Lego and Batman – two things capable of lighting up my withered heart, made shrivelled and cynical by FPS after FPS and reality-is-brown cover based combat. With Lego I get to build things, recreate spaceships, vehicles, or not-a-moon-space-stations; and with Batman, well…it’s BATMAN. The combination of the two just brings more joy–as the Lego Batman Begins Tumbler in my study can attest to. It’s also fair to say that Lego Batman was my favorite of all the Lego games, embracing what was great about its subject and more than willing to poke fun at its shortcomings. So how does the allegedly bigger and better sequel fair?
Well let’s start with plot first: Lego Batman 2 actually has one–or at the least one that can be followed without already knowing the movie or series it’s based on like other games. Lex Luthor is running for president and has recruited the Joker to help him brainwash the populace into voting for him. This, of course, spurs Batman and Robin into action against him, with some help from Superman and other members of the Justice League.
Now what follows, in the story mode levels at least, is the typical Lego game fare. Characters have certain abilities that allow them to solve puzzles or interact with specific Lego bricks; Batman and Robin have an array of gadget based suits, Superman has flight, heat vision, invulnerability etc. But where Lego Batman 2 differs is the huge free-roam Lego Gotham between levels. Here you can drive vehicles, fly the Batwing, sail the Batboat or take to the skies as Superman – which, wonderfully enough, is always accompanied by John Williams’ theme from the 1979 movie. The city is expansive; and while maybe not as big as other sandbox games like Arkham City, is a huge and welcome departure from previous games in the Lego franchise. It’s not just there to move you between story missions either; there are a host of puzzles to solve all over the city for you to collect those elusive gold bricks.
Lego Batman 2 also adds something else never before seen in the franchise – Voice Acting. Yes, I know voice acting isn’t exactly a new thing in games; but for a series that had resolutely avoided it, Lego Batman 2 comes out swinging on its first attempt. Not only is the voice talent top notch (with veteran voice actors Rob Paulsen and Nolan North present), but long time DC Animated Universe star Clancy Brown returns to voice Lex Luthor (my personal favorite version of the character). The voice acting also serves to enhance the already prevalent humor, with the animosity between Batman and Superman being played very much for laughs, and Robin’s need for validation sparking the funniest moment of the series.
It’s not to say the game is without flaws. There’s still a desperate need for better QA at Traveller’s Tales with the game crashing out regularly (though not to the same degree as the almost unplayable Lego Indiana Jones), with checkpoints or assets not always loading properly on the Xbox 360 version. The Flying controls are frankly weird, using a cursor to point in the direction you wish to go and pressing “A” rather than just using the sticks like every other flying game ever. Criticisms could also be laid at the fact that the story missions are very much the same in structure as previous Lego games–but the changes elsewhere more than make up for it.
Lego Batman 2 is a fun, hilarious game that knows its source material very well. Knowledgeable fans will spot digs at famously lame villains and even at other Batman video games. The new gameplay additions are a much needed boost to the franchise and Traveller’s Tales has done a great job in breathing new life into the Lego series. But more importantly, Lego Batman 2 is a game where you can play as Superman…and it’s actually fun. Maybe now I can get the hideous memory of Superman 64 out of my brain.