memorable. More enemies and allies are also featured than before, with favorites like Two Face, Catwoman (who’s playable), Hugo Strange, Penguin, and others heavily featured. Fighting is tightened up and refined, but the narrative can feel a tad bloated at times. Arkham City is great, but arguably just a level or so below Arkham Asylum in terms of overall experience.

Then comes Arkham Knight, which steps in with the highest ambitions of the series. The Batmobile is introduced for traversal, vehicle-based combat, and puzzle solving in an even larger Gotham. The story similarly shoots for greater heights, capping off the Arkham games with quite the shocker of an ending that still has players debating over it to this day. Still, for all it does well, Arkham Knight’s vehicle segments never quite gel, and some of the polish of the first two games’ settings is lost. Regardless, Arkham Knight is a fine game in its own right, even if it’s arguably the weakest of the trio.

Now, with multiple years having passed between each entry in the series, coming back and slipping back into the cape and cowl feels every bit as refined as it did the first time around. In fact, in many ways I felt a greater appreciation for what Rocksteady accomplished now that some time has gone by and I’ve been given the chance to return to these gems and reprocess them. it’s astounding how much more thoughtful and creative these three Arkham games feel compared to what’s being produced today. This trio of games is legitimately timeless.

With such a quality pedigree of games in Batman: Arkham Trilogy, one might think that this compilation is guaranteed to be a hit. Sadly… that is not the case. The big, hulking, Bane-like elephant in the room is Arkham Knight. In brief, it’s a bad port that brings the entire package down. For the most part, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City run well enough on Switch. Admittedly, it’s frustrating to see any sort of stuttering or graphical imperfections for games that ran perfectly well on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 over a decade ago. Ultimately, though, any shortcomings in these two parts are small enough that they can easily be overlooked.

What can’t be overlooked, sadly, is the mess that is Arkham Knight. It runs choppily, it looks like a muddy mess, and it’s marred with glitches and even crashes. A recent update came to the game that fixed a couple of critical bugs, like being unable to procure all of the hidden Riddler Trophies in the overworld. While that’s appreciated, it would have been better to focus on the overall performance woes that make Arkham Knight borderline unplayable. Even when it’s working, the Switch hardware struggles so hard to keep up with the action that it made my head hurt to play. I’ve dealt with rough ports of games in the past, but this one honestly ranks among the roughest I’ve ever played.

If not for the mishandling of Arkham Knight, I would be much more inclined to recommend Arkham Trilogy. Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, and Arkham Knight are three of the best action games to have been made in the last 20 years. Their mix of atmospheric settings, talented voice performances, and kinetic, thoughtful combat combine for some of the most memorable software Rocksteady has ever produced. Sadly, with an entire third of this compilation in such a shoddy state, I have no other choice but to mark Arkham Trilogy as a mild recommend. For many, the state of Arkham Knight might prove to be an insurmountable deal breaker. If you can look past it, or struggle through the game in its rough state, there’s still a lot to love in Arkham Trilogy.

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