When "Batman: Arkham City" came out for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC last year, fans and critics alike proclaimed it one of the best comic book video games ever made. And how could they not? Containing hours worth of missions to complete, a number of well-utilized devices from the utility belt, a solid fighting engine, amazing visuals and a top-notch voice cast that included Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprising their roles as Batman and Joker, respectively, the game showed Rocksteady Games' dedication to the franchise it had created in 2009 with "Arkham Asylum." And now, the team is working with WB Games to bring the Dark Knight to an all-new platform -- the Wii U.
Officially announced during this year's pre-E3 Nintendo press conference, "Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition" utilizes all the hard-hitting action of the original game, but with some new additions and modifications that will make specific use of the Wii U's jumbo-sized tablet-style controller. We had a chance to go hands-on with the game at last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo.
First off, all the contents you remember from "Arkham City" are intact, from the hidden discovery of Calendar Man to the hundreds of missions and thugs you can tackle throughout the prison-like city. On top of that, Rocksteady is looking to add even more missions to the game, though it couldn't talk about them just yet -- Additional details will be revealed in the months ahead.
What Rocksteady did show, however, are the new controls, tailor-made with the Wii U in mind. First, Batman's utilities can now be chosen anytime during the game, with your options being displayed on the Wii U touch-screen. Not only can you pull up items like batarangs and cryptographic decoder with the press of a button, but you're able to assign them for even quicker use with the D-pad. Simply drag the item of your choice to its desired location, and you can use it in less than a second.
Through the touch-screen, you also have the chance to upgrade your gear accordingly and scan the city map, seeing where its locations sit on the main screen and to them, either by gliding through the air or using quick grapples to reach the next high point in the city. This beats having to stop the game in order to get things done, as you have to on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
On top of that, Rocksteady is also changing the way you'll use Detective Mode. You still have to activate it by pressing a secondary button, but now you hold your device up to the TV screen in order to look around, rather than manually using the controller. You'll scan corners of the room until you find the necessary clue, then zoom in on it and begin following the trail it leaves behind, whether it's traces of DNA from a target or the path of a bullet from the Joker's sniper rifle. This aspect of the game makes fine use of the Wii U controller, and shows the interaction between it and your television -- a Wii U feature many game demos took advantage of at E3.
The cryptographic decoder sequence also features a slight change; rather than fiddling with thumb sticks to triangulate a signal, you drag your finger across a virtual grid on the touch-screen. Once you locate where it is, you decode it from there. It's kind of like a small mini-game -- and not a bad one at that.
As for Batarang throwing, you can still use the analog sticks on the controller in order to guide its path, but using the Wii U controller's gyrosensitivity introduces another style of gameplay. By tilting the device while the remote controlled Batarang is on its way, you can guide it up and down until it hits its intended target, usually a switch that's out of Batman's reach. Though this took a little getting used to (mostly due to the demo's inverted controls), this is yet another cool inclusion.
Finally, going back to Detective Mode, you're able to activate a special sonar tool that helps you track enemies a little better in the game, just in case someone's just outside of your visual range. Simply ping the screen and they'll pop up.
"Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition" doesn't quite have the promised 1080p resolution nailed down, but Rocksteady is still hard at work on the game, so the final version should definitely be a step-up from how previous console versions appear. The enormous engine works fine with the system, at least, and the animation, particularly during combat, is impressive. Watching Batman swing his cape around to distract enemies before effortlessly beating them to a pulp is an enjoyable sight.
While most of us have beaten "Arkham City" already (and are still finding secrets), "Armored Edition" appears to be a worthy upgrade, especially if Rocksteady comes through on the new missions they've promised. We'll find out just how the Dark Knight fares on this console once it launches later this year.