There have been lots of superhero games made, and as we all know very few of them are any good. In 2000 Activision proved a good superhero game could be made with Spider–Man. Batman and Spider–Man have probably had the most games developed based on them. Some of them good, most of them bad. For Batman 2009’s Arkham Asylum was the definitive game, once again proving good superhero games could be made. This is not that game. No, we are going to talk about 2008’s Lego Batman: The Videogame.

Lego Batman does have some of its own distinctions. One of them being that it is the first Lego game from Traveler’s Tales not based on a movie franchise. This was probably a wise choice, because a lot of material probably would have to have been changed to make either Batman movie series fit the Lego friendliness that we’ve seen in past games. This is also the first Traveler’s Tales Lego game not published by LucasArts. Instead this time they team up with Warner Bros. interactive, who of course hold the DC license for games. It should also be noted that during the game’s development Warner Bros. interactive purchased Traveler’s Tales. Interestingly enough the purchase did not seem to affect any future title plans.

The game appears to take its look from the 90s cartoon series, which was famous for its very dark look. It fits the game quite well, especially with the soundtrack from the 1989 Batman movie. The combo gives you a dark gritty and exciting Gotham city to explore.

Most of the characters are pretty good here too. Batman is portrayed as constantly serious and a no-nonsense guy, while Robin is the perfect opposite. His character is almost goofy, and often played for laughs. He’s often almost overeager to get into the fray. Every time he trips over something during a cut scene, or goes into a fighting stance with no villains around Batman is right there with a disapproving look and a grunt. Some of Robin’s antics actually got a laugh out of me. The villains are a mixed bag. Our three main villains, Riddler, Penguin and Joker are done well enough. The rest of the villains are often quite generic. Clayface for example is portrayed as a complete idiot. It makes you wonder why the Riddler would team up with him at all. Mr. Freeze on the other hand isn’t made to look like a moron, and makes a pretty good foe. It makes you wonder if it had anything to do with how the developers felt about each character. However, some research suggests that DC Comics had some input into the game, providing reference materials for many of the game’s characters.

The story of the game is not very strong. It features over fifteen of Batman’s enemies escaping from Arkham Asylum and dividing up into teams to execute their own evil plots. The leaders of these teams are Riddler, Penguin, and of course the Joker. As you may have guessed by now, your job as Batman is to stop each villain’s plot. Since movies are not serving as distinct sections of the game, our villains and their evil plots serve this purpose. For the first section, you face off against Riddler and his team, featuring Clayface, Poison Ivy, Two–Face, and Mr. Freeze. Each villain has their own level and must be defeated in some type of boss fight at the end. Penguins team consists of killer croc, Man–Bat, Bane, and Catwoman. Joker of course, you face last. His team is, Mad Hatter, Killer Moth, Harley Quinn, and Scarecrow. Not a bad lineup I suppose.

In a strange way the story seems to be divided up into  land, sea, and air segments, with each gang leader representing one of these elements. Riddler is land, so you leave the Batcave and Arkham Asylum in vehicles. This also means each segment has at least one vehicle-based mission, and they are actually pretty fun. During Riddler’s storyline, you get involved in a car chase with Two–Face, and force him off the road several times. When it comes to Penguin’s segment you obviously start out in boats, and there is a boat vehicle mission. Finally, for whatever reason, Joker represents the air missions, and in one level you must fly head-to-head against Scarecrow, as he tries to spread Joker’s poison gas over Gotham.

You would think having the freedom to create your own story, rather than stick with the restrictions of a movie or series of movies would be a benefit to the game’s creators. But somehow it doesn’t help. The storyline does not really arc into one long story. What the Riddler does in the beginning of the game does not affect anything in the Joker storyline. That’s fine I suppose, after all you get three shorter stories. They all just happen to have the same beginning.

The other thing that hurts this game story wise is the division of levels. One cool thing you can do in this game is play as the villains. For every Batman level there is a villain level. I like the idea, but unfortunately they’re not intermixed like they should be. All of Batman’s levels, like with other Lego games start in a main hub. In this case the hub is the Batcave, where you choose all of Batman’s levels. To play as a villain, you must switch to a separate hub, Arkham Asylum. Just as with the Batcave, Arkham Asylum serves as the main hub for the villains. This means the story is completely divided up and if you play all Batman’s levels first and then play the villain levels, it’s a bit of a disappointment. The villain levels serve as a set up for each of the Batman levels. You can play as Riddler and Clayface robbing Gotham Bank before Batman showed up to stop them in the first level. Unfortunately it can’t be done until you play that first section or chapter, so you end up playing them out of order. It makes no sense. What I would suggest you do is rotate between the villains and Batman. Play the villain level first. Then switch to Batman and play the level as him. This could give you a slightly more rounded story. Unfortunately, you can’t really play this way. The villain chapter will not unlock until you have completed the hero chapter. That means, you have to complete five levels before playing as the villains which actually takes place before the hero levels. I unfortunately played all the Batman levels before playing as the villains. It feels like a letdown.

                The Batcave and Arkham Asylum as already noted serves as the game’s hubs. From here you can do all the usual things, like purchase unlockables from the back computer using the games currency of studs, choose the next level of course, view cut scenes, and check out your minikits collection. Yes the minikits once again make a return. Unfortunately they don’t have a creative name like Indiana Jones took the time to do by calling them artifacts. There is nothing really exciting about exploring these hubs. The level selection, especially in Arkham Asylum is set too far away from where your character starts. So you end up having to wander around for a bit.

How Batman’s gear is handled is another disappointment. Batman’s utility belt is famous for having everything he could possibly need on hand, but that’s not the way it is handled in the game. Instead, Batman and Robin need different suits to overcome the different obstacles they come across throughout their adventure. Batman has a demolition suit for when he needs to blow things up. He also has a heat resistant suit, some kind of sonic suit which allows him to break things like glass, a glide suit which allows for longer jumps, and even a thermal protection suit for dealing with the cold. You don’t use all the suits a lot, probably the main ones that get use the most are the demolition suit and the glide suit.

Robin has his own assortment of suits. He has his normal suit, and an acrobatics suit, which allows him to perform special moves. He also has a suit that allows him to vacuum up colored Legos that are different from the normal ones you pick up. Once you have vacuumed up enough parts, they are fed into a machine which builds you something else to get through the level with. Robin also has a magnetic suit for walking up metal walls, a scuba suit for diving, a technology suit for controlling things remotely, and the biohazard suit that protects him from toxic waste and there’s a lot of it in the game. Robbins most used suits will probably be the magnetic suit and the vacuum suit.

You can’t access the suits at any time. Often you must first build a platform from Legos which then projects the needed suit for the level. All you must do then, is leap into the suit and your character changes. Unfortunately, it’s an odd way to do things and doesn’t feel very Batman like.

Batman and Robin do a lot of fighting with their fists. It’s basically their primary weapon. However even with all the suit changing they do carry a few things with them like the batarang. It can be used as a weapon against enemies, it can break things like boarded up windows, and it can also trigger the switches that are out of your reach. This makes for interesting puzzles, because if you are unsure what to do, you start aiming the batarang in all directions to see if there’s anything to throw at.

The other tool at your disposal is the grappling hook. It works just as it did with the Star Wars games. By standing in a designated spot and pressing the right button, it allows you to climb up to a higher area of the level. There are also tight ropes for crossing high areas like roof tops. Batman and Robin don’t seem to carry these, instead they always find them within the environment.

The villains don’t swap costumes, everything they need, they carry. Most of them fight with their fists, but some use weapons. The Joker carries a gun and Mr. Freeze has a freeze gun. Penguin has his umbrella gun, and carries bombs disguised as penguins. Some of them also have special abilities, like Bane’s great strength. Riddler can control the minds of some characters. You use this ability to get guards to open doors from the inside for you. Some can walk through toxic waste, while others can’t. It’s all a pretty cool variety.

The vehicle missions are pretty fun, and were probably my favorite during the whole game. The controls seem kind of loose and crazy, but somehow it fits and feels right. The vehicle mission gameplay  is not very original, though. They play exactly like some of the vehicle levels from Lego Star Wars II and Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga. You travel around the map shooting and everything possible to score studs. At certain points you must retrieve missiles and tow them near their targets before shooting them. You also have to locate mines, and drag them into targets. It is definitely cut and paste, with a new coat of paint.

The character control for these games is usually pretty good, but I did have an issue with climbing ladders. For the most part the controls felt pretty tight and Batman and Robin would jump and run an attack where I expected them to. Often when climbing ladders, especially at the beginning of the game, Batman and Robin would struggle to make it to the top, and they would often fall off about halfway up. Some of those early ladders seem to be at a bit of an angle, and you had to be quite precise with the controller to climb them. Other ladders, later in the game had to be hit square on to make it all the way we. It could be a bit could be a pretty cute, but nothing that would keep you from playing.

It could probably be said about previous Lego games as well, but something about Lego Batman makes it feel primarily like a side scroller, rather than a 3D game. Most of the levels you find yourself walking from left to right across the screen. There are times when you’ll need to get higher up in the same area to get over certain barriers and such. I think it may be the look of the game, with its darker tones of color and cartoony touches that make it feel more this way than previous games.

This also seems to be the first Lego game from Traveler’s Tales to feature boss fights. As each level loads you are given background information on the character you will be facing off with. With Mr. Freeze, you make your way through his ice cream factory until you find him at the end of the level. He then has a certain amount of hearts that you must knock out, by fighting with him. This is how it goes for most of the boss fights. There are some exceptions, like Clayface, you not only have to fight but also trigger some buttons that activates freeze cannons to harden him up.

The villain levels on the other hand, do not have boss fights. They usually start with a quote from the gang leader, giving them their orders. When you get to the end of their levels, the villain in question usually flakes out on his boss, and the Riddler, or whoever the gang leader is, usually just leaves catching a ride with the next level’s villain.

Surprisingly, there does not seem to be too many bonuses with this game. I suspect one of the reasons for this is the fact that you can play as the villains. The developers may have felt that this was a big bonus in itself, since you are playing twice the number of levels you normally would with one of their games. As I’ve said, it is pretty cool. The two bonus levels that are in this game are basically exteriors of Wayne Manor and Arkham Asylum. The basic premise being that Bruce Wayne has left a million studs lying around and you must collect them all. Arkham Asylum is almost identical with its premise. Someone has hidden a million studs around the asylum, and you must find them. The look of these levels are set up more like a playset, rather than the rest of the levels of the game but it is standard for the bonus levels. The levels are found in the trophy rooms for both the heroes and the villains. To be able to access them you must score superhero and super villain in every level.

Besides minikits, the other thing that you must search out in the game is red bricks. Red bricks allow you to purchase suit upgrades. These upgrades basically increase the effects of your suits. Some of them also seem to add new abilities, like the sonic suit being able to summon bats or cause pain. You can get more armor for the demolition suit, or just carry more items like detonators. The upgrade seem to primarily apply to Batman suits, I only saw a few for Robin, like a faster walk for his magnetic suit. Some of them are cool extras, but you don’t need them to complete the game.

The game also features its standard free play mode, which allows you to replay each level and instantly switch to characters you managed to unlock throughout the game in order to reach unlockables and minikits that you couldn’t get to in story mode. The unfortunate side effect to this is that it shows some of the flaws with story mode. The main issue is that I can switch to the different bat suits in this mode with the press of a button. Without the need to build or look for a platform to change suits you can maneuver through the level much quicker. Although the look of the suits change as you do this, it still somehow feels more integrated than the way it’s done in story mode.

Controller integration is wonderful, and works flawlessly. I like to use a cordless controller if you are called away during some games, the controller will time out and turn off. The effect it has on some games can be harsh, forcing you to reload the game at worst. Most times you only have to go into controller settings and switch back. Lego Batman: The Videogame detects when the controller turns itself off, and is quickly ready to go again once you turn the controller back on.

The vsync issue that we’ve talked about so many times in the past is still here in this game. Save yourself a headache go into the settings and be sure to turn vsync on. There were two spots in the game that I got completely stuck in because of it. One had to do with driving a remote car over buttons. It felt like the car rolled over those buttons by pure luck. The other time happened while trying to drive a bulldozer up some stairs. I just couldn’t make it happen. This is actually the game I learned the vsync trick with, and then figured out how to apply the setting to the earlier games that did not have it internally. What would we do without a Google search?

Lego Batman had a lot of potential, unfortunately it feels squandered and wasted. The developers had a chance to create their own storyline rather than follow a movie template. What they came up with is just okay and feels like a nervous toe in possibly cold water. The addition to be able to play the villains was a great idea, unfortunately their segments actually fit better before Batman segments, and it makes the game feel disjointed. The constant changing of suits is an awkward element of the game, and free play mode just serves to emphasize it. The gameplay is fun though, featuring the standard fodder you expect from Traveler’s Tales Lego titles. Perhaps they’ll get better in the future, we’ll soon find out.

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