Even though NetherRealm Studios was only formed a few years ago, they have a long history in the video game industry. Originally known as Midway Chicago, they developed the original Mortal Kombat and its many sequels before their parent company went bankrupt in 2009. In the ensuing legal dealings, the development team was scooped up by WB Games, renamed themselves NetherRealm, and pushed out a fantastic reboot of the Mortal Kombat series.
But did you know that a small team resides within NetherRealm to pump out free-to-play mobile versions of some of WB’s biggest games? They did it last year with Batman: Arkham City. They did it earlier this year with Injustice: Gods Among Us. And now they’ve done it again with the recently released Batman: Arkham Origins.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Genre: Batman Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: November 27, 2013 (Latest Update)
iTunes App Rating: 9+
The mobile version of Batman: Arkham Origins follows a well-worn pattern established by Arkham City and Injustice before it. The Batcomputer alerts Batman that a group of thugs has begun to terrorize a small section of Gotham. The Dark Knight swoops in and does battle with each criminal in a one-on-one fight. Rapidly tapping the screen will rain haymakers down upon the thugs and swiping when prompted will unleash combo attacks. Also like Injustice, a special meter slowly fills as you fight, unlocking a series of special attack icons that line the center of the screen. As each icon lights up, you can tap it to unleash a flurry of Quick Time Event-powered attacks.
However, Batman: Arkham Origins on mobile devices isn’t just a reskin of Injustice. For one, the combat feels a lot smoother. The jerky motions of all the different characters in Injustice made the higher levels of that game feel like a slog. Arkham Origins is much more fluid and makes you feel as though your skill at tapping the screen actually matters. NetherRealm also introduced a second stance in Arkham Origins. Tapping the Stance icon in the lower right corner allows players to switch between the Assault Stance (heavier attacks and offensive special moves) and the Defense Stance (stronger armor and defensive special moves, including a life bar restore). It’s a little thing, but it adds a bit of strategy to the sometimes mindless brawling.
Aside from featuring a little Bat-flavoring, Batman: Arkham Origins is your basic free-to-play game. Players will have to spend Stamina Points every time they want to fight a round of baddies. If you’re out of Stamina, you can wait for it to regenerate or purchase more with real money. Upgrade Points are doled out after each fight and they can be used to purchase enhanced special moves or additional Batsuits. And WayneTech Points are won after completing a special mission (more on those in a moment) and can be used to purchase Boosts (gadgets that increase your damage and/or defense bars for several missions). As with Stamina, Upgrade Points and WayneTech Points can also be purchased with real money.
Even though it includes all the trappings of the free-to-play genre, Batman: Arkham Origins never feels like a free-to-play game. It was rare that I found myself wanting to continue playing after I wiped out my Stamina allotment for the time being and the difficulty curve is nice and smooth so you never feel like you need to purchase upgrades to advance. If you want to, you can, but if you don’t, you can play for free and earn your way to the end.
With an arsenal of toys in hand, players can use them to power through a truncated version of the campaign from Batman: Arkham Origins. In addition to battling low-level henchmen, Batman will come face-to-face with Black Mask’s assassins, including Copperhead, Deadshot, Deathstroke, Bane, and Electrocutioner.
The assassins usually appear in a series of special missions that make Arkham Origins much more replayable than Injustice. Daily Challenges are difficult missions that are offered (you guessed it) daily. Special Challenges randomly appear for an hour at a time. They’re extremely difficult and often include special conditions such as a bleeding effect on Batman or forcing the Dark Knight to randomly switch stances due to a concussion. Finally, Most Wanted Challenges offer more battles with special conditions, but they’re replayable so you can compete against yourself for better scores.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a very simplified version of its console big brother, but if you liked the mobile version of Injustice: Gods Among Us, you’ll enjoy the Caped Crusader’s latest iOS adventure just as much. It’s just a timewaster, but it’s a good one. It’s also coming to Android devices soonish, so almost all mobile users can get on the game.
Review Disclosure: Batman: Arkham Origins is a free download from the iOS App Store.