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Lego Batman Review

Mike Bracken's picture

Why so serious?

Lego Batman

HIGH Getting to be The Joker is probably a dream most comic fans have—Lego Batman allows you to cross it off your list of life goals.

LOW Being stuck in an area for half an hour, unsure of how to progress because the game's awful platforming mechanics had me convinced that the jump I knew I needed to make (and failed at multiple times) wasn't the correct one—and it turns out it was.

WTF Killer Moth? The Mad Hatter? They really scraped the bottom of the barrel for some of these villains.

After exploring a "galaxy far far away" and globetrotting around the world in the last two Lego games, developer Traveller's Tales chose a much smaller and more confined tableaux on which to paint their next blocky adventure: Gotham City, home to the Dark Knight himself, Batman. I'll be honest; this struck me as an odd choice when I first heard it. Yes, Batman is an iconic character with a rogue's gallery of villains unequaled in the pantheon of comics—but he lacks the pop culture punch of both Star Wars and Indiana Jones. A big part of the allure of those two earlier games was watching scenes we loved re-enacted by Lego versions of the characters. The stories of Indiana Jones and Star Wars are so familiar to us that a large part of the thrill and humor (and nostalgia) is achieved solely through the visual presentation. Lego Batman, on the other hand, never quite captures that magic because it's just not familiar to us. Couple that with game mechanics that almost feel like a step backwards for the series and you wind up with what is arguably the most underwhelming Lego game to date.

There are numerous reasons for why Lego Batman fails to resonate with players in the same way Star Wars and Indiana Jones did, but the most glaringly obvious one is because Traveller's Tales refused to base their take on the Caped Crusader on any of his more easily recognizable past appearances. Batman has been around for like 70 years—there's a plethora of classic comics, the old television show, Tim Burton's movies, the animated series, or the most obvious choice, Chris Nolan's re-interpretation of the character on which to draw inspiration from. Unfortunately, Lego Batman shuns all these potential jumping off points and sets out for territory all its own. The game stumbles right out of the gate. The story in Lego Batman is a generic three act affair that finds Batman and Robin fighting through "chapters" to stop The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler. Once that's done, the player reverses the flow, playing as the villains setting their plans in motion (and it should be noted, you never get to fight Batman). If nothing else, the game demonstrates that Traveller's Tales may be great at taking existing tales and adjusting them into speechless Lego-based comedy, they're not particularly good at crafting original stories.

Lego Batman

This lack of familiarity with the story robs the game of much of what made Star Wars and Indiana Jones appeal to both adults and kids. There's no moment in Lego Batman where the player sits up and says "ah, that's the classic Batman/Joker scene from comic X!" Instead, the game trots out a story that doesn't really capture the essence of any of the Batman interpretations we've seen over the decades. Batman in this game is the guy who got his name on the box, but he's the least interesting character to play because he has no personality.

In many ways, this feels more like a kid's game than any of the previous Lego titles. The humor is simplistic and there's really no story to follow—the game is content to set players off on a romp through various stages bashing Lego badguys and collecting a seemingly never-ending stream of bolts (to pay for all the unlockables back at the Batcave). There's only one small problem that derails this notion—and it's that Lego Batman is occasionally too hard for a young child to play.

Most of the difficulty springs not from challenge, but from design flaw. Platforming in the Lego games has always been their Achilles heel and this outing is no different. In fact, Lego Batman's platforming is actually worse than it was in the previous titles. An uncooperative camera and floaty jump mechanics make every jump a leap of faith. This problem would be bad enough on its own, but the game has numerous points where the key to advancing is to make a specific jump. If making that jump leads to death two or three times (because of the game's shortcomings), players tend to assume that the jump isn't the proper way to progress and then waste time looking for another path when they were right in the first place.

The rest of the game's challenge stems from the fact that Lego Batman rarely gives players a clue as to what they're supposed to do next. In running through the bland and lengthy levels, battling hordes of enemies and smashing countless "bolt piñatas" it's easy to miss some key puzzle component. This can lead to lots of time sitting in a room trying to figure out how to progress. It's even worse when an area requires a character to use a power to advance—the game rarely gives any clue as to what's required in order to advance. I'm totally against games holding my hand while I play, but the opposite end of the spectrum isn't any fun, either.

Lego Batman

In Lego Batman's defense, it still manages to be fun despite these problems. Batman's side of the missions isn't particularly enjoyable, but switching over to the villains and their missions was both funnier and more entertaining as a whole. There are some odd choices for the game's rogue's gallery (Killer Moth? The Mad Hatter?), but getting to be The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, and The Riddler makes up for it. There is, at least, more variety in the enemies to choose from in this title than there was in the past Lego games (where you got the same characters over and over—just in different outfits).

Lego Batman represents the first real misstep from developer Traveller's Tales in their moderately popular Lego franchise. The decision to craft an original (albeit generic) story for the game when there's such a rich mythology surrounding Batman to draw from is seriously puzzling. Because of that decision, the game fails to resonate with the older audiences who were so intrigued by seeing classic scenes from their youth recreated in Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones. As troubling as that is, it's not nearly as problematic as the game's technical shortcomings. By this point, Traveller's Tales has had ample time to address and correct the issues with platforming in these titles, but Lego Batman feels like a gigantic step backwards. It's hard to believe, but the platforming is actually worse in this game than it was in the previous entries. That being said, the game's not a complete wash. There are some (mildly) funny parts and the core gameplay mechanics of grabbing bolts, building things, and driving the occasional Bat Vehicle still works. There's fun to be had in Lego Batman, but you're going to have to work hard to find it. Rating: 5.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 17 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 0 hours of play in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains Cartoon Violence. Parents have more to fear from the game's tendency to frustrate players with vague objectives and terrible platforming mechanics than they do any of the title's narrative content.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You have nothing to fear because there's no dialogue in this game.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3   Nintendo DS   PSP   PC   PS2  
Developer(s): Traveller's Tales  
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive  
Series: Lego  
Genre(s): Adventure/Explore  
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Being a huge Batman The

Being a huge Batman The Animated Series fan I have to take umbrage with your WTF entry of The Mad Hatter. He is definitely not scraping the bottom of the barrel. In fact, I'd chose him over many of the more well known Batman villains such as The Riddler and Clayface. Sure, the casual Batman fan probably has no idea who he is, but just because the game inserts characters that are off the beaten road of popularity doesn't mean they are scraping the bottom of the barrel. It's more like bringing hidden gems to the gamer's awareness, providing the character is a good one.

But I'm just being a bit nitpicky and nostalgic here because as a kid The Mad Hatter was one of my favorite Batman villains.

I had this feeling that

I had this feeling that someone was going to be a Mad Hatter fan. :p

I've never liked the guy (although I've only had very limited experience with his character) and he seemed pretty low-rent to me. I'd have gladly traded him for more Joker, personally.

Sorry to offend. :)

Jumping Puzzles

I'm not surprised by the terribleness of the platforming this time around - I played the demo of this, and about halfway through the Joker level, I found myself on a roller=coaster track with a huge gap in front of me and no idea how to jump across it. I tried straight jumping six or seven times, and after falling to my death over and over again, I spend five minutes looking for another way around.

Then it turned out that no, I just hadn't been close enough to the edge in those seven attempts, and I managed to jump across.

When I came across another jump I couldn't make a minute later, I turned the thing off in disgust. This is supposed to be a game for kids?

Yeah, that Joker level at

Yeah, that Joker level at the circus or whatever it is was a prime example of the platforming issues. There was one other one where I was stuck for ages as Batman, but I can't remember which level it was on.

Lego games just getting worse

I picked up the Lego Star Wars Trilogy after it was deeply discounted ($9.99) in an after-Christmas sale. After playing it I was amazed that I felt like I didn't get my money's worth. How can this be considered a fun family title? I was always lost in a level, never quite sure where to go or what I was supposed to be doing. How is that fun?

The platforming wasn't much better, but I couldn't imagine it would get worse in future Traveller's Tales games. I understand that it is a kids title so some of the gameplay elements would be simplified, but they were just broken.

Do the incredible sales numbers from the Lego videogames suggest that people playing them don't care about any of these short comings? That has to be the case. We all know that when you are young and only get one or two games a year, you'll play through whatever you get, but what about the older gamers who are buying this game? Do they not see the problems? What about the critics and reviewers? Few have been calling the developer to the table for these issues thus giving them little impetus to fix anything.

Ditto everything you said,

Ditto everything you said, Dale. I played LSW and loved the cutscenes, didn't like the game. I also just finished Lego Indy with my son, and it was a total chore... the games are cute, but they're not really fun in any real sense. the jumping was atrocious and the general level progression is like stabbing yourself in the eye with a butter knife. they're very visually appealing, but not something i'd ever choose to play willingly.

A great game!

Reading & watching Batman comics since childhood, this game brings a new dimension to the whole Batman Experience and your review is honest.
Tnx

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