Lego games have a formula that works. Take on an existing popular property, give it a Lego twist, wrap it up in oodles of charm, back it up with some solid if predictable gameplay mechanics, and then bam, you’re good to go. Whereas the amount of Lego games in recent years has gone alarmingly up, the quality has by and large never faltered. Except for when it has.
Lego Batman, released a few years ago, was one of the weaker entries in the ‘Lego franchise.’ For the sequel, developers Traveller’s Tales have enlisted not just the Caped Crusader, but also all of his DC cohorts, in arguably the best Lego game outing in years, that capitalizes on its inspiration, and really makes good on its underlying gameplay foundations.
The premise of the games is suitably silly and over the top. Based on multiple comic book men wearing spandex tights, and wrapped in a Lego exterior, the game, marketed as it is to children, was never going to be another Arkham Asylum or Arkham City anyway. However, DC Super Heroes is extravagantly, gleefully, ridiculously exaggerated, with little to no exposition provided to justify the team up of Lex Luthor and the Joker, as well as multiple DC super heroes teaming up with Batman and Robin. This decision to provide any sort of context to the story or events happening in the game is in spite of a clear spike in the game’s production values. The entire game is now voiced, for instance, and it puts you in an open world that is a joy as a Lego themed playground to mess around in. Simultaneously, the graphics have an all new sheen to them, looking rounder, smoother, sharper, more defined, and just shinier.
Lego Batman 2 shows some clear reverence for its source material. Perhaps as much as the Batman Arkham games, developers Traveler Tales have packed this game with multiple easter eggs and infinite nudges and mentions of the expansive DC universe, going above and beyond the call and including multiple characters in prominent roles when perhaps most of the target audience doesn’t even know of their existence. It is a game that prides itself on its comic book heritage, and it is a game that tries to capitalize on it by trying to familiarize the newcomer to said heritage, and providing plenty of material for the veteran.
Take, for instance, the music. Utilizing both the classic John Williams Superman track that blends in seamlessly with the iconic Danny Elfman scored original Batman theme as you take control of the titular DC heroes and scale the rooftops of Lego Gotham, the music is sure to stir some nostalgia within any comic book enthusiast, especially a DC enthusiast.
Lego Batman 2 is reverent about is source material, and it revels in that. However, contrary to the recent trend of moving towards the grittier, darker, edgier side of comic books, fueled in fact by none other than Batman himself, Lego Batman 2 is childish, cartooney, naive, with all the oodles of charm and the innocence of a Nintendo game. And unlike most games, that manage to nail down charm similar to Nintendo games, but can never quite master the game design (an important part of what makes Nintendo games so appealing to everyone- including kids- in the first place), Lego Batman 2 has it all nailed.
I’ve spoken already about the open world city. I have spoken about the twist to traditional open world mechanics that the infusion of Lego conventions adds to the game. I have spoken about the developers going unexpectedly above and beyond what was necessary or required of them, including in this regard- the fully featured day/night cycle, the random weather, and the AI behavior are all testament to that. It is a compliment rarely given, but Lego Batman 2 is a gem of a game, expertly designed, such that it’s hard to really fault it for anything. And if the really discerning eye does catch anything perceptibly out of place, the game’s heart and its charm are sure to smooth out that frown on your face.
Returning to the open world- it’s the meat of the game. The story is, as remarked previously, unabashedly silly, but the game almost makes a conscious attempt to sideline it and quickly brush it off, racing to its conclusion (which can take a hefty dozen hours, by the way), before presenting you with the true Lego Gotham city, with hidden nooks and crannies, which can only be explored and unlocked by using the appropriate characters’ abilities, sometimes in conjunction. There are additional villains to be hunted, there are free play missions that involve you saving the adorably trouble prone Gotham citizens, there are old story missions to be replayed with new characters. And if you’re just bored, and just want to muck around, you have a seriously enormous city to just wander about in. This game is massive, and by the end, you’ll probably have justified its value to yourself several times over.
Oh, and as for the other characters: there’s Batman, of course, as there is Robin. And then there is Superman, in what is perhaps his best video game incarnation to date. There are also other Justice League members: Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, all the usual suspects. By the end, you’ll have a veritable army of superheroes marching around at your command, in all their Justice League glory.
When you buy this game, you know what you’re getting: you’re getting all the varied and yet familiar gameplay concepts the Lego games have cultivated over the years repackaged in a new setting, a new scenario, with familiar properties, bundled in with lots and lots of charm. In that respect also, the Lego series resembles Nintendo’s brand of video game making a lot.
That is not praise to be lightly bandied about, and yet here I am, consciously having made that comparison twice in the course of this one review. But that is just how good Lego Batman 2 is. Charming and inventive, ridiculous and over the top, exaggerated and reverent, familiar and unexpected, Lego Batman 2 is that rare game that comes every once in a while that actually manages to transcend all demographics and appeal to everyone all at once. This is a game that will obviously cater to kids, given they are whom it’s targeted to. This is a game that will appeal to lifelong DC comic book fans. This is a game that will appeal to us adults, given the sheer expanse and its cheeky boldness in incorporating gameplay mechanics hitherto only reserved for Rockstar’s ‘mature’ open world games. It’s a game that will appeal to everyone, all at once, without really compromising on what it wants to be at all.
This is a game that represents what is undoubtedly an incredibly talented powerhouse at its very finest. Traveller’s Tales, take a bow. You’ve earned it.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Incredible amount of charm; lots of reverence for and references to its source material; the entire Justice League cast is eventually playable; ridiculously over the top; some incredible production values; unexpectedly full featured, with a massive city, and several dozen hours' worth of content
The story is silly; the gameplay mechanics might seem a bit familiar to anyone who has played previous Lego games
This is a game that represents what is undoubtedly an incredibly talented powerhouse at its very finest. Traveler Tales, take a bow. You've earned it.