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LEGO Batman Review

Andrew Bryant packs his LEGO Bat Shark Repellent and joins the (plastic) dynamic duo in their fight against crime.

5230513xGame Title: LEGO Batman
Publisher: Warner Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Traveller’s Tales Games
Format Reviewed: PC
Also Available on: Xbox360, PS3, PS2, DS, Wii
Price: £14.99 – £39.99

It’s safe to say the game that restarted the LEGO gaming franchise, LEGO Star Wars, was a bit of a fluke.  From a (at the time) minor British developer and released to cash-in on the Star Wars hype around the release of Revenge of the Sith, nobody really expected much, given the lack of interest in previous LEGO games.  BOY was everyone in for a surprise…!

Aimed at the younger casual gamer with a strong focus on group-play, the game was an overnight success.  It’s melding of an almost flawless drop-in/drop-out gameplay mechanics, a warped sense of humour and an unheard-of level of accessibility and charm allowed it to sidestep criticism such as it’s abysmally easy difficulty level and the fact it picked the WRONG Star Wars Trilogy to portray.

As every jaded cynicist has come to expect of this increasingly commercial industry, a sequel followed – in its favour, they got the setting right this time (Han, Chewie et al.) but managed to hopelessly over complicate the game to the detriment of fun.  They added a bundle of replayability, depth & (most of all) difficulty, but the game just wasn’t as fun – all characters could now build things, all had close-combat & dodge moves (rather than just Jedi) and the whole changing-helmet mechanic & vehicle sections (gone were the scrolling stages, replaced by open-world efforts with abysmal handling) were hideous to play.

Indiana Jones was the next Lucas property to receive a LEGO make-over (just in-time for a movie tie-in) and from the off the game had a distinct air of…  familiarity.  Some of the over-complication from LEGO Star Wars 2 was gone, but the awful vehicle bits remained and brawling became the name of the game, with characters now reliant on their fists and collectable weapons for fending off Nazis-by-all-but-name with rocket launchers.  The humour was now getting as stale as the gameplay, with an over-reliance on sight gags (character falls over, another character disapproves, much hilarity ensues) and a love of the source material.

Roll on late 2008.  Traveller’s Tales has been bought by Warner Bros and set to work on LEGO adaptions of their various properties.  Cunningly, there’s a new Batman movie out, so what better than to adapt the Dark Knight into digital bricks!  One problem though – the insanely dark nature of the latest films in the series doesn’t lend itself to the cuddly kiddy nature of LEGO and going anywhere near the gothic twisted Tim Burton or train-wreck Joel Schumacher films is a bad idea – Adam West it is then!

Based on the kitsch 60’s-style Batman with possibly a hint (or twelve) of the amazing Animated Series, TT Games have given us a much more platform-oriented brawler that is based around the Streets of Rage concept of kicking seven shades of brick out of enemies, slowly moving along the stage (using variations on the hero suits to bypass various obstacles) until you find a boss (read: notable DC villain) to beat up and imprison, all the while working your way towards the super-villain of the chapter.

Beat him (thus completing the chapter – the game uses the same 3-chapter system of the previous LEGO games) unlocks the games trump card – the ability to replay the entire chapter as the bad guys, setting the scene you earlier played through as the dynamic duo.  It’s a clever mechanic that offers a differing way of playing – the bad guys have more elaborate puzzle based gameplay which serves as a folie to Batman & Robins way of the fist.

I mentioned earlier that Indiana Jones suffers from over-familiarity and, unfortunately, so does LEGO Batman – any and all vehicles still handle like oversteering forklift trucks on ice, combat & jumping puzzles can be incredibly ham-fisted at times (even with a gamepad) and the entire format of the game (apart from the Good/Bad mechanic) is carbon-copied from Indiana Jones…  Play scripted level, collect model kit pieces, collect a load of studs to unlock a special LEGO kit, replay level in Free Play mode to collect more model kit pieces and studs to unlock more things.  It’s all just over-familiar and trying to play for anyone who has completed and prior LEGO game from TT Games.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with LEGO Batman – like the previous games in the series, it respects its parent source material incredibly well.  The gameplay has been polished to an almost impeccable shine, the drop-in/out mechanic is as parent friendly as ever and it’s a lot less buggy than Indiana Jones could be at times.  It’s just a shame Traveller’s Tales are consistently retreading the same ground over and over, only differentiating their product from the last with new 3D models and minor refinements to the format.

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