Riddle me this: When is an Arkham game not an Arkham game?
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate puts you in control of a younger and less-experienced Dark Knight than the powerhouse we know.
Perhaps that's why he sees fit to boldly enter a prison teeming with Gotham's worst offenders, armed with only his Batarang and a smart device for detecting hidden goodies like the caches of weapons and upgrades developed by Batman's own company.
I don't know what's more strange - that these things are sitting around in a volatile asylum environment, or that none of the criminals broke into Bruce Wayne's secret stash and scored themselves a handy can of Bat-Shark Repellent.
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The in-game environments can be too shady at times, making the Dark Knight nearly impossible to see when the camera pulls out to fit more prison thugs in, and lacking in variety. It's a prison though. Start putting varied scenery in there and the Letters to the Editor pages would be full of angry Gotham folk complaining that convicts had too many nice things to look at, I suppose.
Delivered in comic-book style and animated as if in homage to the finest cartoon studios of the post-War Communist bloc, the numerous and frequent cut scenes would probably fail if not for the brilliant voice acting that props them up. Grey DeLisle's Catwoman is particularly effective at upselling the experience. Little wonder then that Batman chased her into the prison.
Here's the good news: It's an enjoyable game. The action is basic, and the boss fights are more of the quick-time button stabs we're used to seeing, but you should have a good time. Delivering sweet justice feels great, Batfriends, and swiping the touchscreen to reveal intelligence on Batman's foes makes next-level crimefighting seem like a compelling career choice. Safer Gothams together, right?
Once we peel all of this away, what we have is a fairly straightforward platformer that dares a critic not to describe it as a "Metroidvania" title. For starters, it's far more Metroid than Castlevania. That gives this prison romp some specific familiarity, but it doesn't make it feel like a vital part of the Arkham story.
This leaves an odd feeling in the mind: It's a very good Batman adventure, and a fantastic test of the Vita's capabilities, but it doesn't feel integral to the rest of the Arkham series.
At the same time, how could this game possibly stand alone? See. It's puzzling. It should have been named after The Riddler.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Platform: PlayStation Vita