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Smash smash smash, reassemble, smash smash.
That’s any LEGO game, in a nutshell.
There was a time when I really enjoyed the LEGO games because they brought something new to the table. They were a quirky new take on regular adventure platforming titles, rocking an isometric view and a world that is beautifully recreated using only LEGO blocks. Or digital renditions of such, anyway.
Accompanying these digital renditions were little mutterings of gibberish that would do a Sims character proud, and music practically ripped straight out of whatever the LEGO game was based on. It was a good formula, and it worked well. But it’s a formula that has been changed up a bit, here.
With LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, from here on in simply LEGO Batman 2, we have a LEGO game that is set in the fictional world of Gotham City, of DC Comics fame. As is expected of a game based in the DC Comics universe, you have an entire array of DC Comics characters along for the ride. Not just limited to characters featuring in Batman, here you get the entire Justice League as well as popular villains from other series, such as General Zod, Brainiac and the ever-cheery Sinestro.
The story centres mostly around Batman and his trusty sidekick Robin, together with some help from Superman, as they attempt to stop popular (and obvious) villains The Joker and Lex Luthor, who have teamed up to create a machine of death. Luthor, having broken The Joker out of Arkham early on in the game (as well as various other villains in the process), wields a Kryptonite-powered ray gun which disassembles objects, kind of like that annoying elder sibling you had growing up, who would always rip up your LEGO creations because they were ‘wrong’ and ‘incorrectly done’. Pfft…
In itself, the story is nothing special, but it really comes to the show in presenting a different style of LEGO game that attempts to genuinely do its own thing, unlike LEGO Harry Potter, LEGO Star Wars and other LEGO titles which were more faithful to their canon. Furthermore, whereas characters in the previous games produced just incoherent mumblings, this game has actual recorded dialogue, coming out of the mouths of LEGO characters. The result is a very quirky, well-presented story that shows a Batman who is actually good for comedic effect and a Superman who is every bit as full of himself as the comics inadvertently portray him to be. I still think back on all the shifty looks Batman would give to Robin in the game, and laugh about it.
Like every LEGO game, once a level is completed Free Play mode is opened up, allowing the player to revisit that level with any unlocked character and play through it again, to find various hidden collectibles only reachable in Free Play, as well as collect more LEGO blocks, as is the purpose of any LEGO title, with which I’m hoping everyone is familiar now. If not, basically the LEGO games work in this manner: You smash everything you can, find something to reassemble, do so, then keep smashing, as the more you smash, the more bricks you collect and the more in-game currency you have, for unlocking characters and such.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t particularly enjoy the story that much. I enjoyed the cutscenes because they gave me many laughs as Batman facepalmed at Robin or Superman showed up, declaring how amazing he is at everything, but during actual gameplay segments I felt that I was being restricted too much. Further, every few levels you were presented with an on-rails vehicle segment that I just could not appreciate. Thankfully it didn’t last that long and once it was done, the game really opened up.
See, in LEGO Batman 2, once you’re done with the story, you still have the entirety of Gotham City to explore. This is where the game really kicks into gear, allowing you full open world exploration with whatever characters you have unlocked thus far, with yet more characters to unlock throughout the city. This is done either by finding and fighting villains, who will surrender and allow you to purchase them, or collecting gold bricks which allow you to find and purchase heroes. There are also red bricks, which enable various cheats, as well as civilians for you to save, and mini-kits which allow you to build and use various vehicles. Some of these are scattered throughout story levels as well, reachable only by a particular unlocked character.
Like the other LEGO games then, that’s where the majority of your play time will go, as you attempt to collect ALL the things, starting from one side of Gotham City and doing a sweep. Unfortunately, this made for more of a frustration for me, because of the following cyclic redundancy: “I need more LEGO bricks to unlock more characters but I need more characters to unlock more LEGO bricks but” [loops]. Many times, you will find yourself just running around Gotham attempting to collect what you can, playing a Free Play mission just to get more bricks, then unlocking a single character and repeating because unless you were smart about it and unlocked particular red bricks which allowed certain multipliers, there is no way you’re going to have enough to unlock a lot of characters at once. And this really makes it more of a schlep and a grind than anything actually fun.
This problem actually permeates a much larger one which is simply this: This game cannot decide what exactly it is.
If you look at it in its most basic form, most of what you do is smash objects and collect LEGO bricks in order to unlock things or progress through the story, but that sort of mindless action (which at times bored me half to death) contrasts directly with some of the more difficult puzzles where nothing is told to you and without a map you have no way of knowing where your objective or next point of progression is. Granted, the levels are linear but even then you will reach some point where you will sit and stare at the screen in an attempt to figure out where to go next because nobody told you that the dark, secluded spot in that one area can be destroyed if you do fifty other things first.
Adding to that frustration, the whole saga about unlocking characters making you permanently broke if you weren’t smart about how you went about unlocking things from the get-go. Not to mention that some characters are just too overpowered (Superman, Wonder Woman and so on) where you can take all the damage in the world with them, whereas other characters go down in a single hit, making you prefer particular characters over others all throughout.
LEGO Batman 2 just cannot decide whether it wants to be arcade-y mindless action or a frustrating puzzle game which forces you to think and rewards you justly thereafter. It says a lot of the game when I had the most fun watching the cutscenes and that was my only motivation for playing through the story. That and Free Play, of course.
For a LEGO game, LEGO Batman 2 is actually quite gorgeous to behold, with Gotham City looking every bit as amazing and wondrous a sight as the Gotham we know from the comics. If you’ve played Arkham City, then you will instantly recognise such areas as Gotham City PD, Amusement Mile and ACE Chemicals. It might all be in LEGO but it still looks every bit as amazing.
Added to that is the sound, which has always been a high point of the LEGO series. What I particularly enjoyed was being able to fly around Gotham as Superman while his theme song played in the background. If ever there was something as epic as that, in a game. Switching to Batman switches up the audio again, and the same for certain other characters, quite interestingly including Green Lantern. The audio adapts to your character and your situation and that is a splendid job on the part of the developers, as it really serves to compliment the experience.
In all, LEGO Batman 2 is still a great game and one of the better LEGO titles around, and any fan of DC Comics will appreciate the subject matter and the way each character is treated. But if you’re going to play this, then you had better prepare yourself for a few frustrations along the way. Or you know, cop out and use a guide.