The Wii U tablet has the potential to change the way we all play games, but like the Wii-mote before it, it’s still pretty questionable whether anyone will be able to use that potential, or whether they’ll simply turn it into a gimmick. Nothing demonstrates that idea better than Arkham City: Armored Edition, which demonstrates both of the previously mentioned qualities in equal measure.
As you’re probably aware, Batman: Arkham City came out for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 last year. It got rave reviews (including one from me,) and a lot of people even called it their Game of the Year. The Wii U version is mostly identical to the same game you know and love on PS3 and 360, but it has a few notable additions: Batman and Catwoman now wear new costumes (Batman’s “armored” suit sort of resembles a blend of his costume from The Dark Knight and his new-ish costume in the New 52 comics,). Batman now also has access to a sort of limited use “super mode” that powers up his melee attacks during combat.
But of course, the biggest change to Arkham City is the Wii U controller. The bottom screen simulates the look of the Bat Computer, and during regular gameplay, it displays a map, Batman’s current status, and his inventory of gadgets and upgrades. Sort of like Zelda on 3DS, players can now switch Batman’s equipment using the screen on the controller without having to pause the game and go to a separate screen. The bottom screen can also be used to display Batman’s detective mode vison. These uses of the controller, while basic, work pretty well; I found myself pausing the game less than I did on the 360 version, since I didn’t have to stop the in-game action to check my map or change my equipment.
The touch screen also controls a few of Batman’s gadgets: for instance, explosive gels can now detonated remotely using the touch screen. In the demo I sprayed 3 different areas with explosive gel, and I was able to selectively blow them independently of each other by tapping their respective icons on the touch screen.
While the explosive gels worked well with the new touch interface, other gadgets felt like they suffered in the transition over to the Wii U pad. The remote control batarang, for instance, is now controlled by tilting the Wii U pad to alter its trajectory. Now, I’ve played plenty of Skyward Sword, so I’m used to using motion controls to fly remote-controlled objects around, but the batarang’s tilt controls in Arkham City felt twitchy and imprecise. Thankfully, you can switch back to using traditional analog controls if you get tired of using the tilt sensor.
In terms of graphics, Arkham City: Armored Edition looks about the same as it did on 360 and PS3, but the way it used the controller seemed to demonstrate that the Wii U was indeed a fairly powerful system: there were times when the game displayed full HD graphics on both the big screen and the tablet’s screen, with different things going on on each screen (meaning the system had to render the entire scene twice,) so obviously the system has some pretty decent hardware powering it. Obviously, it’s probably not going to be on par with the Next Xbox or PS4, but it was enough a graphical trick to prove to me that previous rumors that the Wii U was weaker than the current 360 or the PS3 are untrue.
But despite its cool new tricks, there’s no denying that Arkham City: Armored Edition is still just a retrofit of a year old game. I spoke to a member of the team while I demoed the game, and he said that they currently have no plans for any new levels or areas designed specifically for the Wii U, so that’s kind of disappointment. Still, Arkham City was and continues to be a fantastic game, and some of the new Wii U-specific controls do manage to make the experience better. I’m not sure if the added Wii U features will make it worth purchasing again for people who already have the 360 or PS3 versions, but if you somehow missed Arkham City last year, it seems like the Wii U version is shaping up to be one of the system’s better third party launch titles.