It’s not everyday you get to lay waste to your surroundings and hit people so hard their heads go rolling across the floor. It is even more shocking to encounter this kind of carnage in a children’s game. Travelers Tales however has made a name for themselves doing just this, and their Lego line-up is expanding with the Caped Crusader (and boy wonder) joining the ranks. If you love Lego (who doesn’t?) and enjoy the adventures of Gotham’s finest, then you won’t want to pass up this game.
The Lego games are all obviously made for kids, but that hasn’t stopped adults from enjoying them as well. There’s just something about seeing the little blocks come to life and pantomiming their way through famous and memorable movie scenes. Batman has always been a darker and grittier kind of hero than the usual Lego fare, but Travelers Tales have don an admirable job in translating the source material into something suitable for all ages. The plot is obviously not going to win any Oscars, but sees all of Batman’s foes escaping from Arkham Asylum and wreaking havoc across the city. In a brilliant twist, players get to experience this tale from all sides as both the heroes and villains have their own campaign.
Travelers Tales have stuck to the tried and tested Lego gameplay that made previous titles like Lego Starwars and the Lego Indiana Jones titles such hits. Players must smash everything on the stages to bits, while beating up the bad guys and solving a few simple puzzles. Sometimes smashed objects can be rebuilt into something new that allows progress and sometimes a specific character skill is needed to continue. Since there is only one Batman (although Batgirl can be bought later on) the various skills have been tied to different suits for him and Robin. There’s a suit for flying, bombs, walking up walls or underwater and even a suit just for smashing glass. In story mode, the suits and upgrades must be unlocked, while in freeplay you get to mess around with all the characters and suits you have acquired thus far. There’s also at least one vehicle stage per chapter that sees you tearing around in the Batmobile, Batwing or villain vehicle like Penguin’s submarine. The on-foot levels usually have same vehicles to hop into as well, which range from the mundane to really exotic (elephants and dinosaur skeletons, anyone?).
As in all the Lego games, the challenge doesn’t really lie in completing the levels. You have infinite lives and respawn where your character died, so with enough patience and perseverance, anyone can finish it. Players who want a challenge will go for all the achievements and unlockables. Everything that is smashed, will result in “studs” which is the currency of the game. Studs are used to buy characters, vehicles and suit upgrades. Filling up your stud counter on a level will give you the “super hero” (or villain) ranking, which in turn unlocks more content. Then there is the “mini-kits” hidden throughout the levels, the hostages to rescue and the secret red bricks. Completing all the levels won’t take much time, but getting 100% completion is a considerably tougher job.
The levels are all interspersed with cut-scenes, and while humorous, none of them are as laugh out loud funny as in the previous games. Maybe it is because the game follows a generic storyline and doesn’t have any instantly recognizable movie scenes that it can spoof. Hearing Batman grunt and growl through all the problems is quite amusing, but Robin has been relegated to cheap comic relief, and bumbles his way through every scene. The villains have all been turned into parodies of their much more grim movie and comic book alter egos, so Cat-woman can be lured into a police van with a saucer of milk, while Moth-Man is vanquished with a bottle of bug spray.
While Lego Batman can be played alone, it is definitely designed to be a two-player co-op affair. The A.I. will take over one of the characters in single player, but is marginally more intelligent than dirt, and you will have to constantly switch between who you are controlling to rectify its stupidity. It doesn’t help at all during combat either, but at least you won’t lose any studs when it dies. Combat is pretty simple with long and close range attacks, as well as a special move or two. The villains definitely have the upper hand when it comes to dirty tricks and their arsenal includes mind control, exploding penguins and shock buzzers.
The visuals are very good and all the characters are animated really well. With six chapters containing five levels each, you’ll get to explore every nook and cranny of Gotham City. There’s even two secret levels set in Wayne Manor and Arkham Asylum. The visuals are smooth throughout (which is ironic, considering it is a game about blocks) and there’s plenty of variety. The static camera angle can make some jumps harder than they should be, but does a good job overall on keeping the focus on the action. Levels are all fairly linear, so there’s not really a chance of getting lost, but you will be searching high and low for a few of the hidden items. Freeplay mode allows you to tackle a level with any character you already unlocked, which enables you to reach new areas that required certain skills not available in story mode. This, along with the interesting achievement list, gives the game a lot of replay value.
For a game that features no speech, the audio is pretty decent and the iconic Batman theme song is heard throughout the levels. It can become repetitive, however, along with the laughs and screams of certain characters. While there isn’t as many characters as in past games, there’s an interesting “create-a-character” feature. If you ever wondered how Batman would look with Cat-Woman’s body, then this is for you. Various parts can be mixed or matched to create a truly ghoulish character.
Lego Batman: The Videogame is an entertaining title, but not exactly what you would call a classic. Fans of the franchise should know exactly what they are getting themselves into by now, while everyone else will either be drawn in by the cute visuals or scared off by the “Lego” in the title. This game packed a lot more than what I was expecting, and overall I had a blast. Just make sure you have a friend and extra controller when you pick up this one.
*Review originally published in 2008.