Platforms: Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, 3DS, PC, DS, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Release Date: Out now!
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros
Co-op: Yes, 2-player Splitscreen
Thanks to Warner Bros for providing a copy of this game for review.
Another month, another LEGO game, or at least, that’s how it feels. It’s strange to think that the series has become so massively popular over the years given that many people thought the idea of LEGO games was a bit nuts, but here we are all these years later and people love them, lapping up each new release. However, it’s also fair to say that since there’s now several LEGO games getting released in a year, the series is becoming a little….stale. But now Traveller’s Tales are back with a direct sequel to LEGO Batman and it’s their most ambitious title yet, making two major changes to the formula and bringing in some heroic help along the way. So, was it enough? Is LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes the best LEGO game yet?
Of the changes made in LEGO Batman 2, the biggest and most noticeable is that somewhere along the line these charming little plastic figures have learned how to talk. Exactly how or why little LEGO Batman and the rest of the characters managed to learn the art of conversing in between LEGO Batman and LEGO Batman 2 shall forever remain a mystery, but there’s no denying that this is a brave move on the developers behalf as much of the franchises appeal can be traced back to the simple fact that watching mute little plastic people miming their feelings and attempting to convey complex emotions through the art of slapstick is awesome. Of course, the reason for giving them voices is an obvious one: it allows Travellers Tales to tell original stories with a little more depth and character. When it comes to the Harry Potter LEGO games or the upcoming Lord of the Rings LEGO game, the little LEGO people are just re-enacting scenes from the movies, and so everyone already knew exactly what the scene was about, thus they could get away with simple miming and gesturing, but to tell an original tale like the one LEGO Batman 2, having actual dialog makes things far easier. However, this radical change to the series initially left me utterly bamboozled: on the one hand I commended Traveller’s Tales for taking a risk and making such a change, and the voice acting in LEGO Batman 2 is actually very good, successfully capturing the personality of almost every character you meet. The Joker has elements of Hamil’s famous portrayal from the animated series, Superman came off as suitably over-heroic, Luthor as menacing and Robin as happily daft. It also means that TT can throw in some pretty good gags without having to resort to simple slapstick humour. On the other hand, though, a part of me felt that something would just be missing now that the characters could speak. Call me mad, but I never played the LEGO games for story, and LEGO Batman 2 doesn’t change that because even with voice acting this is as simple as stories go. Had TT used their newfound voices to create a rich Batman tale, then I would have happily accepted the addition of voices without question, but since this is very much a kids story, as it should be, then it feels like the voices simply weren’t required and that the lack of miming and mimicry have taken away from the charm of the series a little. However, by the time the games credits had rolled I had accepted the characters new-found voices into my heart: it might be jarring at first, but Batman’s gruff, “I don’t follow sports….I don’t like music” and the banter between him, Superman and Robin won me over, as it likely will you.
Speaking of story (note to self: learn how to better segway into different topics), LEGO Batman 2 follows the series tradition of being utterly bonkers while also managing to fit in more characters than its predecessor did, which had a surprisingly small roster count for a LEGO game. The game opens with Lex Luthor losing the Man of the Year award to none other than Bruce Wayne. Lex is understandably upset about this turn of events and so, like anybody would, he teams up with the Joker to get himself elected as president using the Jokers special gas (errr), causing all sorts of carnage on the way, such as unleashing Arkham Asylum’s inmates, flying a giant Joker robot across the city and disintegrating the Batmobile. And so it’s up to Batman and his sidekick Robin to go and save the day, with considerable help from the Man of Steel, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League along the way. As you would expect from a LEGO game, the story in itself isn’t anything special and sure as hell ain’t going to be winning any awards any time soon, but it holds together well enough. Rather it’s the humour that keeps you playing and wanting more. Like always Traveller’s Tales have proven that they know how to make a funny game: there’s plenty of manic moments and silly humour for the kids that adults can still enjoy as well. Like almost LEGO game that came before, LEGO Batman 2 rarely failed to have me smiling, chuckling and laughing throughout, whether it’s just the expression on Robin’s face when he gets something wrong, Superman’s ridiculously over-heroic mannerisms or the ticker at the bottom of the short news segments that often act as the set-up for each level. And thrown in to the mix is plenty of nods to the comics like Robin’s constant seeking of approval, Batman’s jealousy of Superman and even a reference to how often the Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum. And then there’s the fact that Robin looks at Superman with puppy dog eyes the entire time, happily alluding to the old theories about Batman and Robin back in the day. Hell, LEGO Batman 2 even takes a few jabs at Rocksteady’s own Batman games.
As mentioned and as the box games title hints at, LEGO Batman 2 isn’t just about Batman anymore, bringing in Superman, the Justice League and a considerable chunk of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery into the mix, such as Poison Ivy, Captain Boomerang (He’s just so awesome. Seriously), Mad Hatter, Bane, Catwoman and many, many more. Sadly much of the Justice League don’t get any screen time until almost the end of the game. Likewise a lot of villains, such as Penguin and Mr. Freeze, only make brief appearances in the actual storyline. Although they don’t impact the story as much as I’d have liked, such as what we’ve seen in Arkham City, at least you get to play as them all. You can fly around as the Green Lantern and beat the snot out of Sinestro, who is also a playable character, take control of Bane, play as Poison Ivy and even hurtle around as The Flash.While quite a few of them are just pretty basic re-skins of each other, a lot of them bring their unique powers, abilities and gadgets to the table, allowing you to access certain parts of the game that were previously inaccessible, a familiar concept for the series that gives it oodles of replay value.
Unlike the rest of his chums, however, Superman gets to play a starring role in the game, meaning that Travellers Tales get plenty of opportunity to play off of Batman’s whole inferiority complex regarding the Man of Steel. It’s amusing, then, when you come to the conclusion that while this may not be the best Batman game ever, it’s most definitely the best Superman game ever. Superman retains most of the powers he has in the comics, able to fly around the levels, freeze water, blast enemies with his heat-vision and, of course, lift really heavy things. He is also invincible, something which suits the LEGO series fine since LEGO Batman 2 continues the franchises trend of not allowing you to die or actually fail in any real way. In short, then, he’s a great addition to the game, especially in conjunction with LEGO Batman 2’s second big change: a huge open-world to explore.
Recreated in beautiful LEGO fashion, a sizable portion of Gotham city is available for you explore in between missions. The rain-lashed cityscape is filled with landmarks such as Wayne Manor, Arkham Asylum, Ace chemicals and more to explore. Don’t be fooled, this is still very much a hub-world: missions, once activated, will still take place in traditional linear LEGO levels, but it’s a much, much larger environment than TT have ever created before for any of their games before. Best of all it’s completely seamless, unlike exploring Hogwarts castle in the Harry Potter LEGO titles. It’s size and the fact that it’s a glorified hub-world mean that it closely resembles Arkham City’s explorable chunk of Gotham. Unlike Arkham City, though, you can tear up the streets in the Batmobile or any number of other vehicles ranging from boats to helicopters to ice-cream vans found parked on the street. Or, my favorite, simply play as Superman or any of the characters that can fly and go supersonic across the top of the city using a surprisingly smooth control scheme. Arguably my most favorite moment of playing LEGO Batman 2 came from the very first time I got to take control of the Man of Steel in Gotham City. As you rise up off of the ground and speed away over the rooftops of Gotham, that iconic John Williams Superman theme comes on in the background, and just for a moment I forgot that it was a Batman game or even a LEGO game, because it felt more like the game Superman has always deserved. Sadly, though, it does sort of mean that Batman and Robin will largely get ignored in the Freeplay modes in favour of characters who can fly. I should also mention that accurately landing flying characters in the open world is a tricky business: this isn’t a huge flaw, but it still warrants mentioning.
But enough about that, because I could happily yak about flying around Gotham all day long. There’s no true side-missions or the like scattered around Gotham city to take part in, but there are a hell of a lot of collectibles to be found in keeping with the traditional LEGO style and little things to keep you entertained. Hidden around the buildings and rooftops are the infamous LEGO Gold Bricks, and getting to them usually involves platforming and solving puzzles, giving each brick essentially its own little mini-level to complete. This makes hunting down those elusive Gold Bricks even more entertaining and addictive than before. There’s also characters to be found and unlocked, Studs, which act as the games currently, to be gained by generally wrecking everything and citizens in peril to help out. And if all of that bores you, then you can always make your own fun by mowing down enemies in Robin’s bike or taking part in RC car challenges or even boat racing.
The best aspect of Gotham city, though, is the boss fights and unique vehicles to hunt down. As you fly, drive or run around the city you can activate Bat-terminals that act as spawn points for any vehicles you’ve collected. When first activated these terminals scan the surrounding area, revealing any villains in the vicinity with which you can do battle. Successfully kicked their butts and you’ll be presented with an option to purchase the duffed up villain with some of your hard-earned Studs, adding him or her to the roster of playable characters that you can choose from in Freeplay mode. You can also find unique vehicles around the city to purchase with the very same hard-earned Studs. Want to drive Harley Quinn’s prize monster truck? Well, you can. Or how about Bane’s strange Mole/drill mobile thingy? Yup, you can have that too.
However, for all of its merits the open world of Gotham is also the most flawed aspect of the game, featuring quite a few bugs and glitches, serving to remind us that this is indeed Traveller’s Tales first attempt at a large world. Thankfully they’re all relatively minor problems with no game breaking glitches, but they’re still worthy of mentioning. IN particular the open-world contains some dodgy platforming moments and areas where you can get characters stuck in the scenery, but thankfully you can usually solve that particular problem by just tapping Y and swapping to your other character. Another irritating problems is that whenever you collect a brick, you lose control of your character for ten or twenty seconds as the game saves itself. It’s fine the first few times, but there’s 250 Gold Bricks alone, so that’s quite a bit of time spent just standing there like an idiot. Likewise the game is a bit slow on the uptake when swapping out characters, again leaving you standing there for a few seconds as it sorts itself out.
It should also be mentioned that when first loading up your save upon entering the game, it takes a long time to load. Again, it’s not the end of the world, but still worthy of a mention.
When it comes to the actual missions themselves, LEGO Batman 2 doesn’t deviate much from the formula that Traveller’s Tales have pretty much perfected, and really, why should it? The gameplay is a mix of platforming, puzzle solving and combat designed to entertain kids and adults alike, not through its complexity but through the simple charm and fun of it all. Advancing through a level is usually a case of a quick bit of platforming followed by several simple puzzles that are often solved by simply breaking up everything in the room so that you can construct new things that allow you to advance. The main hook here for this LEGO game is that Batman and Robin can, like before, change into different suits that allow them to different things. For example, Batman can change into a suit which allows him to deal with electricity, or into a suit with a sonic gun that allows him to shatter glass. Robin, on the other hand, has access to things like an Acrobat suit which gives him a handy pole and transformation option or a Freeze suit which gives him an ice-gun, allowing him to freeze waterfalls and the like to create walls and platforms for navigation. Using these different suits to navigate the environment you’ll have to flip switches, construct objects, clear up toxic spills, swing off of poles and clamber up metal walls using Robin’s magnetic suit to advance through the game. It’s a little disappointing that Traveller’s Tales have really added anything new to their puzzle designs, but then that formula is so well polished at this point that it’s hardly surprising for them to play it safe.. The puzzles are simple to solve, as befits a game mainly aimed at children, but while they won’t have you stopping in your tracks and scratching your head, they’re still very satisfying to complete thanks to the large amounts of Studs that you earn for doing so and the charming style in which they’re presented.
Likewise platforming and combat have both been kept nice and simple, again never really deviating too far from the tried and tested methods of previous LEGO games. Combat has always arguably been the weakest aspect of the entire LEGO franchise, and nothing has really changed in Batman 2, except that now, in what is presumably an homage to Arkham City, you can unleash a finishing move by tapping B should you get your multiplier, which is increased by defeating foes without being hit, high enough. These finishing moves are a bit pointless since enemies only take one punch to beat anyway, but they do look pretty awesome, so that’s fine. The platforming is also pretty much business as usual, serving to break up the basic puzzling nicely. It’s never really challenging stuff, but it’s fun nonetheless, although it does almost feel like cheating later on when you’re playing as Superman who can just fly around the place. Cheeky sod. However, it’s a shame to see that despite the rest of the LEGO structure being so highly polished, Traveller’s Tales still haven’t managed to fix problems that have been haunting the games for years, namely dodgy camera moments that can lead to some frustrating platforming.
Occasionally the game also throws some on-rails shooting sections at you as well, like chasing down a huge truck in the Batmobile or blasting apart a flying fortress as Superman with your laser eyes of doom. They’re fun and a nice way to break up the action a little.
Of course a large chunk of the games appeal, and the series as a whole, is that it can be played with a buddy/wife/husband/child/pet in co-op mode. Sadly Traveller’s Tales are still sticking to their guns and so you can’t play it online, but get a buddy round and it’s a blast to play, whether its working together to get through the levels or just running over each other in the Batmobile. And yes, in case you’re wondering, you’re free to go your separate ways while exploring Gotham City.
With LEGO Batman 2, Traveller’s Tales have gone some way toward refreshing the franchise which over its many iterations has become increasingly stale. The addition of voice acting and a large open environment to explore change-up the game just enough to help it feel fresh and different from the other titles in the series whilst retaining the fun, charm and addictive gameplay. If you’ve been burned out on the LEGO games then these changes might just be enough to get you back into the franchise. Arguably it’s the best LEGO game yet, although there are flaws to be found. Still, if you like the LEGO games and you like Batman, then you’re going to love this.
+ Flying around Gotham!
+ The banter.
+ Driving the Batmobile makes me feel awesome.
– Camera issues!
– Despite changes, it does still feel a little stale at this point.
– Waiting around every time I find a Gold Brick.
Gotham city is brought to life rather well, even if it’s dark and gloomy nature feel completely at odds with the LEGO franchise. Levels are nice and detailed, and the characters look great.
Good voice acting and use of classic music from the Batman films and John Williams Superman theme make for a good audio experience.
The story itself is nothing too special, but good by series standards. As always, it’s the humour that wins here.
Still fun, still charming and still addictive.
Plenty of replay value and a ton of things to collect. Completionists can look forward to a lot of gaming.
The Verdict: 8
Okay, so Batman: Arkham City still retains the title of the best Batman game ever, but for family friendly fun, plenty of laughs and simple but addictive gameplay this is one of, if not the, best LEGO game yet.