LEGO Batman Review
It’s hard to believe we didn’t get a videogame adaptation released alongside this summer’s Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight. Sure, there’s been rumors of an in-development tie-in—possibly being prepped for a simultaneous release with the film’s DVD—and Eidos’ upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum has been generating plenty of bat-worthy buzz, but still, in an industry that’s seen titles released with every flick from Catwoman to The Da Vinci Code, it’s shocking the cape and cowl-sporting vigilante didn’t land on our consoles this summer.
While a proper film-tied The Dark Knight game may never see the light of the bat signal (maybe a good thing if the recent Iron Man and Incredible Hulk adaptations are any indication of what we can expect from superhero movie-based fare), the capable creators at Traveller’s Tales are prepared to partially scratch our bat itch with Lego Batman. Not straying far from the formula that made the brick-breaking antics of Jedi Knights and adventuring archeologists such a hoot, Batman's Lego makeover delivers a mostly familiar but chock-full-of-fun experience.
As Batman and his boy wonder sidekick, you and a friend (or AI controlled cohort) will bust bricks, solve puzzles and star in the expected silly cutscenes—most of which hilariously make Robin look like a buffoon—through 15 well-paced missions. While the concept and mechanics will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s kicked brick in any of the previous Lego games, there’s no denying the charm of tackling simple puzzles, collecting plastic pieces, and busting blocks in a Gotham City setting, as DC Comics' iconic characters.
And while much of the gameplay and design isn’t far removed from Traveller’s Tales’ successful formula, they have added some small but significant touches, making this one much more than Lego Star Wars with a Batman paintjob. For starters, the bat and boy have access to a variety of ability-enhancing suits; so, rather than relying on several different characters who possess unique skills, the dynamic duo—when outfitted in the proper get-ups—can do what it might have taken a handful of characters to accomplish in previous Lego games. Robin, for example, can go for a swim in a scuba suit, while Batman can acquire a glide suit that’ll get him places his normal black attire wouldn’t. There are also costumes that allow the characters to scale walls, protect them from certain environmental hazards, and grant them demolitions skills. The suit-centric gameplay gives way to some inventive puzzles, and also changes up the usual dynamic of relying on different characters to perform different tasks—with the proper gear, the crime-fighting couple can tackle any task on their own.
In addition to tweaking the recipe a bit with this suit-switching mechanic, Lego Batman also places a greater focus on vehicle segments; you won’t spend a ton of the game behind the wheels of Batman’s sweet rides, but the few times you do find yourself in the cockpit of the batmobile, batwing, batcopter, batboat or any other bat-transport, you’ll appreciate the gameplay shift from the usual puzzle-solving, brick-busting, item-collecting pace—there’s just no denying the coolness of tooling around in Lego-built versions of Batman’s famous gadget-equipped vehicles.
If the special suits and slick rides don’t get your codpiece in a bunch, then Lego Batman’s absolute best feature, the ability to play as a variety of Batman baddies, will surely set your cape aflutter; getting behind the devious deeds of more villains than Arkham Asylum could ever incarcerate—including Catwoman, Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and many more—you’ll get to play the flip side of Batman and Robin’s missions from these villains’ viewpoint. From Joker’s joy-buzzing to Catwoman’s whip-cracking, these blocky bad guys and their signature abilities steal the show. The look on Commissioner Gordon's face, when his city's streets are overrun with these menaces, is worth the admission price alone.
Whether fighting for justice or looking to unleash chaos on the streets of Gotham, you’ll be treated to the best Lego game visuals yet. The characters all look amazing, and the villains especially are brought to life with skewering, yet worthy-of-the-license likenesses. And their animated quirks—Catwoman’s sultry swagger in particular—add a ton to the already rich characterizations. Gotham also looks great; sure, it's darker than the candy-colored backdrops you might be accustomed to from this series, but it's true to the source material. Plus, some of the villain-based missions, like Joker’s carnival setting, pop off the screen with a Pixar-like punch. In addition to being the best looking Lego title to date, it also sounds great, due in no small part to the mood-setting inclusion of Danny Elfman’s score from the films.
Lego Batman, while offering plenty of new, albeit small tweaks to the can’t-miss formula that’s driven the Star Wars and Indiana Jones titles to the top of the sales chart, feels pretty familiar. If you’ve played those other titles, you’ll feel right at home in the Dark Knight’s plastic paved Gotham. And, if you’ve enjoyed those titles, and are looking for more of the same but with a Batman facelift, you may find this the best Lego entry yet. However, if you weren’t a fan of the formula before, or you’re waiting for the franchise to re-invent itself, this one may not be your bag of blocks. On top of stubbornly sticking to its money making recipe, Batman’s brick-based adventure may also alienate Xbox Live fans; the absence of online co-op is a mind-boggling oversight. As huge fans of this addictive, accessible series, though, we can forgive Traveller’s Tales’ latest shortcomings because this title simply has so much to offer both Bat and Lego fans. And while we wouldn’t mind a bit of an upgrade to the five-game-old franchise, you can bet your blocks will be onboard for the inevitable next installment—Bond, Spider-man, Jurassic Park?—even if it’s just the same old bric-a-brac good time.