|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PC, PSP, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Traveller's Tales||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Warner Bros.||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Q4 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: TBA||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: TBA||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
March 18, 2008 - No one could've predicted the Death Star-sized success enjoyed by the LEGO Star Wars series; with the support of the Lucas and LEGO licenses, it was no surprise the tykes would be on board, but who knew every gamer and their grandma would be hopping into the brick-breaking fun.
The combination of accessible, addictive play and our favorite (and not so favorite--sorry, Jar Jar) sci-fi stars shrunk down to adorable plastic playable characters proved irresistible to gamers of all ages and skill levels. So, it's no wonder that developer Traveler's Tales is looking to duplicate the block-busting hit by applying other popular licenses to the LEGO formula. In fact, we haven't even gotten over the exciting prospect of collecting priceless plastic relics in LEGO Indiana Jones this summer, and already buzz is building over this year's later LEGO-themed release based on DC Comic's Caped Crusader.
We recently got a sneak peek at LEGO Batman, and based on the short but sweet demo, we're already shopping for a new utility belt. Despite the runaway success of its Jedi predecessor, LEGO Batman is actually changing things up a bit; unlike LEGO Star Wars and its sequel, the Dark Knight's plastic path will be paved by a totally original storyline, not directly based on the film franchise. Additionally, the game will include both a hero and villain mode to support the franchises rich roster of characters. Each campaign will essentially follow the same path, but the story will change to reflect what side you're fighting for. When playing as the good guys, you can expect to take on plenty of brick-built henchmen and famous villains, but as Gotham's more demented denizens, you'll be up against the city's police force, headed by Commissioner Jim Gordon and, of course, the bat.
The hero campaign will star Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting alter ego as well as boy wonder sidekick Robin. But rather than partnering with various other specially-skilled good guys, the two will go it alone and don several (up to four each) skill-specific suits. For example, we watched Robin scale walls and girders after acquiring a magnetic outfit and then control some tiny drone-like gadgets while wearing a tech suit. Similarly, Batman was able to reach previously unreachable areas upon finding the glide suit, and plant and detonate explosives in his demolition gear. The good guys aren't the only ones with access to slick skills and gadgets, though; while not suiting up, like the dynamic duo, the bad guys also pack some devious abilities. Catwoman, for example, can execute a sexy slink to distract enemies, while The Joker can light them up, literally, with a skeleton-revealing joy buzzer handshake.
What struck us about these different abilities, aside from their effectiveness on foes, were their spiffy animations; TT Games has definitely pulled some new goodies out of their bag of development tricks since working on LEGO Star Wars. Despite the inherent blockiness of the LEGO versions of Batman and his DC Comic cohorts, they look absolutely amazing. Whether it was the Joker using that joy buzzer or floating with his umbrella, or Batman and Robin duking it out with baddies, the animations looked incredibly fast and fluid. Other graphical upgrades, like reflective rain puddles on Gotham's city streets or Harley Quinn's goofy get-up, also stuck out like a bat signal against the night. From the colorful character animations to the vivid background visuals, we were continually tempted to reach into the TV and grab a handful of the pretty plastic bricks.
When we weren't being wowed by Catwoman's seductive strut or the Joker's menacing green mane, we were checking out some of the game's combat. Without the luxury of lightsaber technology, Batman and Robin will rely on their fists as well as the multi-purpose bat-a-rang--also useful in solving puzzles. Based on the bit we saw, the fisticuffs look solid and satisfying, and the bat-a-rang appears to be aimed by placing a bat signal-shaped cursor over the object you want to hit. Aside from the bat-a-rang, little has been revealed about the bat's gadgets, but as fans know, he's all about the toys; so we're definitely expecting his LEGO utility belt to be fully stocked.
Our look at LEGO Batman was a major tease because it was so short and strictly hands-off. However, just because we didn't get our greedy gamer paws on it, or even see everything the game promises, we did discover plenty of other goodies about the dynamic duo's LEGO debut. We're told over twenty characters will be available--so far only Batman, Robin, The Joker, Scarecrow, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and The Penguin have been confirmed. We did steal a brief glimpse of Commissioner Gordon facing off against Harley and Joker, but no word on whether or not the mustachioed crusader of justice will be playable. We also know that, unlike LEGO Star Wars, players will be able to switch characters on the fly, undoubtedly allowing for some cool puzzle-solving scenarios. Batman's brick-based adventure also promises to incorporate vehicles--what would Batman be without his Batmobile--and a hub-like area similar to the diner in LEGO Star Wars, located at the Batcave.
Our time with LEGO Batman ended on a high note as it ensured the game would contain the same skewering sense of humor that helped make LEGO Star Wars such a hoot. In just one of what we assume will be many amusing moments, Catwoman and Batman engage in an impulsive kiss as a disgusted Robin looks on, offering a priceless moment for fans of the franchise. We can't wait to see more of LEGO Batman and dive into its action-packed on-line cooperative play. Based on what we've seen and heard so far, this one looks like it may surpass its formula-cementing predecessor with better visuals and an endlessly rich universe to draw from. With the title appearing on all currently available consoles and handhelds later this year, our only concern is where we'll find the time to play every version.
CCC Freelance Writer