Friday, January 2, 2009

Lego Batman

Bought for my Lego game-loving son for Christmas, we got the newest game in the franchise, Lego Batman.

It's essentially the same basic game as the other Lego games — you play as a pair of Lego mini-figs (the second being computer-controlled by default or by a second player, who can jump in and out at any time; and you can swap players at just about any time as well). You walk through levels smashing up scenery and collecting the Lego studs from them, which fill up a stud meter for the level. You also build things from stacks of pieces around the level, find minikits, fight enemies and bosses, ride vehicles, etc. Completing a level unlocks it for "Free Play" mode, where you can play through with the ability to switch to any unlocked character on the fly, a requirement for collecting some minikits that cannot be reached by any one character's abilities on its own.

This time, of course, you play as the Dynamic Duo, and the bosses you fight against are from the history of the Batman franchise. At least, I assume so. I have to admit, I'm not that well-versed in Batman lore. Fortunately, at the start of each stage, the game gives a little background on the boss character you're going to face — their real name, their alias, and a very brief history. Very nice for those of us who never knew there was a "Killer Croc" or "Man-Bat" character.

Whereas other Lego games gave your heroes additional abilities through new characters, in Lego Batman you play the hero missions exclusively as Batman and Robin. In order to give them new abilities, there are suit upgrade pads that you can build in the level. Switching Batman into his "sonic suit", for instance, gives him a sonic gun that can shatter glass. The levels are of course designed to give you just the right suit to get through the main story of the level, but not necessarily the bonuses (like minikits), which require coming back in Free Play mode.

Game play is much more similar to the original Lego Star Wars series than Lego Indiana Jones, in that it is much more action-oriented than puzzle-solving. You'll find yourself doing a lot less carrying items back and forth and a lot more just moving forward, running and pounding (until you start "unlocking" some of the minikits, which do take more thought).

You play through three stories as Batman and Robin, with each story taking one super villain (Joker, Riddler, and Penguin) and each chapter in the story taking a "lesser" villain (Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Clayface) helping him out. The gimmick this time around is, once you play through the story as the heroes, you can then play through the same story as the villains. The chapters are very different, so it's not like playing the same story twice.

The biggest difference in this game from the others is that it doesn't spoof any specific movie. Unfortunately, that does take something away from the classic humor quality. Instead of spoofing memorable scenes, the humor tends to be rather generic. It starts out fun, but eventually the same old "Batman's being all stoic and serious while Robin's being a goofy kid" jokes repeated in every cutscene start to get a little old.

Although the game is fairly easy to pick up and play, new players and even veterans might find it a bit confusing, as the game is not exactly forthcoming with how some of the mechanics work. I try to play a game not taking things for granted, waiting to see what it tells me to do rather than assuming I know how to play. Part of this is trying to make sure I learn what the game wants to teach me, part is so I can be a better reviewer, but mostly it comes from playing games with people who don't play as many games as I do. I've found if I try to share a game I like with someone, and that person doesn't have the same passion for games and just "knows" certain gaming conventions like the back of their hand, then my lack of explanation of things I take for granted is going to make their experience that much worse.

Similarly, it seems that Lego Batman takes for granted that you know what you're doing in a Lego game. There are some helpful tips about using grappling hooks and batarangs — things specific to this game — but if I waited around for the game to tell me how to build a pile of jumping Lego pieces, I'd be waiting a long time. Vehicle modes were worse. Even though it did actually give basic instructions like how to use the tow cable, it never told you where you were supposed to tow the enemy vehicles once you got them. While it's true that some goals have to be discovered, typically the game gives you some clue as to what the goal is, such as with a "mini-cutscene" that shows the villain taunting you from the target area with the camera focused conspicuously on a weapon target point. The vehicle levels didn't give that kind of clue. It took way too long for my son and I to figure out where to tow the enemy cars, or where the Batwing picked up its torpedoes and how to replenish them, or where the Batcopter could get bombs that it could tow around; and we're seasoned veterans of the Lego franchise.

The Batcave computer is a bit of an enigma as well. I think I figured out that red bricks unlock the "Suit Upgrades" section, as I've found two of them and I have two of those available to buy. But there are other bonuses that are locked and don't appear to have any indication as to what has locked them. I found two bonuses that got unlocked, and I'm not sure why, or even what those bonuses do.

I think this game makes a decent continuation of the Lego franchise. I definitely couldn't recommend it as an introduction to the series, as it takes so much previous Lego game knowledge for granted. But all in all, it is a pretty good Lego game.


Venom1983PRO said...

Lego Indiana Jones was the best in the series by far so agree with most of what you say here I do have one question though!

You brought it for your kid(s)? Surely that excuse has to be getting old this game is for everyone really!

But I do sometimes wish I had a kid so I could blame some of the purchases on them!

Oh by the way keep it up its a good blog

Yakko Warner said...

The fact that my 6-year-old son loves the Lego games made it easy for me to justify getting this game for him.

If it weren't so, then I'd be getting it for myself; I'd just have to work it into my personal games budget somewhere down the line instead of the gift budget for the kids. ;)

I fully admit, it's a convenient excuse. Unfortunately, it only works on kids' and family games. I don't think I could justify getting Left 4 Dead as a gift if it came out around one of their birthdays, for instance. And it does mean that, occasionally, I am obligated to pick up some stinkers (my older son seems to have a thing for games based on movies, even if he's never seen the movie, and very few of those seem to turn out good) — but at least I get some gamerscore out of those.