Whether it's R2D2 exploring a space station, Indiana Jones spelunking his way through an artifact-riddled cave or Batman swinging in after an assortment of escaped Arkham bad guys, you can usually rely on the fact that a LEGO video game will stick to a certain template: It'll be relatively easy to play as you break the environment into bits to collect plastic studs and colored bricks. Even the darkest cinematic morass morphs into a colorful E10+ playground in these games. And you can be certain that the gamemakers behind it all will somehow make the gesticulating and grinning—but wordless—plastic heroes chuckle-worthy.
So, when Traveler's Tales Games once again painted the night sky with a pieced-together bat signal and hit store shelves with LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, I wasn't expecting anything all that startlingly different. But (dun-dun-dun!) hold on for one bat-minute, dear readers: The template has been changed in some pretty big ways this time. Stay tuned to this same bat-channel to find out how.
Dynamic Duo Part Duex
Batman and Robin are back again and tag-teaming their way through a series of beat-the-bad-guys puzzles, battles and stud-collecting. But this time the baddies' plot is a king-sized one that will require a little defensive help from Superman and eventually the whole Justice League—all decked out in their blocky plastic best.
It seems the ne'er-do-well Joker is up to his crazed stunts once again. But after being nabbed by Batman and the Boy Wonder and tossed back into Arkham Asylum, Joker receives an offer from Lex Luther he can't refuse. What about Lex and Joker teaming up? Hey, a maniac and a megalomaniac could make for a pretty powerful pairing, right?
Lex is running for president and wants some of the Joker's funny gas to sway the nation's voters. In exchange, Lex agrees to finance a gigantic city-terrorizing clown robot and hand Joker a deconstructing ray gun that his company has been working on. All they have to do is come up with a stash of kryptonite to power the device, and it'll break up anything shiny and black … like, say, every fancy gadget Batman has ever devised!
The gameplay and mechanics are all pretty familiar. Gamers can co-play with a pal or go it alone. A few quick button punches help you jump, punch and grapple your way through everything from walls to henchmen to tables and chairs—generally allowing everything to be broken into their LEGO block basics. Like past games you can also switch between characters—with up to 50 different unlockable heroes such as Batgirl, Green Lantern and The Flash to choose from by game's end. Flying high and shooting superbeams and ring-rays is a fun block-busting addition.
Of course, that doesn't mean our central heroes are left out in the cold. Along the way, Batman and Robin find and don special suits to help them overcome obstacles: Such as Batman's sensor suit that can see via X-ray through solid walls or Robin's Acrobat suit that lets him flip and soar to greater heights.
What's the Worth of a Word?
So, what are those template tweaks I mentioned? Well, for one thing, LEGO Batman 2 has changed things to an open sandbox format. That's right, Batman and his pals have all of Gotham to zip, flip and fly through this time. That may not seem like a huge change, but since this is primarily a collecting game, it makes a big difference when you've got an entire city to explore and break down. It means there are a lot more citizens to save and adventures to fulfill. And doing things like hitting the zoo and riding about on a lion or gorilla's back is a fun diversion too.
Then there's the real biggie: For the first time in LEGO history, all of the plastic block characters can talk. Instead of a bit of grunting and shrugging to communicate their tale, good guys and bad alike have quite a bit to say. Not surprisingly, this adds a new dimension to the game's humor and its ability to draw you into the story.
Of course, there's no denying that keeping the plastic guys voiceless keeps them from saying anything, um, off-color. And as soon as I learned about the switch from silent to talkie, I immediately started wondering what, exactly, was going to be said here. Thankfully, adding words doesn't hurt things in this case. If anything, from Vicki Vale's tongue-in-cheek newscasts to Superman's super-guy-next-door good cheer, the dialogue stays light and innocently quirky.
It even ends up strengthening the lessons at hand. As Robin gushes with fanboy glee over Superman's heroics and Batman grumbles that he can take care of the problems without outside help, we get the game's cute message about the value of friendship and teamwork loud and clear. The bad guys are helped and softened, too, by a little added dialogue. From Joker to Penguin and Lex to Riddler, they all come off as nothing more than comic-booky villains who will surely get their comeuppance when justice eventually prevails.
Even the dour Batman would have a hard time finding much to grouse about here. There's some thievery, bad guy destruction and a dose of Scarecrow's fear gas tossed around. But it all serves as incentive for the superheroes to overcome it with all the superheroic charm that a smiling block of superplastic with painted-on muscles can muster.