There's a great old gag from The Simpsons in which Homer, who's trying out to be a member of the secret society the Stonecutters, is going through an initiation ceremony that involves him getting hit in the butt with paddles over and over. The members of the group keep doing the same thing to him, but they call it different names, like "Crossing the Desert" and "The Unblinking Eye."

That's what playing Batman: Arkham Origins for iOS is like.

Here's the basic gameplay: You're presented with a map and asked to pick from one of a handful of stages to play through. Each stage has a description that tells you that something interesting might happen. Like, one says a bunch of Black Mask's thugs are stealing Christmas presents from some kids. Another says the star quarterback for the Gotham Knights has been robbed and you've got to retrieve the jewelry. Those sound like fun, Batman-style superhero adventures, right?



Then you start the stage and it's always exactly the same thing: You fight the same four or five character models in front of the same three or four backgrounds until they're beaten up, or they beat you up. Level over.

The only time there's any actual variety is during the boss fights. After you slog through a handful of thug-fighting stages, an icon pops up telling you it's time to fight Deathstroke, Copperhead or one of the other assassins from the main console game. Those fights have a little more to them, in that the assassins have special moves that you have to tap in certain spots or swipe to counter.


Batman Arkham Origins iOS 1
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


For the most part, though, the fights -- the only gameplay element to the game -- are the same thing ad nauseam. You tap the screen to do punch and kick combos. Occasionally you hit a button to do a special move or do a combo that asks you to swipe the screen. That's it.

That'd be OK if the fights had some strategy or an element of fun to them. They don't. The game this one most closely resembles is Infinity Blade, which was also one big series of fights. I liked Infinity Blade, though. The big difference is that game made your wins in the battles feel earned. You had to watch your opponent to know which way to dodge, look for openings, know when to defend. The iOS Arkham Origins game is all about tapping the screen as fast as you can to beat the bad guys up as quickly as possible and get it over with. The game actually has a couple of different fighting stances, but I don't know why anyone would ever use the defensive stance. All it succeeds in doing is making fights longer; I wanted them to be over as soon as possible.


Batman Arkham Origins iOS 2
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


Occasionally (or later in the game, constantly) you'll take a hit from a bad guy. There isn't much stopping it, because it's impossible to know when the hits are coming. Sometimes they'll up and hit you when you're in the middle of a combo.

I'll give Arkham Origins for iOS this: the developers at NetherRealm Studios tried to make it robust in terms of character customization. Just like Infinity Blade had tons of weapons and armor to choose from, this game has dozens of Batman costumes and special moves you can buy or earn. The thing that drove me to keep playing more than anything was earning another costume.


Batman Arkham Origins iOS 3
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.


I even pushed through some signs of a fairly broken game in addition to the monotonous fighting. On more than one occasion, I tapped the icon on my iPhone (which is delightfully just labeled "BATMAN") to sit through a title screen and then see nothing but black for a while. The game actually loaded about two-thirds of the time. I have a 4S, so maybe the iPhone 5 and iPad's processors can handle the game better, but my experience wasn't great.

What ultimately made me quit playing, though, was what an unabashed cash-in the game turned out to be. The game is free in the apps store, which means all the revenue NetherRealm and WB Games get from it are from in-game purchases. I wish there was a paid version for about five bucks that didn't hound me so hard to buy stuff in the game. Somewhere about halfway into second section of the game map, the difficulty ramps up substantially, well beyond what it should be based on what your Batman's level should be by that point. Batman's punches barely land anymore.

So at this point you have a choice: Go back and replay levels you've already played repeatedly or spend some of your real money for in-game money to make your character better. "Oh, so why didn't you just grind a bunch and level up?" you ask. Well, here's why, and this is the real kicker: The game actively prevents you from doing that. Batman has a "stamina" meter up at the top of the screen. Each time you play through a stage, you lose two or three bars of that stamina. Once you're out of stamina, you're not allowed to play anymore until it refills about 10 minutes later. So you can't just keep running through previous stages to level up, unless, of course, you pay up for more stamina. It's start and stop. When the app only gets past the title screen part of the time, that's super frustrating.

I'd love to see what the other costumes in the game are, but it's just not worth it. I'll wait for the console version of Arkham Origins and see what costumes are in that. Yeah, it'll cost me $60 (or maybe a little more if I buy DLC), but at least that'll all be upfront.

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