Whisper it: Nintendo didn't make the best Metroid game of the last five years. It didn't even make the second best Metroid. Both honours go to Rocksteady, a plucky British studio that took the design skeleton of Samus' classic adventures and dressed it up as a giant, clown-punching bat.
The first game, Arkham Asylum, wore the influence on its spandex-clad sleeve. Batman explored a labyrinthine prison complex, backtracking with new kit to eke out routes and secrets. Like the best Metroid games, it felt like one huge level to conquer, lending it a really cohesive sense of space. He even got a scan visor: a 'detective mode' that let him sniff out clues, peer through walls and measure goons' pulse rates as he scared the bejesus out of them.
All of this returns in Arkham City, only Rocksteady has pushed the play pit to daring extremes. After the events of the first game - quick synopsis: Batman gets trapped in the madhouse, punches everyone - the Asylum has expanded into Gotham's slums. The rechristened Arkham City is a warren of streets and alleys. Criminal factions, each answering to a different supervillain, fight for supremacy under the watchful eye of prison helicopters in the skies.
It's not so much an open world in the GTA sense, as a complex hubworld leading to contained levels elsewhere. Key story missions make use of the city's scale - you might have to sprint across it, or eliminate scattered targets - but the meat of the game drives Batman inside. It's a nice trade-off, giving us tightly designed interiors to stalk through and a wide-open playground to grapple-hook around and let off some steam in.
At the heart of it all is the most accomplished digital superhero since GameCube's Spider-Man 2. He fills the screen with intimidating bulk, his physics-enabled cape wafting in the wind. Dive from a rooftop and the cloth extends into a glider as responsive as any Pilotwings vehicle.
Pressing the crouch button transforms him from brash dispenser of bat-justice to darting avenger. Enter the closely-guarded interior locations and focus shifts to silent takedowns and predatory scare tactics. Victory is earned by dominating rooms through canny use of air vents, floor panels and the rafters up above.
The utility belt helps run circles around the enemy. Sonic Batarangs can lure a goon away from the herd for a secret fist-on-face rendezvous. Fire a Remote Electrical Charge at an electromagnet and it'll pull the guns from nearby hands. Our favourite is the Explosive Gel. Up to three squirts can be administered and then detonated at will by prodding the respective symbol on the GamePad map. Timing explosions to drop rubble onto henchmen heads is brilliant.
The utility belt is the big focus of this port. The GamePad enables you to equip items, but you're still limited to mapping them to three D-Pad directions, so it's not like you have easier access than was afforded to 360/PS3 players. GamePad controls are a mixed bag. Gyro aiming works well and the tap-to-explode gels are neat, but the finger-tracing computer hacking mini-game halts the pace, while piloting Remote Controlled Batarangs is best viewed on a bigger TV.
With Batman's aversion to lead, you'll need to get your head around the gadgets, sharpish. Get spotted and smoke pellets let him grapple-hook to safety during the confusion, but the alerted guards will prove harder to stalk. Some late game alterations, such as the guards' thermal goggles, ensure you can't rely on the same tricks again and again. Making you feel powerful, but not over-powered, is the game's smartest trick.