2012-06-25

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes – Making Lego Games Fun Again

by Yo Snyder

Lego Batman really should have been my all-time favorite Lego
game. The problem was, by the time it rolled around, the formula had
worn kind of thin and not even the presence of my favorite super hero
could spark any excitement about the same game with a different costume.
Well, Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes really ups the ante with
some new additions to the franchise that gives it a much needed
freshening up. However, some old problems still linger and the fact of
the matter is at the core of it, it’s still the same old tried and true
Lego formula. Still, I was happy to find that a Lego game featuring
Batman could finally become not only my favorite Lego game, but a game
that’s just simply a lot fun; especially for DC comics nerds.

The
biggest addition that makes this game stand out from past Lego games is
the fact that it’s fully voiced. Traditionally, Lego games have told
their stories without any dialogue. That works when you’re spoofing
well-known scenes from popular movies, but it’s tough to pull off with
super heroes in an original story. Having the characters talks neatly
solves that problem, and makes things more enjoyable to boot. The
traditional Lego humor is still there, now expressed with a knowing wit.
Best of all, Clancy Brown reprises his role from the animated Superman
series as Lex Luthor. The rest of the cast is fine, with Superman being a
bit over-the-top (“after all, I can do anything”), which explains
Batman’s sulky demeanor whenever Supes is around. Robin just wants
Batman’s approval (and he finally gets it), and acts like a fan-girl
whenever Superman is around. Joker is wacky and silly, and all of this
adds up to a game that’s genuinely very funny and very enjoyable. 

The
story even comes with a nice moral to it; like an episode of Super
Friends, but not quite as cheesy. Batman, as one would expect from such a
loner, doesn’t like Superman constantly coming to the “rescue”. He
tells Robin the reason he gets so annoyed is because they can’t
constantly count on Superman to fly in and help; in fact, they can’t
count on anyone. They can only rely on themselves. However, by the end
of the adventure, even Batman grudgingly admits that it’s good to have
friends (especially when they’re the Justice League) and there are times
we just can’t do it all on our own. Yes, we all need help at times,
most of all when it comes to eternity. You know what sets Christianity
apart from most other religions? Generally, everyone else will tell you
“you can do it”. Be good enough, moral enough, nice enough; put in
enough effort, work towards enlightenment, and you can achieve paradise
in eternity. The Bible, however, tell us a different story. It tells us
that we can’t do it; we’ll never be good enough or enlightened enough to
achieve paradise on our own. We need help. Fortunately God loves us
enough to provide that help through Jesus Christ. He did for us what we
could never do on our own through his death on a cross and his
resurrection. So while just about every other religion tells us to do,
do, do; the God of the Bible says it can’t be done, so he did it for us.
All we need to do is admit we need a helping hand. Sometimes that isn’t
easy, as Batman well knows.

The other big addition is an
open world to explore. Gotham City, rendered more in the stylized Tim
Burton motif, is at your fingers tips and is chock full things to
explore, discover, solve and collect. You may just think of it as the
biggest hub world yet in a Lego game, but there’s so much do and find
and solve that it never feels like a hub, but more like a giant level
all of it’s own. However, this open world addition isn’t without its
problems. First off, you don’t get to enjoy free play in it until you
beat the story. This was kind of frustrating as I felt I had to put off
my exploration until I finished the story. The nice thing about some of
the hub worlds in other Lego games was you got to just play around in it
with various characters whenever you didn’t feel like starting a whole
new mission. While you can explore Gotham between levels, you don’t have
that freedom of playing around with new characters until you’ve
finished the story. You can do free play in specific levels and try out
new characters, but it seems like an oversight to not be able to do that
right from the start in the big open world setting. The other problem
is getting around. A mini map of some sort would have been a huge help
when navigating on the ground. When you fly over Gotham it’s easy to get
where you’re going, but it can be frustrating and easy to get lost when
you have to drive or run through the streets. 

Speaking of
flying, this is probably my favorite Superman game. While it’s a bit odd
to see the Man of Steel flying over the darkened, gloomy skyline of
Gotham City, it’s still a lot of fun (and the fact that soaring John
Williams Superman score strikes up every time you take off is a nice
touch as well). However, it would have been nice to have inverted flight
controls. Without them, it can take a awhile to adjust to the flying
mechanics, and it’s not always easy to land precisely where you want on
the various rooftops. Still, the fact that you can fly any time and have
all of Superman’s powers makes him a lot of fun to play around with.
Like I said, this is probably the best Superman game yet. Oh, he’s also
pretty funny in this game as well.

Speaking of problems, many of
the familiar ones from past Lego games continue to show up here. Driving
vehicles can be tough as their handling is a bit light and overly
touchy, although I thought there was at least some improvement here.
When you’re not playing with a friend, the A.I. can be a problem as
well. While it does a fine job of helping you throw switches that
require two people, when it’s not doing that, your partner will
typically just be standing around, not even helping in a fight. There
were also several times where I “died” because they were in the way or
otherwise inadvertently knocked me off some ledge, which leads to the
fact that the platforming is still fairly imprecise as always. These and
a few other niggling issues won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s ever
played a Lego game, but considering the fact that there were some
improvements made in other areas, the fact that these issues still
remain after all this time is kind of disappointing. There is some
pop-in as well, which isn’t such a big deal except when you arrive at a
beacon where there should be a console to activate and you have to wait
for said console to appear. Also, the game locked up on me during one
cutscene that forced me to reboot a couple times before I could
continue.

On the plus side of familiar issues, this game is still
a collector’s dream (or nightmare, depending on how obsessive you are)
come true. The levels consist of the usual smash everything to get Lego
studs to buy more characters and solve a few simple puzzles type of
variety. However, the tantalizing notion of being able to unlock
characters such as Mr. Freeze or Martian Manhunter makes going back to
these levels to get as many studs as possible less of a chore. There’s
also the hidden mini-kits, of which you won’t be able to find all the
pieces until after a couple play-throughs with the right characters to
help you get to previously inaccessible areas or to solve puzzles. At
times, the core gameplay felt almost too familiar, but the added
excitement of playing as Superman or Wonder Woman or even Lex Luthor
made things less monotonous than they might otherwise have been.

Going
through the wide-open Gotham city presents you with even more to do,
and it’s here where the game feels freshest. You can fight and then
unlock new characters, help random citizens in need, find new vehicles
to purchase, find little mini-levels and puzzles to complete in order to
get gold bricks or just fly or drive around town and enjoy the view.
There’s lots to discover, and some characters can only be unlocked by
having a certain number of gold bricks, and even then, you have to find
the hidden gold doors; so yeah, obsessive types might lose a lot of time
in this game trying to collect everything. And then there’s the joy of
playing as the Justice League members. While the story only features
them in a couple levels, going back to play previous levels just to see
what they can unlock is fun. And finding new characters throughout the
city is blast. Racing around as Flash is a thrill, if difficult to
control. Finding Sinestro and using him as a character is also exciting.
In fact, I could go on and on about all the characters to find and play
with, but half the fun is just discovering them for yourself. 

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
is at it’s core the usual song and dance when it comes to a Lego game.
However, it’s also daring enough to try a few new things as well. While
these new additions aren’t without some of their own problems, and the
usual issues from these games still linger, it’s enough to help set this
one apart from previous Lego titles. Plus, the fun of playing with
favorite Justice League characters makes this game a must-own for any DC
comics nerd. It’s also a great way to introduce the family to some of
the more obscure members of the DC universe, because above all else,
Lego games are family games, and that’s no different here. Now all we
need is a Lego Avengers game and everyone will be happy.

Score out of 7:

Graphics: 6 – It’s a pretty looking
game, with some impressive lighting effects and particle effects. All
the Lego pieces look appropriately platicy, and Gotham City is full of
rain-soaked gloom.

Sound: 6 – Love the voice acting, which really
helps sell the humor and even tells a decent story. Toss in some good
music (the Danny Elfman Batman theme and the John Williams Superman
theme are awesome), and great sound effects and you have a good sounding
game that matches its good looks.

Gameplay: 5 – Much of the
in-level gameplay is the same old Lego routine, which can get tedious.
Some on-rails vehicle and flying sections help break that up, but are
almost too simple. However, the open-world aspect full of things to
explore and discover is fun, and using new characters with different
powers in the levels is also a blast. I just wish free play in Gotham
didn’t have to be unlocked by finishing the story. Plus, it’s even more
fun with a friend in co-op.

Controls: 5 – Pretty standard stuff, although there are no
inverted flight controls, which would have helped, and vehicles still
handle lightly. Platforming is also imprecise. Still, nothing is broken,
and the controls are proficient enough to make the game enjoyable.

Story:
5 – Batman learns that sometimes he needs help from his friends, and
the Gotham police admit that a giant robot with a purple suit, white
face and green hair should have tipped them off that the Joker was
involved. Good stuff.

Content: 7 – The great thing about Lego games, they are truly family friendly.

Final: 5 – Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
is a great Lego game that introduces some nice new features to the
franchise. It’s also a DC comics nerd’s dream come true. The core
gameplay is the same as ever, but finding cool DC characters while
collecting studs, mini-kits and gold bricks in an open world Gotham City
will keep you busy for many hours.