Digital diamonds in the rough

Video games for darker days

In the lull between the summer blockbusters and holiday must-haves, video games notoriously suffer the same fate as their silver screen cousins. However, there are always a few diamonds in the digital rough that are guaranteed to get you over the fall blues.

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Eidos Interactive; Multiple Platforms

For years, nerds have pieced together their ideal Batman; a cape and cowl version of the “I’ll take the breasts of Marilyn Monroe and the legs of Betty Page” game. Now, their fantasies have come true. When Joker is incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, the criminal madhouse that houses Batman’s worst enemies, his true plan is unveiled, and the inmates take over the asylum. The Caped Crusader must battle against his arch nemesis using only his wits, fists, Bat-gadgets and selections from the best of the Batman canon. Together again, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill respectively voice Batman and the Joker—the roles they once held in Batman: The Animated Series—and the pairing is perfect. The Batmobile from the 1989 Michael Keaton film makes a cameo, and the gritty, brutal images of the troubled villains are reminiscent of graphic novels like Batman: The Killing Joke. All together, this mash-up makes for a wonderful ride. There is no multiplayer mode but a variety of secret items and a series of single-player challenges ensures a second or third time through the game. To find all of the secret items you’ll need to use a sort of night vision technology, which is a shame because you’ll spend 90 percent of the time playing through a blue haze, missing out on the detailed and grim environments. When it comes to Batman, consider this more Dark Knight and considerably less Batman Forever.

The Beatles: Rock Band
Harmonix; Multiple Platforms

It’s been a hard day’s night bringing the Fab Four to the video game realm, but MTV and Harmonix have finally released the much-anticipated all-Beatles music game. There are two aspects of the game, one that everyone should buy and play and another that could easily have been downloadable content for any music game already on the market. On the plus side, the story mode is bloody brilliant. Forty-five songs trace the career of the greatest band of all time, with the staging of the songs starting out rooted in realism. Performances from The Ed Sullivan Show and Shea Stadium give way to studio sessions that dissolve into Yellow Submarine- and Sgt. Pepper-inspired trips. The variety and digital likenesses are much appreciated in a genre growing stale with cookie-cutter installments. However, aside from being the first Rock Band game with harmony vocals, this is still the same game we’ve played for years: Grab an instrument, hit the notes. The saving grace, the iconic music of The Beatles, forces the game to take a step backwards. For obvious reasons, you can’t customize your band mates. $60 for a new game that basically amounts to a collection of new songs for the same games you own may seem like a rip-off, but at the going rate of $2 per downloaded song, it’s worth it if you bought the entire playlist. And let’s be honest, you’d buy the whole playlist: They’re the freakin’ Beatles.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Nintendo; Nintendo DS

You have to credit Nintendo for knowing what they do well and sticking with it. This cute puzzle game relies on short-attention-span challenges that add up to an addictive experience. Professor Layton and his assistant Luke set off to discover the potentially deadly secrets behind the Elysian Box and along the way find 150 puzzles, riddles and brainteasers. Rest assured, if you talk to someone in the game, they’ll have a non sequitur excuse of posing a puzzle for you to solve. Like the child of Hayao Miyazaki and The Triplets of Belleville, the art fueling the mysteries is rooted in a slightly skewed reality that adds to the cryptic feel. Don’t expect any major deviations from this entry in the Professor Layton series or from any future entries. As with the system it’s played on, they’ve already unlocked the riddle to a great time.