Alert the crew: I have completed the Batman Arkham Asylum demo. Yes, the one from 2009. Still.
As I played, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this game significantly improved by casting Batman as the protagonist, as opposed to just some guy? Is it even improved at all?”
Then I realized that my thought requires slightly more elaboration (it didn’t in my brain because my brain is awesome… right?). So I’ll ask a slightly different question: would Arkham Asylum any different if you thoroughly extracted all the elements of the Batman IP*?
I’ll admit it – in general, I am not a fan of basing a game on an established IP. In most cases, these games feel as though they’re whoring themselves out for sales based on the popularity of the established brand, and not based on the strength of the game itself… because the game quite simply cannot stand on its own. You know, because it sucks.
By the way, for the sake of this discussion, let’s just leave sequels alone. Sequels are obviously based on previously existing IP’s, but in the gaming world, unlike film, sequels are generally quality additions to the store shelves, so we’ll leave them be.
Back to Arkham Asylum. Based on reviews, word of mouth, and my own experience with the demo, Arkham is a great game. And even though the release of a Batman game during the renewed interest in the Batman IP due to the Christopher Nolan movies can’t be coincidence, Arkham Asylum is clearly not based on the movies, new or old (and apparently it’s not based on any Batman adaptation, although the voice work reminds me of the 90’s cartoon).
However, despite how, well, cool it is to play as the Caped Crusader, Arkham Asylum is great because of its gameplay (like the grappling system and detective mode), its depth of features (like the dossiers on most of the characters), and the overall attention to detail (like the multiple solutions to each encounter), none of which have anything to do with the IP. The Batman setting provides context and familiarity, and a host of lore and abilities for the developers to draw on, but the actual game would be the same with Joe Vigilante as the hero and Crazy McEvil as the villain. Except the names would be terrible.
And yet… in writing this post I’m left thinking that the Batman moniker adds more than just a hook for potential customers. Or perhaps even if that hook is all the established IP adds, maybe it’s not suck a bad thing, because the hook is attached to a legitimately good game.
I stand by my belief that most games based on established IP’s are of lower quality than their original IP counterparts. But in many cases this is due to these games being based on recent cultural phenomena, such as movies that themselves were based on books or comics or even older movies. In the end, these games tend to be transparent money grabs that can only be aimed at ignorant parents looking for a virtual babysitter for junior.
In the end, established IP’s attached to quality games have the potential to make the game stronger, and at worst the IP acts as bait for the consumer – bait to make a quality purchase. But good games are good games, with or without the bait and the hook. It’s when an established IP is attached to a mediocre game that issues arise.
* Intellectual Property: In this case, the concept and all its attachments that make a book, movie, game, or the like. There simply must be better definitions out there, or so you would think.