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Those crafty software companies, eh? After the runaway success of Lego Star Wars, there followed a whole slew of Lego/film cross-overs, including Indiana Jones and now Batman.
As you might expect, Lego Batman follows the tried and tested formula of earlier titles. On the one hand, this does mean the game doesn't show a lot of originality, with game play and level design closely following the established pattern. On the other hand, though, the basic game engine has been adapted sufficiently to make maximum use of the Batman universe and ensure that this feels enough like a new game to make it worthwhile.
Graphics and sound are excellent. As an official licensed product, it features music from the Tim Burton series of Batman films, which gives a real sense of atmosphere to the game. Explosions are satisfyingly loud, whilst the grunts of the characters somehow manage to make them far more expressive than proper speech ever could.
The Batman universe is faithfully, yet amusingly reconstructed using Lego. Characters in particular are well used and faithful to their comic book counterparts. All the old favourites (Penguin, Catwoman, The Joker) are there which will help casual Batman fans get into the game, but for fans, it's pleasing to see some lesser-known characters (Killer Croc, Clayface, Azrael) put in an appearance. An added bonus is that you can unlock and play as all these characters and find out more about them within the game, which adds an extra dimension of fun.
Although game play is very similar to the original Lego Star Wars, it has evolved from the "destroy everything" ethos and has a few puzzles per level that require something other than mindless destruction. Some puzzles, for example can only be solved when you're wearing the right costume or using a character with specific abilities. Whilst this certainly adds a little more depth, it can also sometimes introduce frustration, as you can find yourself going backwards and forwards in a level before you have the right equipment for the job.
Levels also take longer to complete than before with an average time of 30-4- minutes. Once you've started a level, you have to complete it; progress is only saved at the end. This was another source of frustration, as it makes it impossible to sit down for a quick game - you have to allow plenty of time. More breaks in the game play, or the ability to save at any point would have encouraged playability.
Where the game still excels is in its brilliant game play, which is addictive stuff Levels are well thought out and, whilst they are "on rails" (you have to follow a certain path), you do a little freedom to explore. As such, the game retains that rather nice combination of giving allowing you to wander a bit, whilst ensuring you are never blundering around wondering what you are meant to do next.
Despite being relatively simple, the longevity of the game is increased by the fact that there are several different ways of completing the game. In story mode, for example, you run through the level as certain characters. However, once you have completed a level, you can do it again in Free Play mode, using any characters you have unlocked. This gives you access to previously inaccessible areas. Similarly, you can aim to achieve Hero Status (collect a certain number of coins), or collect a number of canisters hidden throughout the level. This variety of challenges is fun and adds to the longer term appeal of the game.
Having said that, sooner or later the game play will become repetitive. I particularly found some of the levels involving vehicles to be rather dull and repetitive. Despite increased depth and more levels, Lego Batman is still pretty easy. Even casual gamers will be able to complete it with ease. Once you have completed all the different modes, it's unlikely that you will ever go back to the game, as it will hold no more challenges.
Game play is well structured to introduce you to new features. Each time a new ability is introduced a couple of lines of text on the bottom of the screen tells you which keys you need to press. In the early levels, you are introduced to one or two new aspects of game play per level. This means that you are not swamped by trying to learn all the controls at once, but can master them gradually - always a useful feature for people like me who hate reading instruction manuals!
That's just as well, because the instruction manual is pretty rubbish. There were a number of occasions when I couldn't remember which key to press, and the instruction manual gave me inaccurate information. For example, at one point, the instruction manual told me to press A for a particular action, yet when I did, nothing happened. Eventually, I was reduced to pressing every key until something happened. It turned out I needed to press K, not A! Nor was this the only instance of this, which is pretty rubbish in a professional game.
A further niggle is that the game controls can be a little fiddly at times, requiring pixel-perfect positioning before you can perform a simple action like climb a ladder or build something. This can mean an awful lot of leaping around, getting increasingly frustrated at the character's inability to do what you want.
The artificial intelligence of computer controlled characters can also be a little annoying. Occasionally, for example, they will obstruct you and refuse to move, preventing you doing something you need to do to progress. This can be very frustrating and the only way round it is to kill them in the hope they will re-appear somewhere else. On the plus side, the computer characters do now at least lend a hand in a fight, rather than just standing around watching you get beaten up!
Overall, Lego Batman is a hugely enjoyable game. It's not quite as good as the original Lego Star Wars, but it still has loads of playability and appeal. Having said that, it's not going to offer any real long term challenge and once you have completed all the tasks, you're unlikely to ever load up the game again.
© Copyright SWSt 2009
Take control of the Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin, as you build, drive, swing, and fight your way through Gotham City capturing escaped villains and putting them back in Arkham Asylum where they belong. Battle against legendary villains including The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and more to keep the streets of Gotham clean. Then, for the first time, jump into the story from the other side and play as Batman's foes. Enjoy the power you wield as you spread chaos throughout the city.