Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes Review (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii)



Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games have been one of the crowning achievements of the platform genre over the last decade. Perhaps the pinnacle of children’s gaming this generation, they’re licensed tie-in games which emphasize all-ages fun, rewarding depth and replay value with a level of love and care that fans rarely ever see from the video games based on their favourite movies. They’re a labour of love – games clearly made by adoring fans for adoring fans. But that’s also been their biggest failing.

The ‘silent movie’ style approach of Traveller’s Tales’ Lego offerings mean that, while they’re filled to the brim with hilarious spoofery and clever in-jokes aimed at each movie’s specific fanbase, you’ll be totally lost if you’ve never seen the Harry Potter movies and then tried hopping into a Lego Harry Potter game. The dialogue-free approach might lend itself well to kid-friendly sight gags, but it’s never been a great one at conveying story, and despite all the love, care and gameplay craftsmanship that’s gone into each of the Lego games, that can understandably keep a lot of non-fans at arm’s length.

All that changes with Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, which marks Traveller’s Tales’ biggest evolutionary leap forward yet, taking the phenomenal gameplay, rewarding depth and gigglesome humour of their past titles and expanding on it all with an open world to explore as all your favourite DC superheroes, while embracing voice acting for the first time, opening themselves up to wider audiences with a more accessible, fun and satisfying standalone story.
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Spinning an incredibly enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud, gag-filled comic book yarn, the plot of Lego Batman 2 sees the wealthy, sinister Lex Luthor teaming up with maniacal supervillian The Joker in a plot to win the bald billionaire the presidency. Lex aims to use Joker’s patented laughing gas to brainwash the masses into voting for him, while Luthor’s latest creation – The Deconstructor, which tears apart shiny black objects on a molecular level – will help The Clown Prince of Crime destroy his nemesis, Batman, whose wardrobe and garage are filled exclusively with polished black gadgets. While breaking Joker out of Arkham, Luthor inadvertently releases every major criminal from Arkham to wage war on the city, leaving Batman, Robin, Superman and the rest of the Justice League to stop Lex and save Gotham from destruction.

Introducing talking Lego characters has been a point of contention for those used to the silent miming comedy of Traveller’s Tales’ output leading up to the release of Lego Batman 2, but rest assured, the end result is pretty much perfect. Not only does it allow the game to tell a more complete, original and involving story that isn’t entirely dependent on your knowledge of the films/comics its based on, but it allows Traveller’s Tales a much wider field to play around with when it comes to their lighthearted, all-ages-friendly sense of humour. The result is the funniest Lego game yet, packed full of great dialogue, wonderful voice acting and a mountain of inside jokes and references both broad and obscure to cater to everyone.

The banter-filled dialogue takes mere moments to perfectly capture the relationship between its characters with laughs aplenty, and the game’s writers have an absolute blast both staying true to and poking fun at the dynamics of the Justice League we know and love. Batman is hilariously grumpy (when asked if he knows the score of last night’s game or what that muzak playing in the elevator is, he responds only with a gruff, sullen “I don’t like sports…I don’t like music”) and harbours a trademark animosity towards cheery boy scout Superman, preferring to doom himself and Robin to shattered limbs rather than ask for the Man of Steel’s help (“We’ve broken our legs before, Robin.” “I know, and I didn’t like it!”). There’s a surprising amount of character and a satisfying story, made all the more enjoyable by the bevvy of voice talent doing top-notch work, with omnipresent video game voice actors Troy Baker (Batman: Arkham City, Saints Row: The Third) and Nolan North (Uncharted’s Nathan Drake) performing alongside Tara Strong (Arkham City’s Harley Quinn, stepping into the same role here), Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Spongebob Squarepants) and a whole host of other great performers.
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In a sly nod to those age-old jokes about Batman shacking up with young boy Robin, the Boy Wonder recoils in disgust when Catwoman blows him a kiss but gazes starstruck in awed wonder at Superman, attempting to lovingly stroke his hair, and the look of unabated joy on his face when Bruce Wayne finally gives him some recognition is absolutely priceless. There’s gleeful references to all of Batman’s various incarnations, like Batman narrowly avoiding snapping sharks while clinging to a helicopter’s ladder a-la the ’60s TV series to those giant Greek statues around Gotham from Joel Schumacher’s movies. The Penguin acts like Burgess Meredith in ’60s Batman, The Riddler echoes Jim Carrey’s manic Batman Forever performance, The Joker shoots for a Mark Hamill/Batman: The Animated Series vibe and there’s even a fun jab or two at the Arkham Asylum games as cheerful news announcer dismisses the city’s plans to keep its criminals in a big walled-off area of the city (as in Arkham City) as a pretty dumb idea.

The new voice-driven approach is fantastic, side-stepping the more ‘fans only’ wall that past Lego games put up around their stories and allowing them to tell a universally enjoyable yarn full of laughs that’s a great melting pot of in-jokey references for everyone, no matter where you know Batman from.

Gameplay-wise, it’s still the same intensely addictive, incredibly fun pick-up-and-play block-bashing blend of platformer and puzzle game you’ve come to know and love, with all the incremental refinements and additions that each new Lego game has added over the years, from the dynamic split-screen to the increased set of powers to the gorgeous visual flourishes of Lego Star Wars III (although while the Wii version is identical to its console cousins in every other way, it naturally is far less attractive graphically than the fantastic looking 360/PS3 versions). You’ll switch between your team of minifig characters, putting their unique skills to work to solve puzzles and progress while traversing the levels with plenty of jumping, climbing and smash everything in sight to collect coloured studs. Collect enough studs and you can spend them on extra characters whose unique skills you can then use to unlock a bevvy of hidden stuff when you go back through completed levels, adding a mountain of inviting replay value.
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It’s as much fun as it’s ever been, and the gameplay balances out the abilities of DC’s finest beautifully, giving equal time to each as you constantly flit between Batman, Robin, Superman and more to make use of their specific powers in your puzzling. Batman and Robin both have grappling hooks and projectiles, but along with their core abilities, there are power-up suits for both of them dotted around each level. Batman has a Power Suit which fires rockets at silver objects to blow them up and has the strength to yank open yellow handles, his Electricity Suit can collect a power charge from one terminal and use it to fuel other switches, the Sensor Suit allows you to turn invisible to slip past laser fields and use X-ray vision to see through things, while the Bat Suit comes with glider wings and a sonar weapon which shatters blue glass objects. Robin has a Snow Suit that freezes water to use it as climbing platform and an Acrobat Suit which comes with a baton, the ability to leap to and from poles and wall-jump up certain sections and, most bizarrely, a pop-around hamster ball that lets him roll into and activate floor pit control panels.

Superman, however, is as powerful as you’d expect even without extra suits. He’s quicker at constructing objects, impervious to attack, has laser vision to cut through walls (similar to the lightsaber jigsaw cut-out sections in LEGO Star Wars) and melt ice and, inversely, ice breath to freeze water. He can fly (to the tune of John Williams’ Superman theme, which is a supreme moment of giddy geek joy), rendering platforming a doddle, and also has the strength to bust open those yellow handled objects, too. Even with Supes being all-powerful, Traveller’s Tales still find clever ways to strike a balance between the other characters, with Kryptonite-laden sections requiring you to lean on the others for help as The Man of Steel is weakened. For the majority of the game, you’ll be playing as Batman, Robin and Superman, but the rest of the Justice League show up in later missions, and Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Cyborg’s abilities are used to creative, satisfying effect.
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The controls and mechanics are as tightly-tuned as ever and not far removed from the familiar Lego gameplay, aside from a few little welcome extras, like tiny directional indicators on the edges of your targeting reticule that’ll point towards items that require hitting with that particular weapon. But while the core gameplay remains a comfortably familiar, immensely fun example of the age-old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra, the game at large has another major new addition besides voice acting: it’s now open world. Now, the levels themselves are the same linear block-busting puzzlefests they were before (with a few on-rails vehicular shooter sections for variety), but the open world element is essentially a vastly expanded version of the ‘hub worlds’ that have grown increasingly larger with every new LEGO installment. Where you wandered around the halls and classrooms of Hogwarts in Lego Harry Potter between missions to uncover hidden secrets, unlock characters and trigger new missions, here you have the whole of Gotham to explore, with next to no boundaries.

You can speed around in the Batmobile, hop into any car or boat you find parked around, GTA-style, take to the skies as Superman, Green Lantern or any other flight-powered superhero, or soar around in Batman’s variety of planes and choppers and explore the back alleys and famous landmarks of DC’s grimiest, rainiest city, like Wayne Tower, The Batcave, Arkham Asylum and Gotham Zoo (where you can ride various animals). You can head to the next mission as the hub blends elegantly into the story and back, or you can just pummel the numerous criminal thugs who’re unleashing chaos across the city. It’s a beautifully detailed world full of Gotham’s obligatory rain-soaked atmosphere, but with all the light-hearted humour you’d expect of a LEGO title.
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True to form for the Lego series, there’s an absolute tonne of extra stuff to find and unlock around Gotham, sending replay value through the roof. Seemingly every building in the huge city has extra challenges to unlock, from character-specific, puzzle-filled detours which will require Acrobat Robin to scale a building on a platforming romp or Superman to freeze fire hydrant geysers to rescue citizens in peril. Or you can hunt down purchasable vehicles, or explore the fairground, ride the bumper cars, carousel or rollercoaster, hit the waters of Gotham Beach for checkpoint boat races or find RC car minigames to play. All of which nets you gold bricks and red blocks which you can use to unlock bonus multipliers and cheats or to buy extra characters, who in turn give you access to more powers, thus being able to unlock even more extra stuff on added play-throughs of the missions.

There’s even bonus boss battles to find – check the Bat radar points across the city and they’ll clue you into the location of villains-at-large, like Bane, Ra’s Al Ghul or Captain Boomerang who you can buy and use as playable characters once beaten. With enough exploring you’ll be able to play as pretty much every major and minor hero and villain in the DC roster from Hawk Man and Supergirl to Killer Moth General Zod and drive, fly or sail around in all their unique vehicles. It all amounts to a game that takes the series’ established trend of hurling in huge, addictive amounts of replay value and depth and multiplying it ten-fold, crafting their most expansive and impressive hub world yet, full of geek wish fulfillment as you get to play as all your favourite DC characters to incredibly satisfying effect.

There’s a tiny caveat or two: Flight can be a little touchy when you’re trying to land Supes, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern with precision, often overshooting rooftops, and there’s always a hefty character-pausing load time whenever you snag a collectible gold or red brick. But they’re relatively miniscule issues that do very little to scuff an otherwise phenomenally fun and polished game.
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It’s something I find impossible not to repeat when reviewing new titles in the series, but Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is the best Lego game yet. I’ve always maintained that your favourite Lego game will be the one whose source material movies you love most, since they’re such fan-specific experiences, riddled with mountains of inside jokes and references and without clear, coherent stories for outsiders. But by adding voice acting, Traveller’s Tales have torn down that wall, and along with their broad and varied layers of geeky nods and in-jokes for comic geeks and casual fans alike, this is their most accessible offering yet.

More importantly, though, it’s simply astonishingly fun. With laugh-out-loud dialogue, a sharp, enjoyable and satisfying comic book story that displays overwhelming charm and a clear love for these iconic characters, along with Traveler’s Tales’ trademark fiendishly addictive, deceptively deep and endlessly replayable gameplay, it’s an absolute blast for gamers of all ages. Thanks to the weeks and months of replay value and the addition of an expansive open world, it’s Traveler’s Tales’ biggest, most rewarding and enjoyable Lego sandbox yet, and one you won’t want to set foot out of for a long while.

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Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is available to buy now for Xbox 360, PS3 and Nintendo Wii.
Click here to buy the game from Amazon.co.uk.