A lot of things happened in 2009. Bitcoin established its first Blockchain, Barack Obama became the president of a surprisingly United States of America and James Cameron updated the Smurfs with the release of Avatar. Beyond the Czech Republic signing the Treaty of Lisbon and UNESCO launching the World Digital Library, something even more momentous happened: We finally got a decent Batman game.
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a runaway success, creating not only a caped crusader experience that felt brilliant to handle, but was also wholly original in execution. There was a rhythm to the action, a groove to the detective work and a thrill in the ability to stalk escaped convicts through the narrow confines of Gotham’s infamous madhouse.
This was a game where Batman had to face some of his most terrifying villains. The Joker had orchestrated a massive jailbreak, the Scarecrow had gone full Nightmare on Elm Street and the only thing more terrifying than that tip-toe encounter with Killer Croc is the sound of footsteps in PUBG. And then there was…the Riddler.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Riddler as an idea is brilliant. Here you’ve got a criminal mastermind hobbled by his own obsession to give his opposition a chance to stop him, manifested within his trademark riddles. Frank Gorshin’s take on the character was a silly genius jester in the 1966 Batman series, Alex Ross created a man who was suffering from a serious mental illness and the 1990s animated series version was a sleek and cool reinvention.
Rocksteady’s take on the character wasn’t too bad either. More of a narcissistic criminal who was hellbent on proving his superiority to the world, Arkham Asylum’s Riddler was as deluded as he was arrogant. Which was a great reimagining! Unfortunately, it was a reinvention that was shackled with something else: Those damn Riddler trophies.
The funny thing is, is that I actually enjoyed solving them in Arkham Asylum. There was a decent number of them, some of these puzzles were real head-scratchers and they added some decent longevity to Batman’s maiden adventure long after the credits had rolled. I still have an Xbox 360 achievement for getting 100% of these challenges done, a feat that left me feeling absolutely satisfied towards the end.
And then the idea went completely overboard. Arkham City added more adventurous puzzles to the mix, scenarios which tested every skill and tool in Batman’s bat-belt, but the sheer glut of the riddles waiting to be discovered amidst more obtuse solutions made me want to reach for a bottle of Bat-headache pills. Arkham Origins came along and brought the Riddler back to his days as hacker supreme Edward Nigma, but it was Batman: Arkham Knight that reached the absolute zenith of Riddler-saturation.
Now granted, there was some better variety on offer here. You still had your usual collectibles to find and puzzles to solve, but the Batmobile sequences were a nice touch overall. The thing is, most Batman fans couldn’t be arsed to see this Riddler ride to the end. They’d had enough of Nigma and would rather see Gotham City burn than listen to him prattle on about his intellectual superiority.
Not that you had a choice however, as Nigma would periodically hack the Gotham emergency broadcast system and taunt you with juvenile jabs at your progress. It was the equivalent of a one-sided Twitter debate, a constantly annoying monkey in green hanging on your shoulder and mocking you, as Nigma’s own modus operandi had become more diluted than homeopathic medicine at this point.
To rub salt in the wound, actually attempting to solve all of his riddles was a monumental challenge that didn’t feel deserving of the pay-off. I mean yes, Catwoman was in danger of losing some weight by having her head blown clean off of her neck, and solving her dilemma resulted in a Riddler showdown. Of course, to get the true ending to the Riddler’s revenge and a chance to once again lock him up for good, you had to get every single trophy and puzzle solution within the entirety of Gotham City.
Arduous, taxing and if I wanted a decent payoff to fighting a criminal mastermind I’d rather dress a hobo in green and get arrested for attacking him. It’s kind of demoralising when you think about the entire system of mental tests of strength, of how a brilliant idea became its own worst enemy over the course of the Arkham series.
There’s a rumbling in the air that a new Batman game is due for a reveal in March, one that offers a more adult story, a bigger narrative payoff and a new generation of enemies to confront. If this rumour pans out to be true, maybe the biggest advancement it can make to Batman’s video game legend is to ensure that the Riddler stays locked up in Arkham Asylum.
Last Updated: January 31, 2019