I’m not one for marathoning a game usualy. I’m far more likely to just dip in for one to three hours on a work night, leaving the weekends for some multiplayer fun in Gears or L4D. However this past weekend saw a change to that. With Linda out of the house on Saturday for a chocolate making workshop, the results of which were divine, I loaded up Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Last Save Loaded for this was dated January. January 2010! Had it really been so long? And why had I stopped playing? I recalled really enjoying the game, but I think Linda saw me playing, started her go and for some reason I never jumped back on when she had finished.
So here we where, over eighteen months later and I powered up the XBOX to continue my story. Having been so long I elected to ignore the old save game and start over, probably a wise move as the combat system in Arkham Asylum, whilst wonderfully executed, takes a little while to get into the timing of so those early battles helped rekindle the muscle memory for the combat. Deciding to focus, as I usually do these days, on just getting through the story I only picked up Riddler trophies I saw out in the open and had to walk past anyway, and so I made quick progress through the gameplay I had already seen. Starting at around 11:00 I was probably past my previous stopping point by 13:00, which was surprising. I can only assume I way taking a lot more time looking for clues and secrets on my first play.
The combat always entertained and the empowered feeling you get from being the Batman is spot on. Always wary of gun fire, but otherwise feeling smarter and quicker than all the enemies thrown at you. Not that I didn’t hit fights were I had to strategise, to out think the AI trying several techniques until I found the one that worked for me. Or occasionally believing I was safe to eliminate an inmate on the stealth sections when I clearly wasn’t, having to take to the rafters and leap about like a crazed fool until I lost them. But you always feel in control, that Batman knows what he is doing and will take them all down. And it’s this that sets this game above others that try the same approach. Batman should feel like this, the confidence to handle whatever is thrown at him, the gadgets coming it at just the right point to help him along ultimately overcoming the challenges to see justice done. The fact that I now wish I knew more about the universe of Batman is testament enough to the power of what has been created.
And so, with only a brief break, when Linda returned, for food and for her to check out Bully which we’ve bought On Demand for the 360 despite only just buying it for PC last week and already owning it on Wii, I finished the game at around 00:40. I’d estimate my total playtime at around 9 hours which for me is a great length of a game story. I spent Sunday picking up all the Riddler clues and Arkham history titbits I hadn’t come across during the story, a set of 3 teeth in the Mansion being the hardest to find so am left with only the challenges to master to get 100% however that might only be a dream. Whilst the combat system is fluid and fun, I am no master at it and probably never will be. Combo fights are not something I’ve ever been good at, one of the reasons that games like Bayonetta have little to no draw for me. But I already feel I’ve had my time with Batman well used. All I can hope now is that Arkham City is at least on a par. That will make me very happy indeed!
We completed UnderGarden last night, and in the 100% all achievements way. The last level proved to have some frustrating sections, made frustrating by the one screen co-op during the current sections where strong currents hurtle you along at great speed leading the the secondary player to be constantly disappearing and re-spawning. However it wasn’t so frustrating as to spoil our fun of the game and we immediatly plunged into the DLC levels which cost a stupidly low 140 MSP. These additional levels are frankly, HUGE. Massive areas with special flowers and musicians. However for some reason these collectables were not required to get the achievement. You just had to get to the end which seemed a little odd. Still we need to unlock the last two crystals in each level and we are yet to work out how to do so for teh final achievement, so we’ll be puzzling away on those tonight.
The Lego games could really learn from UnderGarden when it comes to Achievements, we were able to unlock them all whilst playing co-op and never had to return in single player to pick any up. That’s one of the worst thing in all the Lego games, they need to fully embrace the co-op aspect. Conversely UnderGarden could do with taking up Legos handling of co-op screens. Single screen when possible then split screen when you separate. I know why they’ve done it, being able to separate would make a few of the puzzles far easier to solve removing timing elements, but reworking these would be far more satisfying than the constant re-spawning of the second player, often at really bad times that knock the main player off at a critical moment.
But as I said, overall we still really enjoy UnderGarden, and anyone who enjoys some light puzzling with charming game play really should pick up a copy from the Live Arcade or PSN.
The past few days and nights we’ve found ourselves continuing to return to The UnderGarden. A delightful download game from Vitamin G Studios available on both XBLA and the PSN. We purchased for a measly 400MSP on Saturday afternoon, Linda took control and played through the first zone before we realised there was local co-op play. Immediately I jumped on the second controller and so began the first of many hours of wonderfully engaging gameplay taken at a relaxed pace. At first play we immediately felt this was not unlike Flower, the aclaimed PSN game, with the pollination game mechanic in play, however it soon transpired there was more to be done than just lighting up the landscape with organic life. Crystals need to be found, and some rather funky musicians need to be picked up along the way, with each level requiring you to pollinate all flowers, find the gem and pick up all the musicians at least once before it can be regarded as complete, although to unlock the next level you only need to make it to the end.
Successful completions however unlock cosmetic upgrades for your floating avatars, who are incredibly cute, despite what appears to be rows of very sharp teeth! New skins, which are a real help in co-op, horns and hats can all be unlocked and are accessible in game by floating your way into the costume cave. New mechanics are introduced as you progress, building on what you have already learnt to solve so as to keep you thinking without ever feeling punishing or stressful, it’s a real chill out game and the music and atmospherics only re-enforce this.
We are just past the half way point and enjoying every moment of the game. We can just sit back and relax on the sofa together whilst having some gaming fun and wind down from the day. There are a few annoyances to be found though, if the secondary player drifts off the screen they are popped out of existence only to re-appear next to the main player, which would be fine but any items you are stringing along at the time will be dropped where you were, which is some cases ‘breaks’ them so they are no longer useful. We also have issues when we both try to pick something up and end up seriously intertwined, which again requires you to drop everything, potentially loosing an item in the process. But these are minor things which could easily be tweaked in DLC or the next version. All in all a lovely co-op game that just does what it does just right.