Review: LEGO Batman 2 (PS3)

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Lego Batman 2 is Traveller’s Tales’ sequel to 2008′s Lego Batman. This time, Traveller’s has opted for an open-world approach while maintaining the mission-oriented focus of the previous title. And it even features spoken dialogue. But while it does a number of new things for the franchise, it also arrives with a host of annoying bugs that drag the experience down.

The new game stars everyone’s favorite Dark Knight along with Robin, Boy Wonder, as Lego figures fighting the Joker and a massive host of DC’s greatest villains in Gotham City. Lex Luthor is also running for President and he’s not above using a few dirty tricks to get the vote in for himself. That’s where Batman and his friends, like Superman, come in, but will the Caped Crusader finally learn to swallow his pride and actually ask for help?

Traveller’s Tales has always had an uncanny knack for using humor and Lego Batman 2′s Saturday morning silliness punctuates every scene and action packed explosion of Lego blocks. Characters comically pose for the camera, villains chew up scenes with short snippets of character, and the story takes itself about as seriously as the Joker does. Yet it all comes together in an amusing, and family friendly, action adventure. This is something that anyone can get behind without worry whether they’re kids that love Legos or comic-book loving adults that love Batman.

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The funny stuff also extends out to Gotham City as its massive, Lego-molded statues grimace while holding up rusting pipes and titanic monuments overshadowing its Lego-filled streets, or as citizens cry for help while floating on a gushing fountain of water from a broken fire hydrant. Bad guys run around throwing giant Lego hammers at innocent citizens while thugs rush out to take their plastic fists and pies to Batman’s face.

Because it’s Lego, the game continues to take plenty of liberties with the license by working in amusing quirks as villains bursting apart into blocks, vehicles that look like Lego sets, and players assembling devices out of scattered parts to solve puzzles. Lego “studs” are the currency in this giant Lego set allowing the player to purchase villains they defeat in the free-roaming area of Gotham or add new vehicles for free-play through missions they’ve already completed.

A host of experienced voice actors which includes Clancy Brown (reprising his role as Lex Luthor from the animated DC series), Tara Strong, John DiMaggio, and Fred Tatasciore lending the series some much needed ear candy. Lego-speak has been retired, at least in this game, bringing each character even closer to the player by connecting with them with more than mumbled mimicry. Even without Mark Hamill as the Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime still tops the roster alongside Lex Luthor.

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Publisher Warner Bros. has also tapped into its vaults handing over Danny Elfman’s score and a host of inspired pieces to complete the audio cake. If you still think that his themes for 1989′s Batman give you goosebumps every time you re-watch the movie, then Telltale’s game will do the same thing every time you race the Batmobile down Gotham’s streets or have it out with the Joker’s thugs. Even John Williams’ iconic score for 1978′s Superman triggers every time you take to the skies as the Man of Steel. That alone might be reason enough to get the game for many fans.

It’s too bad, then that the gameplay doesn’t quite live up to its presentation thanks to a host of technical and mechanical issues, some of which make little to no sense.

Moving about and fighting foes in this third-person beat ‘em up is as easy as using the analog sticks and mashing on the square button to clobber bad guys with. Enemies will often fall apart with one punch, though bosses will and often do require quite a few more to take down especially when they try to make themselves harder to hit with a bag of deadly tricks. Climbing up buildings is as easy as pressing your character against a climbable section of Legos, and special suits that Robin and Batman can change into allow the player to solve a number of obstacles in their way.

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If there’s an electrical field nearby, Batman will need to suit up in an electrical suit which also allows him to charge special switches. Robin has an acrobatic suit allowing him to vault his way across danger, or turn into a plastic hamster ball and operate special puzzles instead. These suits and many others are often found before puzzle areas making it easy to swap in and out when needed, though the game does try to make things trickier by hiding a few of these behind other obstacles that need to be figured out first. But it will also go out of its way to try and avoid frustrating players by making these suits relatively easy to find.

The problem is that the gameplay also lends itself over to a lot of repetition. Combat is simple stuff – mash on the button until obstacles or bad guys crumble to pieces. Even most of the boss fights outside of the story follow the same patterns with the only differences being that General Zod doesn’t look like Two-Face.

The controls are also rough around the edges. Flying as Superman, for example, was equal parts joy and sheer terror. What I wouldn’t give to simply be able to levitate straight up as opposed to hovering slowly to where I needed to go. When I needed to simply land on a small rooftop or grab something hidden in a giant trumpet, trying to weedle his movement without sending him off in a rush of speed was like playing Operation blindfolded.

The game is also rife with technical issues that actually affect the game play. There’s plenty of hidden stuff in Gotham city ranging from Gold Bricks, Red Bricks, people that need rescuing, vehicles to buy, and villains to bash. But it’s hard to find these when the game doesn’t pop them into view when you’re passing by too fast for it to keep up. I saw this nearly every time with the special Bat-terminals that are all over the city providing Batman and friends easy access to a scanning function to find local goodies or to call up some quick transportation. A giant beam of colored light indicates where a terminal is, but I’d often get to the spot only to find…nothing.

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I’d pan the camera everywhere, walk away a few steps, pan the camera back, and voila! It would suddenly appear where it was supposed to. This also occasionally happened with people that I wanted to rescue meaning that I’d often run right past where they were because they simply didn’t pop in where the map said they should be.

Auto-saving also had a tendency to paralyze my hero. Picking up Gold Bricks, whether after I solved a puzzle or rescued someone from harm, always did this to me. In more than one instance, I’d rescue someone as Batman and then watch him become paralyzed while the game saved. That didn’t prevent thugs from beating him down, though. Though dying in Gotham didn’t have any penalties, and you often pop right back into the game right where you died, dying in any of the story missions does hit the number of studs you might have collected. But why does this happen in the first place?

One frustrating glitch was when a level failed to transition to the next area. It just didn’t. That also meant that I had to restart from the last checkpoint. And if you’re the type to smash everything in a level to collect Lego studs because you want to buy Harley Quinn’s monster truck, having to do that all over again dampened the fun that I had been having until that point. Fortunately, it only happened once, but all of these bugs and glitches gave the game something of a half-finished feel.

Finishing the game simply ends the story, but players can always explore Gotham and the missions that they’ve cleared with characters that they had unlocked. Despite having a huge roster of DC characters to work with, don’t expect the same kind of thrills that Marvel’s Ultimate Alliance games or X-Men Legends brought in back in the day with super teams. Most of the game is spent playing as Batman, Robin, and eventually, Superman. Everyone else is mostly reserved for post-game goody hunting which limits the appeal since none of them have any missions or “what-ifs” of their own making them useful for little else other than being added to your collection.

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The game does boast co-op so that your partner doesn’t always stand there to die as they will often do. The AI is smart enough to help trip dual triggers like double switches and buttons, but it won’t lift a finger to help you in a fight. The good news is that you won’t lose any studs when they die. Yet seeing them die often doesn’t help encourage me to see them as anything more than a convenient puzzle solving tool.

In the moments when the game comes together and the controls stop fighting you, I couldn’t help but grin my way through Lego Batman 2′s punchy action. Tearing down so many Legos can get pretty boring, but I still found myself enjoying it enough to continue collecting studs to buy up vehicles, unlock extra bonuses like an Invincibility setting, or deconstruct things with Lex Luthor after finishing the relatively short story mode.

Adding all of these to my virtual collector’s box turned out to be addictingly fun, right up to when the auto-save paralyzes Batman again for another dose of street justice. Fortunately, no one bothered to pick up his grimacing head to find out just who he really was.

LEGO Batman 2
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment / Traveller’s Tales
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Wii / Vita / 3DS / DS / Windows PC (reviewed for PS3)
Rated: E10+ for Everyone