You’ve Never Seen Gotham Like This Before
With the success the LEGO game franchise has had with its humorous takes on Star Wars and most recently Indiana Jones, LEGO Batman: The Videogame continues the tradition of charming character models, witty cutscenes, and all-age fun. The game gives a completely new look to the Batman universe, encompassing a long list of characters from comic books old and new. Unfortunately, while things look charming on the surface, anyone who has played past Traveller’s Tales LEGO titles may not be so easily impressed. There is little new about this game, as the novelty of cutesy LEGO Batman characters is quickly worn thin by dull, repetitive gameplay elements recycled from past LEGO titles.
Unlike LEGO Star Wars and Indy, the story of LEGO Batman is a completely original concept designed for the game. It begins with the legendary cast of Batman villains breaking out of Arkham Asylum and escaping in an armored vehicle and Joker’s chopper. The gang quickly goes to work in the streets of Gotham, on the loose and wreaking havoc, and the introductory sequences are fun to watch no matter your age. Comic heads and Batman fans will chuckle at the sights of LEGO Clayface and LEGO Joker, and developers have done a fantastic job recreating the Gotham City atmosphere with a LEGO makeover. The game features the original 1989 Batman score by Danny Elfman, though the somewhat tongue-in-cheek humor of this game is reminiscent of the original 1960’s Batman series with the same campy feel. Even the character designs of Joker and the top hat, spectacle-wearing gangster Penguin are reminiscent of the old school series. Part of what I love about LEGO games is their completely original character designs and these are definitely the best yet.
The story doesn’t get much deeper than Batman and Robin hunting down each villain as they pull off various capers throughout Gotham. In the opening stages, you’ll play as the Dynamic Duo, as you try to stop the hair-brained Riddler from robbing a bank with Clayface by his side. The familiar LEGO game structure is pretty much unchanged: travel up and across multi-leveled platforms assembling blocks, solve puzzles, switch between characters, and beat down oncoming cronies along the way. The repetitiveness is far too familiar for anyone who has played LEGO games in the past, as Traveller’s Tales has done little to improve on the foundation built for Star Wars and Indy.
One of the biggest returning annoyances is the time it takes to figure out some challenges, which may leave some gamers frustrated and quick to hit the power button. The game still doesn’t clearly indicate what your tasks are. Even though it could be something as simple as having to push over a large crate to progress, it is tedious and extremely boring roaming a level back and forth to figure out what you’re supposed to do. LEGO games often make me wonder how a child is supposed to complete certain missions if a grown man has trouble finding his way around. I think the series could benefit from a list of clear tasks given in the Pause menu to at least give the player an indication of what the objective is.
There are other things that also make this game too similar to past LEGO titles. Using the exact same gameplay mechanic, Batman and Robin perform identical tasks to complete missions, whether you’re assembling parts to open a large door or climbing across tightropes to make your way across gaps. The linear level setups often make finding your way around difficult, and it can be hard to see in areas blocked by walls or other large objects. There are absolutely no new character movements added to Batman, many sound effects are reused and carried over from past titles, and those who were easily bored with either Star Wars or Indiana Jones won’t feel any different about this one.
There are, however, a few subtle differences in an attempt to make Batman more interesting. Whereas Indiana Jones and Star Wars were made up of three different episodes, LEGO Batman features six. The first three will have you playing as Batman and Robin with the Batcave as your central hub. You can partake in The Riddler’s Revenge, Power Crazed Penguin, and The Joker’s Return, jumping to any story to pick up where you left off or playing through one at a time to unlock new characters, suits, and videos along the way. The second set of episodes is unlocked after you complete the first set, which will then have you playing as the game’s villains with Arkham Asylum as your home base. These have you replaying the exact same missions as the first three, but you’ll be traveling through the levels in reverse as you battle Batman and Robin.
It is much more fun playing as the long cast of villains, giving you a reason to make your way through the first three tedious story modes. Mr. Freeze is equipped with a gun that turns enemies into ice cubes, and The Joker can zap anyone he touches with a gag hand buzzer. It is the long cast of characters that really saves LEGO Batman from being a complete bore-fest, and the team that put this together did a good job of encompassing everyone from classic villains such as Man-Bat and the more recent Hush.
Also new to this title, the amount of oncoming attackers seems to have been turned up a notch. You are constantly confronted with the Riddler’s, Joker’s, and Penguin’s goons to pummel into pieces using Square to punch and kick and Circle to grapple. The environments you travel through in Gotham and the indestructible objects have been given a more realistic, textured look. It gives the game a darker, Burton-like feel that contrasts the more cartoon LEGO characters and destructible pieces. Also, Batman and Robin can each wear four different suits, making them more functional and a tad more interesting. Batman’s Glide Suit, for example, allows you to hop large gaps by holding down X, and Robin’s Water Suit allows you to swim into deep waters. Each hero is also equipped with a Batarang, which is thrown by holding down Square and placing your target where you want to throw. Functions such as these give the game more variety, though it’s not enough to stay entertained for hours at a time.
For those who don’t bore easily, the game offers lots of replayability and lots of stuff to unlock. The Batcave serves as your home base where you go to view each trophy from completed missions, change suits, and choose which levels you’d like to play. After unlocking each level in Story Mode, you are able to play them in Free Play Mode with any character you choose. Free Play Mode allows you to unlock extra goodies in areas not accessible in the story. The Batcomputer is used to check out all the stuff you’ve unlocked, such as characters and suit upgrades, as well as purchase items with your LEGO studs, such as extra gadgets and information that could help you later in the game. Here you can also view all the story clips, which is something I love about LEGO games. The developers spent a lot of time creating elaborate and entertaining cutscenes, and you may certainly want to watch many of the 95 clips over and over again.
The cutscenes, list of characters, and overall aesthetic of this game are its major saving graces. With everyone from Bane and Scarecrow to Two-Face and Mad Hatter in the cast, comic fans will appreciate the inclusion of so many classic villains. Unfortunately, with the success of the LEGO series thus far, it seems as if Traveller’s Tales has taken an unwise ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. Though their Star Wars and Indiana Jones titles were impressive, they weren’t without their flaws, and the development team hasn’t done anything to correct them here. They also haven’t done much to give this game more functions and more variety for those who have already spent hours on past LEGO titles. Cute character models and lighthearted storylines only carry LEGO Batman so far.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Fantastic character designs are a staple of LEGO titles, and the devs’ concentration on giving Gotham environments a more realistic look provides contrast to this nice-looking game. 2.3 Control
Button-mash fight mechanics and slow player movement make playing this game repetitive from level-to-level. 3.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Elfman’s musical score and typical LEGO mumbling voiceovers are great, though many in-game sound effects are recycled and unchanged from past LEGO titles. 3.0 Play Value
With so many characters and cutscenes to unlock, it’s a shame that repetitive and often head-scratching objectives cause boredom and discouragement. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.