Product Type: Warner Bros. Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... without overshadowing Batman himself (although Robin vanishes for several missions). The main problem with Superman, though, is that he's ... more
Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes (Xbox 360)
Member Name: hogsflesh
Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Fun, not too difficult
Disadvantages: A few really annoying features
While I thoroughly enjoyed Lego Star Wars back in the day, Lego Indiana Jones pissed me right off, and Lego Rock Band was irritating (except the Rock Band part, which was fine). Lego Batman, about which I read some favourable reviews, marked a return to form for the 're-enacting popular franchises in Lego' genre. Although it had some over complicated aspects to it, it wasn't irritating in the way Lego Indie had been.
So I figured Lego Batman 2 was worth a punt. Like its predecessor, it's a platform game in which you have to guide Batman and Robin through various different locations in order to put a stop to the latest evil scheme by The Joker. While the first game had you facing off against a different Batman baddie at the end of each level, this game is effectively one long chase, as you have to pursue Joker and his ally Lex Luthor, who plan to win the presidential election by using a giant robot to mind-control voters.
As in Lego Batman 1, the game takes its visual cues from the cartoon series, rather than the Tim Burton films or the Arkham Asylum games. All the characters are Lego people, obviously, so there are none of the worries I had with Arkham City about whether it was OK to find Catwoman's computer buttocks arousing. I have no idea whether the plot is based on any specific plotlines in the cartoon series, but it uses the Danny Elfman music (originally composed for Tim Burton's 1989 yawnfest starring Michael Keaton). This is occasionally replaced by the famous John Williams Superman music, which is a little unfortunate, as it's far more memorable that the Elfman stuff.
The big novelty here is that, while Batman remains the star, the game drafts in lots of other superheroes to help him. Batman's part of the Justice League, and you get to play as several of his pals. Superman is in it a lot, hence the music, but in later stages you get to play as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and someone called Cyborg, who I'd never heard of (I've not read any JLA comics for a few years, but he's probably from the cartoon version). In free play you can also unlock more obscure characters like Aquaman, Hawkman, Black Canary and Martian Manhunter. It's quite nicely done, expanding the DC world without overshadowing Batman himself (although Robin vanishes for several missions). The main problem with Superman, though, is that he's invulnerable, which does slightly reduce the challenge.
The fights in the game were never the main point, though. It's really about figuring out how to progress through each level, preferably while collecting as many minikits and studs as possible. (Minikits let you build bonus vehicles to drive around in, and studs are effectively the game's currency: you use them to buy new characters to play as.) These are kid-friendly puzzle games as much as anything. None of it is too difficult, although occasionally you'll take a while to figure out what it is you're meant to do to. Just occasionally, though, it throws a puzzle so obscure at you that you're left shaking your fist at the TV (or however you express frustration).
The puzzle aspect is better than it was in Lego Batman 1, which had a ridiculous number of different outfits for Batman and Robin to wear, each with a different, absurdly specific power. The different outfits are still there in 2, but their numbers have been reduced, and most of these powers are duplicated by other characters'abilities. Robin's acrobat suit is an exception, though, having at least one ability which is stupidly random, and which has the added disadvantage of making the Boy Wonder look like Liberace.
There are also some fun levels where you get to chase after the bad guys in a vehicle - the Batmobile, say, or the Batplane (or whatever it's called these days). There are some impressively inventive bits in the game - one level has you fighting goons on top of a giant robot falling from a skyscraper (it takes a surprisingly long time to reach the ground).
As in previous Lego games, completing a level in 'story mode' unlocks 'free play' mode, where you can revisit the level with the ability to play as other unlocked characters. Different characters have different powers, and certain puzzles in the levels can only be completed by using, say, Poison Ivy, or The Riddler. Lego Batman 1 also featured an alternative story mode, in which you got to play each mission from the villains' perspective. That, sadly, is not the case here. Instead, there's a large sandbox-style Gotham City to explore between the levels, with lots more puzzles to unlock. You can find and unlock other heroes and villains in Gotham. All the Lego Batman villains are back, although few are featured in the story mode very much. My favourite is still Clayface, a character who looks like a little walking poo (I'm not above admitting that this amuses me no end). You also get other villains I've not heard of, including someone called 'Captain Boomerang', surely the most pathetic supervillain gimmick of all time.
One of the great strengths of the Lego games is that they are easy to finish completely, and surprisingly satisfying. You can get to 100% completeness in them without having to do anything impossible. This is probably because they're largely aimed at kids, and so aren't too challenging. But it also makes them fun for adults. Previous games allowed you to get to 100% generally just by playing each level through a couple of times, once in story mode, and once in free play. Lego Batman 2 requires more than that - you have to run around Gotham collecting gold and red bricks and rescuing civilians from various unfortunate situations. None of this is difficult, exactly, although some of it is awkward. But it doesn't feel satisfying in the same way as earlier games did. Gotham isn't a rewarding enough open world environment to make you want to run around in it for hours.
Or fly around. It's generally quicker if you play as Superman, as you can soar above the buildings. And this is the main problem with the game, really, beyond overcomplicated puzzles and a mildly irritating city. The flight mechanic for Superman in the free play areas is horribly clunky, unintuitive and plain difficult. It is no fun whatsoever, and given how much you will use Superman, this is a big problem. There are several gold bricks that can only be reached using Superman, so even if you decide to trudge round the city on foot, you'll have to switch to the big guy at certain points. Other flying characters - Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, 'Man Bat' (whoever he is) - have the same problem, and it's infuriating. Flying ought to be a delight, but it hasn't been handled well at all.
The Lego games always have a quirky, kid-friendly sense of humour, and the cut scenes here are pretty funny. This is the first Lego game to actually feature proper dialogue, allowing for a more involving main story and better jokes. Batman is amusingly petulant towards other, stronger superheroes, while Robin is desperately needy of attention. There are a few throwaway references to Arkham City, the other Batman computer game franchise.
Unfortunately, although I've not seen the cartoons, I have played the Arkham games, and it was very obvious that the guy doing Joker's voice was meant to sound like Mark Hamill, but was not Mark Hamill. Likewise the voices for Batman and Harley Quinn - they're almost right but not quite there. Alfred the butler is a constant, annoying presence as he keeps chipping in with helpful hints if the game thinks you're getting stuck. My favourite Alfred hint was the one telling us that only Aquaman can produce a jet of water without a special costume. I beg to differ - that's a 'superpower' I myself possess, especially after drinking a few pints.
But fun though some of the cutscenes are, there are an awful lot of them. There are too many moments where your character is frozen mid-level to watch something happen. This breaks the flow of the game and irritates me. Also, it takes ages to save. Every time you find a gold brick in free play mode, it then spends five seconds saving the game, during which you have to just stand there, immobile. This was irritating and clunky and, like Superman's flying problem, felt like something that should have been done better. The story levels now let us save at various points, which is a positive development. But the saving is not perfect, with minikit components that you've already collected lost when you reload. If these feel like minor points, they probably are.
But the accumulation of lots of minor niggles and annoyances ultimately affects the overall game. I'd like to say that this improves on Lego Batman 1, but in spite of the expanded scope and extra characters, and in spite of streamlining the power suits, it just has too many things that annoyed me. For Xbox achievement enthusiasts, it's an easy 1000 points. Unlike Lego Star Wars, I can't see any reason to want to replay this having completed it once.
It's certainly not a bad game, and is way better than Lego Indiana Jones. But it game feels over-busy, and paradoxically too complicated while being a bit too easy. It also has too many irritating elements. Wait til it costs £8.
Summary: A Lego game let down by its gameplay issues
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