IF YOU'RE ANYTHING LIKE ME, you spent 1992 rushing home from school to catch Batman: The Animated Series. Back then, Christian Bale was just that singing prick from Newsies, because Batman WAS Kevin Conroy. Mark Hamill WAS The Joker. Robin WAS... probably dead. My memory gets a little fuzzy beyond the big two.
Hoping to tap that lucrative vein of nostalgia, Batman: Arkham Asylum reunites the key members of The Animated Series' vocal cast. Honestly, Arkham should really be called Kevin Conroy and Luke Skywalker Argue While You Push Buttons and Smile (with a bonus subtitle reminding buyers that a "T" rating means Mr. Hamill gets to call people "bitches" and insert puns about killing babies). Even if the game were a mess, developer Rocksteady Studios' decision to pay extra for those golden voices would have guaranteed sales to all those twentysomethings who fondly recall watching the show.
It's almost a happy bonus that Arkham also hits every other note in the game development rulebook perfectly. The dark, surprisingly expansive world of Gotham's asylum rivals blockbusters like BioShock and Fallout 3 in the aesthetics department. After you've stopped staring at the shiny walls and Mr. Wayne's flowing cape, Arkham's gameplay never remotely approaches boring. It changes almost completely from one moment to the next—from searching for clues in crime scenes to playing 2D, hallucinatory hide-and-seek with the Scarecrow, to sneaking through Arkham Asylum's hallways and choking inmates into oblivion. Then, once you beat the game, you have 16 surprisingly addictive challenge mode levels, and 240 Riddler Challenge puzzles to solve. Screw multiplayer, Arkham doesn't need it to earn your $60.
My only gripe is that in Arkham, the voice of Commissioner Gordon is not coming out of Bob Hastings, who voiced the dude for The Animated Series. (To be fair, though, Hastings just hit 84, so he's probably busy punching Death in the throat.) Otherwise Batman: Arkham Asylum is not just the best game starring the dark knight, it's the best action game to hit shelves this year.