NOTE: This piece contains spoilers for Batman: The Enemy Within.
Batman: The Enemy Within kicked off on a high note thanks to a show-stealing debut by the Riddler. Besides being a cool interpretation of the classic foe his conundrums provided among the most enjoyable gameplay offerings of the season. Turns out puzzles were a perfect fit for a narrative adventure game. Unfortunately, that fun would be short lived; Nigma met an unexpected demise at the end of Episode 1. Having played subsequent episodes I have one question: what on earth was Telltale thinking getting rid of him so quickly?
Riddler is the perfect antagonist to center a Batman adventure game around. Puzzles have always been a key staple of the genre. As classic point-and-click games have proven, it’s possible to design varied, interesting brain-teasers around limited controls. Considering puzzles aren’t just Riddler’s bread and butter but his entire bakery and dairy farm, riddle me this: why wouldn’t Telltale run with him as far as they can?
The Enemy Within’s first installment, The Enigma, featured entertaining riddles that spiced up the rote gameplay. I won’t pretend they were the cleverest, most elaborate puzzles ever conceived. However, I’ll easily take collaborating with Jim Gordon to unravel Nigma’s booby-trapped hideout over swiping left to throw a jab. Combat has never been–and will likely never be–Telltale’s strong suit. Challenging the player’s wits and intelligence with over-the-top puzzles would seem more up their alley.
Telltale managed to squeeze a good deal of ideas out of Riddler’s single outing. Batman escaped a Saw-esque death chamber, solved a puzzle box, and played a tense game of Sophie’s Choice. All of those segments felt different from one another and demonstrated potential for grander challenges down the line. Ever since Riddler bit the dust, gameplay has yet to hit similar high points in subsequent episodes. Bland investigations (the few that still exist) and the simplistic combat simply don’t measure up to what he brought to the table.
The remaining villains’ modus operandis don’t allow for the same level of imagination or variety for confrontations. How do you take down Bane? Punch him in the face. Mr. Freeze? Besmirch his popsicle wife, then punch him in the face. Harley Quinn? Somewhat begrudgingly punch her in the face (I like Harley quite a bit). Tackling Riddler can entail several things, as evidenced by the myriad of challenges Rocksteady concocted around the character in their Arkham series. Plus the reward of pummeling the egomaniac after besting his trials throughout multiple episodes would have been immensely satisfying.
It says something that the standout gameplay segment of the most recent episode, Fractured Mask, is a leftover puzzle courtesy of our dearly departed Edward Nigma. It reminded me of how impressed I was with the initial installment. This (probably) final riddle also made me think what could have been had Riddler been left alive to run the show. How more complicated. sadistic, or creative could his challenges have become? That’s a tantalizing riddle I’m left to ponder in disappointment.