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‘Arkham City Lockdown’ Brings Batman’s Love of Punching to the iPad [Review]

I finished playing Batman: Arkham City a while back, but it probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I am definitely not tired of playing a video game where Batman punches people right in the face. That’s why I was looking forward to Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, the tie-in game for iPhone and iPad that was developed by NetherRealm Studios.

Since it was released on Wednesday, I’ve been playing it in my spare time, and while it’s not a deep game, it’s definitely pretty fun. Mostly because of the punching.More than anything else, Lockdown is reminiscent of Infinity Blade, another iPad game that ate up a lot of my time last year. If you haven’t played it, it’s a lot like the old Lethal Enforcers or House of the Dead-style rail shooters, but with punching (and in Infinity Blade‘s case, swords) instead of guns. You get a little cinematic of Batman walking through an area, a bad guy runs up, and combat begins. The big difference is that while Infinity Blade gave you a metric ton of swords and armor to choose from, Lockdown is a lot less customizable.

You swipe across the screen to throw punches, swipe down to counter, tap to the side to dodge, and occasionally you’re given the option to deliver a counter. You get experience points that you can then spend to improve Batman’s punching — including giving him gadgets like the electro-knuckles that he used in Batman Inc:

As a result, the game’s built for grinding. You end up replaying each level to earn more experience so that you can deal with the tougher ones that come later, so it’s a good thing that playing is actually pretty fun. The controls are a little more clunky than I was expecting, with a lot of doing one thing when I meant to do another. It’s the same problem I had with Infinity Blade, but it seems to happen a lot more in Lockdown. The enemies’ attacks can get pretty frustrating, too, especially once they start pulling out guns — there’s only one “correct” action to take in a lot of situations, and it can be pretty tough to do the right thing in the split second it gives you. But then again, it’s not that it’s unfair, it’s just part of the challenge.

If there’s a major flaw in the gameplay, it’s that the counters don’t come nearly often enough — it’s one of the signatures of Rocksteady’s Arkham franchise, after all — and when they do, they’re really easy to miss, because you’re already so conditioned to doing something else. Plus, you can interrupt the counterable attacks just by punching, so once you get a few upgrades, a strategy of just standing there windmilling can usually work just as well as trying to dodge and counter.

Of course, if you want to skip all the grinding, you can always just pay more money in the app to buy points. Generally I’m not a fan of games that have this element to them, but, well, it is a pretty good metaphor for how Bruce Wayne actually does things.

The real downside of that is that there’s something you can only get by paying extra: different costumes. Right now, there are four of them including Batman: The Animated Series:

And Dark Knight Returns:

Each one has their own different tweaks to your baseline stats, which are pretty fun to see: DKR Batman is tougher but slower, while Animated Batman hits harder than any of ‘em.

As for the other characters, you take on Two-Face, the Penguin and the Joker — all characters that appear in Arkham City — but there’s one interesting addition to Lockdown: Deathstroke the Terminator:

It’s pretty fun to see him in there, if only because it cracks me up that a guy like Penguin — who is just a short dude in a suit — got a redesign to make him fit in better in Rocksteady’s world, while the guy in bright blue and orange chainmail and a luchador mask is just dropped in as-is.

Each boss seems to have his own mini-game associated with him. Two-Face’s level, for instance, involves throwing a batarang that you guide by tilting the iPad or iPhone. It’s a nice little change-up, and if you miss, you get shot and lose some health. There’s one instance, though, where you have to guide it through an alleyway in order to knock out a fleeing thug but it seems really unnecessary. It’s weird, because it’s the toughest Batarang sequence in the game — you have to guide it around two corners and hit a pretty small target — but there’s no reward. No additional XP, no health lost if you fail. The only consequence is that if you mess up, Batman just goes “I’ll get you later” and keeps walking. At this point, I’m willing to skip it just to avoid the hassle.

There are also some bonus features, including wallpapers that, for some reason, you can’t actually see before you set them as your wallpaper, which is definitely a pain. But in a pretty smart move that takes advantage of the device, it also comes bundled with three of the Arkham City comics:

The reader’s a bit slower and clunkier than a dedicated comics app like Comixology or ComicZeal, but it’s certainly functional, and it’s nice to see something taking advantage of the game’s popularity to get some comics in the hands of potential readers. If they’d included a link to buy or read more comics, it’d be even better.

All in all, it’s not a deep experience, but it is a pretty decent little time-waster for the $6 price on iTunes.

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