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PLATFORM: 360, PS3, PC
ESRB RATING: E 10+
DEVELOPER: Traveller’s Tales
PUBLISHER: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Full disclosure: I’m not the person this game is made for. I was never a huge Lego guy growing up (though I do appreciate the artform and creativity the Lego brand affords), nor am I the kind of person who longs for the days when Batman was less serious, with a goofy universe populated by inept supervillains. That’s just not me. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is a game geared toward that gamer.
The Traveller’s Tales Lego games have always been a fun jaunt through a brightly-colored universe, with characters that sound like Sims but are often far more emotional. I always find myself chuckling along with famous movie and comic heroes when they’re Lego-fied, and this game was no different. Unfortunately, I had some serious issues with the game, as well.
Gotham City’s “Man of the Year” awards is in full swing. With the two prime candidates being Lex Luthor (dubbed “that bald guy from Metropolis” by Vicki Vale during news briefs on the event) and of course, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, something is bound to go awry. The party is crashed by a cadre of Batman’s arch-villains including The Penguin, Harley Quinn, Two-Face (who looks great in Lego), The Riddler and of course, The Joker.
The villains proceed to rob everyone in attendance (Lex Luthor included), and then begin ransacking the joint, while The Joker spews nonsensical dialogue about how he’s truly the “Man of the Year” and that he’s taking Bruce Wayne’s award. Of course, unbeknownst to anyone in attendance, Bruce Wayne has ducked into a shady spot and put on his Batman costume, with a smiling, overly excited Robin in tow.
Can Batman and Robin stop The Joker and all those other schmucks working with him? Why is Lex Luthor oddly fascinated by The Joker? Why does it take Superman entirely too long to make it to Gotham City, knowing his prime nemesis is apparently receiving a “Man of the Year” award?
I know, I’m asking questions (in the style of a 60’s television announcer) that probably don’t deserve much attention in the way of answering, however; these are some story-related concepts I asked myself while playing. I think the key here is to divorce one’s self from the existing DC universe on film and in comics, sit back and enjoy the ride, but it’s difficult.
These questions do get answered, however; I won’t spoil plot points for you. Lex Luthor obviously sees something in the mania of The Joker enough to warrant a team up that brings in the rest of the Justice League. This is the primary draw of the game, in my opinion, the ability to play as other Justice Leaguers like Hawkman, Superman and WonderWoman, however; I’ve always maintained that if you’ve got one Superman (and a Supergirl), you don’t need anyone else, really, so having the entire League present for an adventure that is more than manageable for Superman or Batman alone feels hollow. While all Justice Leaguers get their moments to shine, it doesn’t add much to the overall enjoyment of the game.
The Lego games have you constructing various vehicles and items using Lego pieces scattered throughout the levels. Part of the allure is that surely you can build everything you see in-game in real life, so that’s neat.
Puzzles are nightmarishly frustrating, even for this seasons puzzle gamer. They are often improbably precise, with Robin’s magnetic suit being the worst offender. Having to stand on just the right pixel of ground in order to use the suit’s special weapon is insane.
Oh, I forgot to mention the various suits that affect gameplay. Yeah, there’s a bunch. Like all of those stupid Batman figures you see on store shelves where he’s wearing orange camouflage and is dubbed “Urban Riot Camo Batman” or whatever, a lot of those kinds of outfits are in the game. There’s even a suit where Batman fires sticky bombs that destroy shiny silver things (and enemies).
The game looks amazing and plays incredibly smooth. This is easily Traveller’s Tale’s best looking Lego game to date, however; the technical achievements are overshadowed by certain things from the Lego Star Wars franchise that I personally missed. The idea of creating your own character, for example has seemingly been excised.
Gotham City resembles the ‘burg envisioned by Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton, with its overly colorful visual flair and it’s enormous statues of half-nude (Lego) men blowing into horns and holding up enormous balls, I mean … “orbs”. This is a game for kids, right? Shouldn’t the homoeroticism be toned down a tad?
The game makes use of Danny Elfman and John Williams’ Batman and Superman scores, respectively. While it’s nice to hear their music again, it seems almost foreign to me, since I’ve gotten so used to the Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard Nolan-verse Batman score. Williams’ music is always a pleasure with that Superman theme being up there with his Jurassic Park and Jaws score (in my opinion).
I must point out that Clancy Brown returns as Lex Luthor and is perhaps the finest performer in the mix. I’m not sure why Christopher Corey Smith is doing his worst Mark Hamill impression as The Joker, but his performance is boring and lifeless, two things The Joker should never be. Travis Willingham’s portrayal of Superman is also quite terrible, as there’s nothing mighty about his voice. I’m jaded though, I’ve gotten guys like Kyle Maclachlan and Tim Daly playing Superman. No one’s better than those dudes. Kevin Conroy, Jeremy Sisto and Bruce Greenwood are my personal favorite Batmen over the years. To have the Dark Knight played by anyone other than one of those three seems absurd.
Superman comes across as a sanctimonious jerk at times, which is part of the problem. He may suffer from a serious Messiah Complex, but that doesn’t mean he’s a total boy scout jerkoff as he’s presented in Lego Batman 2 – DC Super Heroes. Batman is just angry, which is the boring way to portray the character. Whenever a poor Batman story is told, there’s this kind of armor between the character and the audience that doesn’t allow closer inspection of the character. The DC Universe animated films have done a good job of letting the viewer in, but Lego Batman 2 – DC Super Heroes fails in every way. He’s a jerk to Robin, a jerk to Superman, and pretty much everyone else. While that scowl on his Lego face is cute, it’s pretty much his one speed throughout the game.
The dialogue can be funny at times, with Robin being a standout. He’s just cheerful and clever, and even calls Batman on his shit saying “You know, you were rude back there,” in reference to their meeting with Superman. That’s another thing, this is the first Lego game to feature full voice acting, which, although welcomed, I’ll miss the Sims-talk of the original games.
Like all Lego games, the game lives and dies on its collectibles and unlockables. Scattered around the levels, players can find secret rooms containing Easter eggs and items that will allow the use of characters like Supergirl and Ra’s Al Ghoul. It’s fun to go on scavenger hunts for Lego pieces and studs, but at the same time, it can get old quick. I found myself dreading going back through levels because I only found 89% of the studs the first time around.
Unlocking new characters is an exciting prospect, however; once you get passed the cosmetic changes, they aren’t that spectacular. Supergirl, for instance, is just a Superman clone with blonde hair and Damian Wayne’s version of Robin is not much different than the regular Robin. Obtaining 100% completion and unlocking every possible feature or character in the game is for completists only. I’m no completist.
Overall, it’s easy to get stuck in a level and while the aesthetics and characters are moderately appealing, I’m a story-first kinda’ guy. It’s hard for me to be fully invested in the silliness of the Lego universe, and be forced to take part in monotonous puzzle solving exercises using a magnetic suit or a character that can breathe underwater. The game just doesn’t fire on all cylinders for me.
What I’ve come to realize is that the Joel Schumacher/Tim Burton Batman is long-dead to me. Unless Batman is a snarling sociopath a la Christian Bale or Kevin Conroy, there’s an utter disconnect with the character. It’s almost as if I plain don’t care about any other incarnation of Batman unless he’s dour and serious.
While children will certainly go bananas for this game, it’s because of the cutesy aesthetic and absurdity of the puzzle design that’ll keep them entertained for hours. The excruciatingly long load times hamper the gameplay in every way possible, regardless of how clever the Lego universe may be, the game just didn’t have enough in it to warrant more from this jaded Bat-fan. If Lego Watchmen ever happens, I’ll be first in line to pre-order, though.
7 out of 10
** UPDATE **
I’ve amended my scoring of the game after being shown what I believe to be a major draw of the Lego games, the Create A Character feature by commenter Tom Suitt. Thanks so much, Tom!