Written by: Coach D, Special to CC2K
Just like the real toy this latest Lego-themed game is at its most fun when you're playing with a friend.
As night settles over Gotham City a beam of light cuts through the smog and clouds to broadcast a familiar signal to friend and foe alike that the Dark Knight is on the prowl: evil-doers beware! But this time the caped crusader and the boy wonder are straight out of the dryer and in miniature form. Traveller's Tales has applied the same successful formula to the World's Greatest Detective that worked so well with the Nazi fighting Indiana Jones and the entire Star Wars universe. With the recent release of Lego Batman: The Video Game it is once again time for grown men to revert back to their younger days and play with Legos. Of course, it's so much more fun when you get to use the characters straight out of the Batman comic books. In addition to playing as Batman and his allies such as Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl, in a great twist not seen in previous Lego-themed games you also get to play as all the cool villains including The Joker, The Riddler, and- wait a minute, Killer Moth?!? Hold on to your utility belts as I digress from the review for a sec. I have read my fair share of Batman comics, and I have watched a great deal of Batman cartoons over the years, but who the fuck is Killer Moth? Hmmm…after a quick search on trusty Wikipedia it seems that Killer Moth is to Batman as Bizzarro is to Superman (sort of). He has similar weapons and gadgets, the Moth-mobile, and even a secret underground lair called the moth-cave. Killer Moth even inadvertently copied Batman's playboy millionaire alter-ego, only he hires himself out to crooks to help them elude capture from the police. Sounds kind of lame, but he premiered back in the 1950's when villains were more gimmicky than grim, and it's pretty cool the developers were aware enough to include him. Okay back to the review.
As I see it, there are basically two type of gamers out there: 1) the gamer who likes to play for the "fun factor". Their main purpose is to beat the game, see the ending, and have a great time in the process. AND 2) The gamer who likes to find every single secret and attain all the achievements included in the game. Beating it and having fun are almost secondary. For the Type 1 Gamers (like myself) the game is split into two sides: good and evil (of course). Each side has its own adventures to follow in trying to foil the plots of their nemeses (nemesees? Nemesi? whatever). Whether it is trouncing around in pajamas trying to clean up the streets of Gotham City, or racing about trying to put a smile on everyone's face not with Happy Meals but with Smilex gas, this game has it all. I enjoyed playing through the levels and not worrying about all the hidden objects I wasn't finding, though it's hard to resist running around destroying benches, trees, ice cream trucks, and the like collecting studs, small round lego "coins" that you can use to purchase unlockables and other characters for use in the game's Free Play Mode. This leads me to the other aspect of Lego Batman geared more for the Type 2 Gamers. For those who like to try and find all of the Batman Canisters and the ever-elusive Red Blocks, in Free Play Mode gamers can use unlocked/purchased characters to solve character-specific puzzles in-game to find all the secret goodies. But don't let Free Play Mode fool you, you certainly don't get free run of the place. Standing between you and the goods are henchmen that keep interfering with your treasure hunt, eager to off the Batman. Now, I know there needs to be some sort of resistance in the game but at some points I wonder if the Joker and the Riddler made a deal with the Kaminos (Star Wars reference, natch) what with all these same-faced goons coming at you. It's like they're made out of blocks or something. At any rate, once you fight through the mobs of bad guys you can play detective to collect all the secrets and achievements. Some of the puzzles are a little baffling and did cause me to turn off my 360 in fits of rage after a few choice words, but after cooling off I would come back and give it another whirl.
There are three levels scattered throughout the game that are strictly vehicle-mission based. These levels can be a lot of fun, especially the first driving level in which you get to drive the Batmobile in pursuit of Harvey Dent and his minions. My only real gripe about these levels are the controls. The screen gets a little tight and the steering a little touchy such that crashes become more of a menace than the villains. And even though the idea of cruising around in the Batmobile is a great idea, it would have been better had the developers opened the levels a little more, giving them more of a "free roam" feel. The rest of the controls and gameplay are similar to the past Lego games I mentioned earlier with cool addition of being able to use Batman's gadgets like batarangs for taking out villains and hitting out-of-reach objects, or specialized suits equipped with remote-controlled bombs, sonic-based weapons, and the batglider. In addition to the familiar fisticuffs as the masked crimefighter you can grab and throw enemies, adding a bit more excitement to the combat. But there is A LOT of combat, and it gets very repetitive with all the fighting that you have to do. Luckily you do have a sidekick while you are playing in single-player mode. The only problem here is that the AI of your "trusty" sidekick is no better than the Separatist droids in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (yes that's reference #2; sue me). Every time I found myself embroiled in a one-on-half-a-dozen battle, Robin was off checking his suit for nipples and a codpiece. The only real solution to this is to play the levels in co-op mode. Getting a friend to come over and play is actually a riot, working together solving the puzzles and handing out one-way tickets to Arkham. Too bad co-op mode is only available offline on the same console and can not be played over Xbox Live.
Lego Batman's story is straight out of a comic book and just like the previous Lego-themed titles there are short cinematics that help lead the story along. I won't go into details but if you're even a casual Batman fan you could probably guess and not be far from the mark. But I really missed the humor that the Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones games had. They actively poked fun at the source material, parodying famous scenes such as, well, just about any of the well-known scenes from Episode IV, as you can see below:
Lego Batman does have a few laughs, but many times an attempt at comedy left me hearing crickets. The story does get better with the point of view switching back and forth between the villains and Batman & Co. The only thing that is missing from the villain side (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) is that you are unable to fight the Caped Crusader himself. I REALLY wanted to make Batman my bitch with the Riddler's mind control, or turn him into a popsicle using Mr. Freeze, but no go. Oh well. The villain levels do follow the same story told throughout the game, but are totally different then the good guy levels. They almost seem a little better because you can use the different villains in the game but they contain the same types of challenges as the Batman levels.
Even with the pesky gameplay issues and the sorely missed humor, Lego Batman can be fun. If you are looking for a game that will bring out the inner child in you then this is it. There's a high degree of replayability with the large amount of unlockables and the variety of characters available. To make this game even better, not to mention getting past the droid-like AI of your sidekick, find a friend and play the game in co-op. The only disagreements you and your friend will get into will be over who gets to drive the Batmobile and who is gonna to say "POW!" and who is gonna say "THWACK!" when providing your own sound effects. To the Batcave!