POW! SOCK!! BLAM!!!
As modern pop-media consumers, we’ve heard about comic books “coming to life” time and time again – but Infinite Rabbit Holes — a project from studio Animal Repair Shop — is claiming to do that like never before with their Arkham Asylum Files series of deluxe mixed-reality game boxes. The first in the series is out now, it’s beefy, and it’s ambitious!
The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City is the first in an announced trilogy of puzzle game boxes that take place in the DC/Batman universe. Despite the fact that there are dozens of games in this world across the video and tabletop gaming spectrum, this is the first to try a deluxe augmented/mixed-reality (AR/MR) experience like this. In a recent trip to the studio, I got some hands-on time with the beautiful product, and it did not fail to make an exciting first impression.
Players will join perennial ne’ers-do-well Harley Quinn – and by extension, of course, The Joker – as they unravel (and cause?) a series of mysteries plaguing the titular metropolis. Players will cooperatively solve puzzles together to experience the story-filled box over a number of lavishly-presented chapters. Those familiar with tabletop experiences like the Exit or Unlock series of games will quickly understand the formula — a series of cooperative puzzles tied together by a common setting to be experienced over a series of play sessions, or even all at once.
The box, as stated before, is BIG and chockablock full of lovingly-detailed components like Arkham Asylum patient files in actual manila envelopes, entire pages of newspapers, and even carboard pieces with which to construct Gotham itself in miniature. This being an AR/MR game, though, most everything is tied together by interacting with a mobile device or tablet. So, not only will players be manipulating loads of physical pieces, they’ll also be using an app to forward the story (smartly-told through a series of colorful animated cutscenes), to scan components for hidden clues, and also to watch the carboard city come to life in front of them. The app can also simulcast to a larger screen, which is a great touch for those who want to share the experience with large groups (easily including even more than the recommended 1-6 players suggested on the box).
Puzzles are varied, flashy, and some excitingly immersive. The overall effect is undeniably striking – and as a shared game-night activity, it’s super-fizzy and inviting. The production quality makes sense, as the Animal Repair Shop team is comprised of members who have worked for Disney, Universal, and Warner Brothers, doing animation and theme park development and design. One can feel the flash and interactivity throughout.
It will be interesting to see how the product line will be received, when all is said and done, though — especially as a series of games. This is not a review of Panic in Gotham City itself, but I did have two big questions — namely, where exactly the product sits in the overall gaming market, and the price point.
At $150, the price is logically worth it, especially considering the very large amount of custom components. For the two or three core audiences it could appeal to, though, I wonder how it will be perceived. The puzzles I got to see were all very well-done, but I’m unsure if core gamers of both the video and tabletop varieties will want to spring for it, given the ultimately lighter nature of being a “puzzle-box” (this was also a concern in the series’ original canceled Kickstarter campaign, and the price was lowered as a result). That leaves families to find it and engage, yet similar puzzle-box experiences are now appearing at Target and the like, while competing at much lower prices – though not in ways that are nearly as flashy, mind you.
All told, The Arkham Asylum Files: Panic in Gotham City looks to boldly establish its own flavor of game-night experience, and we remain cautiously optimistic about its future. Many thanks to ARS for hosting us and showing off their eye-popping product.
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