First it was Star Wars, then Indiana Jones. Now it's Batman, the caped crusader himself, who's been given the Traveller's Tales LEGO treatment. Great! Who doesn't like Batman these days, or the idea of running around a LEGO-fied Gotham City as a cute LEGO Batman, and LEGO Joker, and LEGO everyone else from the vast DC Universe? This can't possibly be anything other than awesomeness on an epic scale.
TT's LEGO titles have always scored well here on VideoGamer.com. From the very first LEGO Star Wars game, through to LEGO Indiana Jones, via LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy and LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, each title has provided innocent but fun cooperative (for LEGO Batman with the computer or a friend on the same console only - no online co-op) combat, platforming and puzzle solving fun for all the family.
And so, TT has clearly taken an 'if it 'aint broke then don't fix it' approach to the game's design. LEGO Batman follows the tried and trusted TT LEGO formula religiously. It's got tons of cute, LEGO-fied Batman universe characters to play as in 30+ levels, thousands of bits and bobs to collect and unlock and loads of easy as pie but cool to solve puzzles, just like all of the other LEGO games. If you've played the Star Wars LEGO games, or the Indiana Jones LEGO game, and enjoyed them, you're guaranteed to enjoy this. But this time there's a crucial difference.
One of the best things, perhaps even the best thing, about the LEGO games is watching the cut scenes. In previous games they've directly followed the story of the films they're licensed from, but with a LEGO twist. These cut scenes have been key to the series' charm, and appeal to more adult gamers who are first and foremost fans of Star Wars or Indiana Jones. There's something oddly compelling about watching the boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark in bright LEGO-vision, or seeing a LEGO Darth Vader step off of his shuttle and onto the Death Star for the first time. That TT has added in its own family-friendly humour to these cut scenes only made them better.
Because LEGO Batman isn't based on a movie, or a series of movies (the recent Dark Knight films are obviously too, er, dark for a LEGO game) TT has had to conjure up its own story and cut scenes to fill in the gaps. Somewhat inevitably then, the effect is that we have less interest in the cut scenes, and less interest in the story overall - perhaps tellingly, the plot is a wafer thin affair where all the well-known criminals break out of Arkham Asylum and it's up to Batman and Robin to stop them from realising their dastardly plans.
TT has spoken of the benefits of being free from the shackles of a specific film license, but it appears the move has had a somewhat negative effect. We're not criticising TT directly for this - it seems like an inherent problem given the situation. But it's one worth noting.
Apart from that, there's little to disappoint. While the Gotham City environments do look a bit samey after a while, it's unquestionably the best looking LEGO game yet. Just as in the other games the camera can cause problems when it comes to precision platforming - expect to die a lot from falling off of platforms. Batman's Batarang, which requires locking on to enemies with an on-screen targeting reticule, is fiddlier to use than it needs to be, too. And the combat is ridiculously simple - just mash punch for the most part, and use the character's specific special ability when needed. But on the whole it's a solid effort that will satisfy the vast majority of fans.
If you're a Batman fan first and foremost, you'll be particularly interested in what characters feature in the game. Here any Dark Knight enthusiast is sure not to be disappointed. There's Batman and side kick Robin, of course, who you'll be using throughout the three-chapter (each with five missions) Hero campaign, but we're most interested in the villains, of which there are absolutely tons.
The Villain campaign, like the Hero campaign, is divided into three chapters, each one with five missions focussing on the exploits of a particular super villain - Penguin, Dr. Freeze and Joker. Because there are many more villains than heroes in the game, playing through the Villain campaign will provide a much more varied, and enjoyable experience.
As always, the main motivation is unlocking cool stuff. For Batman and Robin you'll primarily be concerned with discovering the various suits they can change into that grant special powers. Batman, for example, has access to a demolition suit which allows him to set charges, as well as a suit that allows him to glide with wings, to name only two. Robin's got some nifty suits, too, including a Scuba suit that allows him to dive underwater (in a first for the series characters can now swim) and a magnet suit that allows his feet to stick to metal. Most of the better puzzles in the game require you to combine Batman and Robin's suit powers to progress.
The villains are different in that they don't have different suits to unlock and therefore only have access to one particular special ability. Penguin can pull exploding penguins from his hat, and the super strong, but incredibly dumb Bane (our favourite) is immune to toxins and can lift incredibly heavy objects - Bane chucking buses about is hilariously bonkers. But you won't get bored playing through the villain chapters, despite the lack of suits, since there's so many to use.
That the game feels overly familiar is undoubtedly a good thing. Some, more hardcore gamers, might feel after playing the game that TT's magic LEGO formula might be wearing thin since the core gameplay is almost exactly the same (bar the odd vehicle-based mission). For all intents and purposes TT has wrapped a Caped Crusader skin around its all purpose LEGO engine. It's lost some of that LEGO magic by virtue of it not being based on a film, but we still reckon it's a great purchase if you like Batman and fancy some relaxed gaming with a mate (as always, it's better played with friends). And as a game adults can get something out of at the same time as younger gamers, it's perfect.