The greatest heroes and villains conglomerate on the world of building bricks in Lego Batman 2. Since hitting (in my opinion) a series low in Lego Star Wars III, Traveler's Tales has been slowly digging themselves out of the same old mould, and attempting to be innovative while maintaining the same level of fun gamers have become accustomed to all these years.
Four years ago, the first Lego Batman marked a few things positive about the franchise: Continued growth outside the expansive Star Wars universe, perfect use of color and music to draw you into the ominous nature of Gotham City (even in Lego form,) and well, it was a fun game. However, it started to signal the tired nature of the classic Lego engine, and was a subtle reminder that even with a new character set, you were playing the same game at the end of the day.
Lego Batman 2 takes what we loved about the Lego franchise, and turns it on its head. Gone are the gibberish speaking voices, replaced by real voice actors, including, among others, Rob Paulsen of Ninja Turtles and Animaniacs fame. Paulsen, who provided voice talent for the original Batman Animated Series, comes aboard as the Riddler. What this means, really, is that there's no longer a reliance to stick to a movie or TV show script, and you may just original story arcs and scripting out of the Lego games in the future. Considering the Lego games without dialogue have been so reliant on its gamers having watched (or fully understanding) the basis of it beforehand, future series' installments could simply be based on canon, but not directly take storylines. This game, for example, is based on no one movie or event in the Batman universe. Rather, it builds its events from scratch while drawing inspiration.
This game finds you dead center in the middle of a non-Gotham crisis (of sorts.) Lex Luthor, following an award shunning at the hands of Bruce Wayne and a point blank robbery at the hands of Joker, finds himself developing a device capable of world destruction, which he does with the help of Arkham Asylum's finest residents. From Catwoman, to Bane, to the Joker himself, Batman scrambles across 15 levels of fun and pain in order to stop Luthor from the world. DC's superheroes are along for the journey, as are many of the universe's villains. Captain Boomerang, for example, makes an appearance as a side boss 1/4 of the way into the game, however, can be thwarted in a matter of seconds. Main quest bosses, such as Scarecrow, require a little bit more know-how and puzzle solving to defeat.
A few changes have been made along the way to give this game a new feel overall. With the addition of a larger cast of characters and enhanced graphics, there's a game within the game essentially. Where you've gotten used to the enclosed feel of buildings guiding you into levels (such as the Cantina in the Star Wars games, or the University in Lego Indiana Jones,) Gotham City is presented to you in an open format in this game, making you cruise the streets enroute to your next level, and opening up parts of the city as you progress. Gotham is a massive sprawl to explore, and while many of the streets look the same up and down, it is an interesting way, and perhaps much better style of presentation for players, adding more elements to an already expansive game. The story mode, as always, is a bit short, providing you with around 10-15 hours of gameplay, however, in typical Lego game fashion, completing the game to 100% will probably take you 30-40 hours total without cheats.
Something that was a great addition to the series was the wheel idea of commands seen in Lego Harry Potter and Pirates. The game allowed you to jump into numerous types of commands and demands by holding the B button and choosing what you wanted there. This game does not have the option, and really, while it isn't always required, can be extremely annoying when you realize the B button wants to do everything at once, and you have to be careful about which part of the screen you're standing in for a command to work. Lego Games have never been reactionary, nor is this one, however, it's a large waste of time to have to keep positioning your character in the perfect spot lest he or she do something else (like throwing a bomb when you meant to build an object.)
Visually, this game is stunning at times. The Scarecrow boss portion inside the Asylum early on is an absolute treat, for example, as is much of Gotham City. The water effects all throughout the city, as well as in the Batcave are second to none. For a game that doesn't require massive visual artistry, this game provides it. But it comes at a price. Graphic effects are scaled down in places when too many sprites are on screen, and some of the cinematics come out very jagged based on what is happening on screen. When you see the odd scaling of cinematics, and realize that yet again, you are being forced to watch them the first time you play through, you can't help but cringe a bit. Still, the graphics in this game are every bit as good as the Harry Potter series, if not better. I don't think the foreground characters and studs can look any better, but Traveler's Tales is finding ways to clean up backgrounds and make them the show stealers.
I think you already know what you are getting into gameplay-wise in a Lego game. A straight-ahead storyline mix of hand to hand combat stages and vehicles are met with side quests, and options to build minikits, collect bricks and gather special abilities. The Batman suits are back in some form or fashion. Some are the same as before, and some are brand new. You progress through story mode, and can then go back and play in free play with a mix of characters and abilities to finish unlocking everything you need to. Nothing here is different in that way from the rest of the Lego games at all.
Let's take a look at the final ratings.
Graphics: 9.5/10. Let's face it. There aren't really any graphical enhancements on the foreground of the Lego games to ever be made again. The disposable pieces are already done up, and really just stand for palette swaps from other games. The focus on graphics should really be wavered toward cinematics, backgrounds and characters, all of which this game does well. Some of the shading and light mirroring on the floors of stages are absolutely gorgeous. The characters look really good, as does the game's flow with regard to hundreds and hundreds of moving pieces on the screen at any given time (there's no Mega Man-esque slowdowns like I experienced at times with the early Star Wars games.) The only thing I don't like are the way that the framerates and quality seem to drop when crowds of Lego people are around, or there are too many objects on screen, causing the graphics to get a bit jagged around the larger objects. But, at the same time, I defy you to find a game of this type with better water graphics. I can stare at the waterfalls in the Batcave all day.
Sound: 8/10. The addition of real voice acting was surprisingly better than my traditionalist enjoyment of the Lego gibberish language. It does give the game a little bit of a presentation boost, though I admit, it was fun drawing your own conclusions as to what the characters were saying. That being said, however, most of those games were based on a movie storyline, so you would have some semblance of what was going on. With an original storyline like Lego Batman 2, this is the only way that they could have players figure out what was happening for certain, and will certainly open up the idea of more original writing in the future. Outside of that, the game is full of the same sound effects you're accustomed to, which is a bit unfortunate since I'd like to see more in the way of original sound effects per series rather than SFX recycling.
Controls: 6.5/10. The controls in this game are, well, sort of the same as the Lego Games, which is always convenient since you can pick the game up and start playing as if you'd always been playing it. The game-exclusive controls, however, are so poorly mapped. The B button seems to do everything yet again, which is the worst when you're in a position to have to do something and can't because the game doesn't recognize the distance you are away from something. Magnetic Robin, for example, activates his magnetic power with the B button, however, he also builds with B. What happens if you need to build near a magnetic wall? Tapping the B button in the Batmobile fires the weapon. Anything but a light tap causes the vehicle to reverse. Trying to fire your gun and instead reversing off a cliff? Fantastic.
Gameplay: 7/10. The Harry Potter games and Pirates of the Caribbean brought with it much more involved In-Game gameplay than their predecessors. There were more things to do, but it was very easy to manage. Lego Batman 2, for all it does to progress the evolution of the Lego Series seems to take a step backward with its actual stage gameplay. The addition of an open style Gotham City between levels is a huge breath of fresh air, and a neat concept, however, when all is said and done, the game still has a similar feel to all of the old Lego Games that had a lot of mechanical problems in execution. So much of the Lego series (because the gameplay is so similar for the sake of the younger audiences) are essentially the same game with different scenarios, and so much of the fun is based on the characters and plotlines, and this game is no exception. Lego Batman 2 thrives on a fun storyline and a healthy mixed of Batman on his feet and in his vehicles, and the mix of voice actors add to the fun too. However, it's still a shame that if you've been accustomed to a lot of the experience improvements of the other games, this one feels like a bit of a step back, despite so many leaps forward.
Overall, I still think the usual fans will tune in - Fans of the Lego Games and fans of the Batman series. There's nothing wrong with the game that stops me from recommending it to you. You know exactly what you're getting into with Lego Games nowadays, so it's just a matter of deciding upon whether you want to purchase it now, or later on down the line if you are interested, and whether the content appeals to you enough. As a side note, the game comes with a trailer for Lego Lord of the Rings as well, which should be our next jaunt down Lego Road come October.
Lego Batman 2 makes a good case for itself overall, but consider Harry Potter the continued king of the mountain of Lego games.
Suggestions: Please find a way to better map out the controls, especially when the action button on screen could be capable of doing 3 or 4 different things on screen at once.