"The Batman Returns of LEGO Games"
By now, it's been thoroughly established that the LEGO games stick to a formula. Take a popular franchise, render its dramatic moments with goofy brick figure pantomimes, and build a platform game around them with thousands of collectibles and little direct challenge. TT Games' formula has worked for Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and once again, Batman. LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes departs further from the formula than other LEGO games, but unfortunately, the innovations aren't implemented very well, and they lead to an experience more frustrating than fun.
Like the previous Batman / brick game, LEGO Batman 2 builds an original story around various stories from the character's 70+ year history. In addition to Batman, Robin, Alfred, and the infamous Rogue's Gallery, LEGO Batman 2 brings in characters from other corners of the DC Comics universe. Most notable is Superman, who has to intervene because his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor has formed an alliance with Batman's enemy Joker, but the rest of the Justice League make appearances.
In a first for the LEGO series, the characters in LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes are fully-voiced, offering ridiculous speeches rather than mere grunts. It actually works very well, since it's clear that nobody in the production staff is taking the project too seriously and everyone's having a ball with the overwhelming silliness. When it's explicitly mentioned that Luthor's secret weapon destroys shiny black bricks (the kind which make up all of Batman's vehicles), it's hard not to chuckle.
Unfortunately, the "improvements" to the actual gameplay don't work as well. First of all, the standard hub world with various side-levels has been replaced in LEGO Batman 2 by a sprawling open-world Gotham. In theory, this makes the game deeper and more engrossing; in practice, it makes navigating the overworld from level to level a frustrating chore. Worse yet, the camera angles remain fixed, and don't move fluidly enough to correspond to the expanded levels. Several vehicles are also included for the overworld, and they would be welcome if they could be easily controlled. Unfortunately, the Grand Theft Auto open-world influence seems to extend to the shopping-cart maneuverability of the machines.
Some of the additions are more successful. Using the Wii Pointer or right stick on PS3 and Xbox 360 to aim the Batarang is a welcome improvement over simply throwing the thing forward. The various DC Superheroes add several unique twists to gameplay, especially the more powerful ones like Superman and the Flash.
Ultimately, the changes that didn't work outweigh the changes that did. Since the LEGO formula is still at the heart of the experience, LEGO Batman 2 is less enjoyable than other games featuring the iconic bricks. LEGO games are beloved for their simplicity and gentle pacing, and when the interface doesn't work, that simplicity is lost.
GameDynamo's Score for LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Wii)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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