It's pretty cute really. Take something dark and gothic like Batman; wrap him all up in shiny plastic with plenty of his equally dark, villainous counterparts humourlessly bumbling about in child-like fashion as they clamber to work together to bring Gotham City to its LEGO-fused knees. Add to this the cocky (yet green) Robin as the Dark Knight's trusty side-kick and you have what is potentially a winning formula.
Actually this description is a winning formula for anything pulled from the pop-culture world usually so embraced by videogame types.
Imagine LEGO He-Man
or LEGO Goonies
. Could you ever fathom LEGO Jaws
? Maybe LEGO Thundercats
? LEGO Romancing The Stone
? Hell, the list could potentially go on and on and on... LEGO Futurama
, LEGO Buck Rogers
, LEGO Iron Man
, LEGO Star Trek
, LEGO Team America
, LEGO Willow
, LEGO Howard The Duck
, LEGO Robotech
, LEGO 300
, LEGO Pulp Fiction
, LEGO Sin City
... see, on and on and on (by the way, we're aware that list is pretty ridiculous, but that's the point).
Part of my clear cynicism from the above stems from the idea I think all the LEGO titles thus far have been handled incredibly well – each update and iteration better and more polished than the previous. But how long can you maintain this formula? I played LEGO Indy right through, both in single-player and cooperatively and thoroughly enjoyed it, but as soon as I fired up LEGO Batman, I felt the tediousness of walking down the same path kick in far sooner than I'd hoped.
To this end, is it right Traveller's Tales just keep (no pun intended) rebuilding
the same game over and over with slight updates and new backgrounds and settings?
LEGO Batman does have its fair share of differences from Indy or Star Wars. The game's story, for one, is split into playing not only as Batman and Robin, but also as teams of the bad-guys. There are also more abilities added this time around with the inclusion of character-specific suits scattered throughout levels (for example, Batman can wear a suit equipped with a Sonar weapon that shatters glass or Robin can wear a suit that lets him climb up certain vertical surfaces). Vehicular levels have been slightly expanded to include Mashed-like portions of destruction and speed, but all of this doesn't fundamentally change the core element of the LEGO games, and while I agree with the adage "if it ain't broke", there's only so many times you can release an unbroken formula before it starts to get a bit tiring.
It's clear then LEGO Batman is going to find its audience in people who've likely only ever glanced at, or played a small portion of, the other LEGO titles. Or hardcore Batman fans.
None of that is necessarily a bad thing. The comedic element is once again in full check here with all of the Batman villains reigning humour supreme over our ever-stout (and vigilant) Batman, though Robin does put in a stellar effort. Each character's special abilities also add to the puzzle-solving element of game, though again if you've played through a LEGO title before, it's hardly going to be brain-crunchingly intensive.
The game is split between two hubs; the Batcave and Arkham Asylum (obviously respective of each side - good and evil) and you'll play through a good 30-minute-or-so chapter for each new team. Initially it's just Batman and Robin, after that though; you're playing through as the Riddler, Poison Ivy, Clay Face, Mr Freeze and Two-Face. Each time you complete one of the short story segments (and they really are very short) you unlock the next team and level, and as usual everything touched, seen or experienced in a previous level becomes available in Free Play mode where you can choose to play as whoever you want. Ultimately though, it's just business as usual: Collect Studs to trade in for unlockables in the form of various characters, outfits, treasures and more.
To collect studs, just destroy the LEGO portions of the game's environments and where possible use the LEGO that looks alive to build helpful tools. Job done.
The scope and production of the game then is the true stand-out here. The Danny Elfman-esque score that keeps you trouncing through Gotham's dark and seedy alley ways or the creepy and twisted walkways of the infamous Arkham Asylum is more than enough to get into the Batman mood, but Traveller's Tales' recreation of Gotham (not the LEGO portions) is also spot-on (better than the last movie with its faceless, nameless city that was anything but
Gotham). It all looks stunning and the animations, though simple, do their part alongside an always pretty HD coat of gloss.
Once again though, beyond the aesthetic and a few gameplay variations in the form of new suits and being able to play as Batman's arch enemies, LEGO Batman: The Videogame offers very little in the way of innovation over previous LEGO titles. There's plenty to love here, especially if you're a Batman fan with numerous unlockables, hidden secret characters (Nightwing!), cool LEGO versions of the Batmobile, Bat Boat etc, and all the cheesy LEGO inspired Batman humour you could ask for, but anyone who has seen this before will likely tire of it pretty quickly.
And this is ultimately our biggest gripe and the reason it has scored lower than LEGO Indy - it's high-time we see a shift in the LEGO videogame formula before we start associating the series with the notorious Army Men
Thankfully, as an accessible LEGO title, it doesn't matter what platform you own because LEGO Batman: The Videogame is available across PC, PS3 (the version we played), Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PSP and Nintendo DS (Sony have let us know a LEGO Batman PSP bundle is out from October, also).
As usual you can play the game in single-player, but I highly recommend cooperative play. Coop is where you'll get the most out of the various character abilities and puzzle-solving elements with all the competitive fun that feeds the collect-a-thon game design. If you're new to the LEGO world of videogames, Batman is a great place to start... if not, don't go expecting a great deal of gameplay difference here.