In a world of ultra-violent, high-tech, gimmicky video games based more on profits than substance, Lego Batman is a refreshing change of pace. Don’t pay too much credence to the list of reviews with average grades, this game can be a solid piece in any library.
The story behind Lego Batman is fairly nondescript and really doesn’t tap any of the movies. A mass breakout occurs at Arkham Asylum, setting the Joker, Riddler and Gotham’s worst upon the city once again. It’s up to Batman and Robin – Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake for interested purists – to get them behind bars again. Vignettes are used to tell the story from the beginning after each stage and at the end. The characters never actually talk but their facial expressions and actions fully explain the scene.
The villains form three groups of five and set about their own terrible plans. Gamers must play through each of the three chapters, defeating one of the villians as an end boss. As the final bosses in each chapter, battles with the Riddler, Penguin and Joker tend to be more complex than initial fights with Killer Moth or Scarecrow. Thankfully, players can mix and match between the chapters; each is designated by one of three classic Bat vehicles – the Batboat, Batmobile and Batwing.
The designers behind Lego Batman apparently also favored simple gameplay as well. On the Playstation 3, only the four main buttons and one stick are required to play 90 percent of the game. Players can make the heroes jump, punch, throw a Batarang, grab, build and switch from a deep-third person POV. The system works well; levels are designed so gamers have to fight through waves of henchmen, destroy the landscape and solve a puzzle or two to reach the other end of the stage. These mental obstacles tend to be along the lines of hit a switch, build an important tool or drive a RC car onto a pressure plate and are usually easy to find and accomplish. Occasionally, I did find some of these puzzles were not obvious and was forced to resort to walkthroughs just to find the damn thing, let alone how to solve it.
Lego Batman isn’t terribly hard either. Henchmen, despite respawning off screen indefinitely, only boast weak melee and gun attacks. They often right to the player and can be dispatched with one or two punches, a single Batarang attack or a grab. The wide list of villains tend to stay true to canon, and can be found boasting a whip, mind control cane and other traditional weapons. They also have a life bar allowing them to take multiple hits, although though they are programmed to jump out of the fight after taking damage until the player entices them to return.
Water does not equal instant death in this game, although there are plenty of jumps to miss and toxic oozes to avoid. When a player’s life bar, four hearts, is empty or the character wanders into an instant-death area, they fall apart, respawn and lose a portion of the Lego studs (equivalent to cash) collected in the stage. There are some treacherous regions that can take a few tries to get through, but dying tends to be more of a result of careless play.
Batman and Robin cannot pick up additional weapons and gear along the way. However, they can access tech suits by stepping on a platform, which grant a specific ability. For example, Robin’s magnet suit lets him walk on metallic surfaces – depicted as bumpy and gray, while Batman’s demolition suit allows him to place bombs that destroy metal objects – depicted as shiny silver. These suits are often crucial to completing a stage and must usually be built.
All three chapters can easily be beaten in single player. However, even defeating just one group of villains opens up more missions – the villain missions. That’s right, you can switch over to Arkham Asylum and play as any of the unlocked villians wandering around in the evil perspective of the same chapters. Mind controling people as the Riddler or unleashing penguin bombs with the Penguin is something of an evil delight.
The standard game is worth playing, but the free play mode adds another level of fun. Any level beaten normally can also be played in free play, which allows gamers to choose any one of the characters they’ve purchased with studs, as well as several randomly auto-assigned characters. The eight-character party will always include Batman/Batgirl and Robin/Nightwing, but can have anyone else from Catwoman to a generic police officer. Switching between the other characters in free play is easily accomplished by tapping one of the trigger buttons, a necessity to use different characters abilities, accomplish certain tasks and obtain a 100 percent completion rating. But ratings aside, the new mode is simply a blast. Villains’ abilities don’t exceed those of Batman and Robin’s tech suits, but often have different combinations. It’s also unusual to try beating stages as a simple gun-toting henchman.
Similarly, one person can handily play and win the game, but it’s not as much fun as teaming up with a friend. Lego Batman lets a second person jump in at any time, join in the action and leave at any time. Anything unlocked with one player will be accessible to the second player, and vice versa. Please note that you can attack and kill your buddy, causing him to lose studs. Playing with a friend also allows gamers to choose two of the eight characters in free play, leading up to odd combinations like the Penguin and a cop.
Everything in this game is made out of, surprise, Legos. What really is surprising is how well the visuals actually came out. The animation is clear, colorful, detailed and intentionally blocky, often depicting buildings, objects and characters as they would if made out of real Lego blocks. The levels tend to be dark, but not so much that it obscures the player’s view.
While the graphics of Lego Batman focus on the Lego aspect, the sounds tend to borrow more from the Batman angle. Cartoony variations of the Batman theme can be heard at the opening and throughout the game. Most of the stages, however, actually have their own simple, yet dark and foreboding music. There are also plenty of sound effects, ranging from gun shots to Legos falling apart to Robin’s snickering.
Lego Batman may be described as a family-friendly side-scroller, but when Batman and Robin is combined with Lego blocks, fighting and eccentric characters, the end result is much better than the sum of its parts.