There was a fair amount of cynicism and sneering when it was announced that Warner Bros. Montreal would be developing Batman: Arkham Origins as it was largely seen as little more than a cash grab while Rocksteady, the developer behind the previous two games, were busy with other projects (which we now know to be Arkham Knight). At the same time however, an announcement that actually got some fans excited was the news of a handheld Arkham game made by Armature studios, many of whom worked on the Metroid Prime games. Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate has now been ported over to the consoles. Were people right to be excited?

Set three months after the events of Batman Arkham Origins, the story here sees Black Mask, Penguin and Joker take over their prison, Blackgate, and tasks Batman with returning order to the guards. He is also aided by Catwomen, whom he recently put in the prison himself. While she is certainly keen to help, it is clear that she has her own reasons for getting involved. There isn’t much to talk about in terms of story as it is little more than a placeholder. There is the occasional mention of a secret organisation that is running things and the ending (sort of) changes depending on which of the three boss battles you take on last. That doesn’t stop the use of cut-scenes however, as they are quite prevalent, especially early on. They try to look like a comic book but tend to come off looking rather rushed, cheap and awkward.

The Joker is always fun and Catwomen does her flirty thing, but the dialogue is rather dull and characters don’t really play off each other as well as they did in previous entries. All this is well and good, but what about that sexy gameplay? That is what the fans were excited for right? Those familiar with Metroid or Castlevania games know what to expect. You traverse a 2D plain with 3D art (which can be troublesome, but more on the later), where you go in one direction as far as you can, until you realise you need a special piece of equipment or another, causing you to backtrack. It’s tried and tested stuff which is fine on paper, but doesn’t work well in practice.

One of the biggest problems with the game is the map. On the 3DS version, there is a top down view of the whole facility which, while not perfect, is still much easier to understand than the mess in the Xbox 360 version. Many of the areas have different floors to navigate and little effort has gone into differentiating them. Furthermore, instead of having two rooms be beside each other on the map, sometimes little lines are drawn connecting to rooms together across the entire canvas, as if this were an early concept map that was never quite cleaned up.

For a game that’s all about finding items that allow you to explore previously unexplored areas, this is incredibly frustrating. It took me 8 hours to complete this game, though I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that at least 2 of them simply consisted of me wandering in circles, wondering where to go. Atop the map problems, the level design is all very drab and similar. The graphics are nice enough and there is some decent lighting, but everything just looks the same. It is far too easy to get lost which results in one of the most frustrating parts of them game. At one part, in attempt to pad out the game a little, Batman finds out that there is a bomb in Blackgate. It’s hard enough to even get there, though once you do, you find that there are another 4 to find. If it wasn’t for this review, I probably would have stopped there.

The best part of the game is probably at the beginning. It may be linear and simple, but at least you know what you’re doing. Chasing Catwomen across rooftops while she playfully flirts with you (with some admittedly naff dialogue) is a nice combination of story and gameplay which is missing from the rest of the game. Armature also did what they could to translate both the combat and stealth sections over to the portables, though again these are to very poor effect. The animations are stiff and lifeless and Batman seems to have a problem hitting people that are a couple feet away from the camera, seemingly only able to see things directly in-front of him. Despite the 3D art, Batman has no peripheral vision when it comes to enemies.

While this may be a game that sees you collecting items and equipment to further the story and exploration, you can’t use any of them in fight-scenes to any great affect. Sure, you can shoot sticky bombs before the fight starts, but you can’t throw a batarang or even pull enemies as part of a combo, you simply punch them until they fall over. You can’t even do a ground takedown unless you knocked them over before the fight, you simply have to wait for them to get up before punching them again. I had hoped this trope of gaming was well and truly buried by now. Stealth feels like more of an obligation than an actually inspired idea. It’s just a simple matter of sneaking, taking down enemys from behind (or above), then rinse and repeat. Again, very little room for experimentation. As opposed to the combat, however, these segments are quite few and far between.

The only time, other than exploration, that your equipment can come in handy is during the boss fights, especially with the Joker. The boss fights as a whole, however, are more about learning and memorising patterns more than anything else. The Penguin requires some stealth and Black Mask is more about solving mundane puzzles but that’s about it. Everyone else simply charges at you, you dodge, counter or use a gadget, then you beat them up.

Finally there’s the platforming, which while always functional, has no pace or fluidity to it. You may hope to keep pressing RB to ascend an elevator shaft, but Batman is a “Safety first” kind of guy and has to be sure of safe footing before heading upwards again. May seem like a petty complaint but exploration is 95% of this game, they could have made it a bit more fun and fast.

Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate starts off as a fine distraction, though unfortunately gets worse as it becomes more open. The frustrating map and poor level design just isn’t fun to explore. Add the poor combat, slow platforming and stealth and you have a game that feels rushed and somewhat uninspired. Come on Armature, you guys are better than this!