If ever there was a symbol for justice and vengeance that the everyman could identify with, it’s Batman. Created over 75 years ago, Batman has taken on so many forms and personas: serious detective, goofy hero, grim avenger and whatever you’d call Ben Affleck’s take. He’s something to everyone, but, to the community at large, he’s a symbol of what is right, no matter the cost, and how, sometimes, you need to take matters into your own hands. We at Bonus Stage do not, in any way, promote vigilantism, so don’t try and use this article as a takeaway cornerstone for setting up your own militia. However, in the fictitious world of Gotham, there is no greater force than the Batman, and, thanks to Telltale Games, the latest installment of the Caped Crusader’s saga can now be shared on the Nintendo Switch.
Much like Minecraft: Story Mode’s release, Batman: the Telltale Series is a presentation of all five episodes into a single serving, which is such a godsent for me. I understand that releasing one episode at a time and then letting people slowly build the story is an appealing model for some (and also lets you try at a smaller price), but I really hate trying to consume story-heavy games one mouthful per month. A TV show is sometimes about an hour long and you only have to wait a week for another. Each Batman episode took maybe two hours to accomplish (with one chapter in particular coming in at just over an hour), so being able to binge it like an incredible movie instead of just trying to keep my memory sharp for thirty days was a perfect experience. And, unlike Minecraft, Batman is a very, very different beast to consume.
Set in a time where Batman is Batman, Bruce Wayne is still relatively new to the game of crime fighting, but pumped and crafted to a point where he’s already at a bit of a prime in terms of physical endurance and personal maintenance. Fans of the comics will be interested to know this is only tangentially connected to the main universe and is completely out of time and non-cannonical with any of the current books. During this series, we witness the birth and rise of two prominent figure (Two-Face and the Penguin) and are privy to both conflict and also cooperation with the second most popular Bat-villain of all time, Catwoman. It also is worth noting that we introduce a new main antagonist, Lady Arkham, whose true identity is connected to an actual, existing, LONG TIME character in the comic universe. The reveal, to be honest, was something that conflicted me, as her alter ego does have a pretty small but important role that’s cropped up time after time throughout the comic’s long history. Then again, Telltale did a great job of setting up the reveal, and also giving plausibility as to the why and how of the entire events. I’ll do my best to keep spoilers at a minimum throughout this review, but readers should be warned.
First and foremost, let’s take a look at things from a technical aspect. Batman: The Telltale Series runs marvelously on the Nintendo Switch. The art style is certainly more detailed and fluid than that of Minecraft, so I was concerned about performance overall. Running at a very smooth framerate, I didn’t notice any serious performance drops or issues throughout my playthrough. A couple of small dips that occurred during explosions (of course there are explosions, it’s Batman) I attributed to the read/write speed of my microSD card. Batman does sit at a hefty 6.8GB, certainly clearing a spot for itself at the dinner table, so make sure you’ve cleaned things up recently before downloading this sucker. Additionally, if you get the physical copy, be warned that there have been some reports of more frequent drops in quality due to card read. Having said all that, there was nothing that I, personally, noticed, so take any criticisms about such things with a grain of salt.
The game also feels pretty damn good on the Switch. A lot seems divided into three sections: detective mode, action mode and dialogue. The dialogue is something that’s fairly old-hat already, but immensely critical to how the story develops. Presented with four choices, this is where a lot of the storyline hinges and shapes the future of how the game looks going forward. Even though the ending of the saga is inevitable (and the fact that we’re already reviewing The Enemy Within should tell you Batman lives), there’s a lot that happens that completely changes the character dynamics. Harvey Dent, the true identity of Two Face, may evolve into his villainous facade early on if choices are done poorly or may not reveal until much, much later, depending on your words. It’s damn impressive how much replay value Telltale can bake into these games based on the smallest of choices, and Bat-fans will want to go back and see how the series unfolds with the different paths and branches almost immediately. There are hours upon hours of dialogue and ideas that I haven’t even stumbled upon yet, and I can’t wait to dive back in and take a look.
Combat falls back into the old trope of quick time events. If you’ve played Dragon’s Lair, you’re ready for fighting with the Batman. Focusing more on joystick swipes than button presses, I’m glad that Telltale resisted the urge to try and make this motion-activated in terms of playing. It would have been borderline hokey to swing the JoyCons wildly about when it came time to fight off any of the Children of Arkham or other impositions that you run into. Though nowhere as high in quality as the Arkham series of Batman games, The Telltale Series does it’s best to both give you the animations and the opportunities to deliver some serious punishment to the opposing forces.
Lastly, detective mode. I feel like this should have been a much stronger category in terms of playing, but, after coming down from LA Noire, the investigations of the Batman were surprisingly tame and simple. Most, if not all, if the answers are right in front of you 99% of the time, and the largest puzzles that you run into feel like they have ten pieces at the most. I get why it’s like this: focusing on the storytelling aspect, Telltale wants players to move along and keep up the momentum while still paying homage to the fact that the Batman is “the world’s greatest detective.” Still, players looking to delve into seriously detailed criminal mind webs or scattered, obscure clues are going to be left unsatisfied.
The story itself for Batman: The Telltale Series is where everything really comes together. Firstly, it’s visceral as hell. Far from being over-the-top in gore and blood, Batman simply pulls no punches in terms of delivering his punches. The combat is a damn sight to see, with broken bones and bloodied noses flying about the screen. Batman himself takes a fair share of lumps, and the opening combat scene even cuts back to Wayne Manor to see him needing his bandages and homemade stitches from Alfred. Blood aside, the story is also incredibly dark, taking players down routes that they may not have expected if Minecraft: Story Mode was their first foray into Telltale’s “mature” route. Of course, anyone who’s done Game of Thrones or the Walking Dead series wouldn’t be surprised, but the level of discussion in terms of horrifying implications (corruption, abuse, neglect) go way harder than “sometimes good people die.” The story does rewrite history a bit in terms of how people accept the fate of the Waynes in one dark alley years ago, but that’s the great part about Batman: there are so many avenues and places to go, and all of them can be accepted or dismissed depending on the continuity you follow. We’ve already seen how Batman begins (Year One) and we’ve seen how he ends (Dark Knight Returns). Anything in between and then some is fair game.
Ultimately, this is going to be the package for the fans who simply want more Batman. There’s a good level of quality and consistency across the episodes that maintains the pace of the storyline, though, true to Telltale’s legacy, the first episode is the longest and the best. There is one chapter in particular that felt a bit shorter, but it’s a penultimate setup: you don’t need a lot of time spent before the finish line, you simply need to cross it. But, even after you get through the last big reveal and the setup for the second season, you’ll be going back to see what you missed. How your choices and decisions made some characters change and disappear. If maybe there was something different you could have done in order to get a better fate for everyone. But, ultimately, that is your cross to bear: you are the Batman. You do not choose to be Batman: you’re Batman because you’re Batman.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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