Thursday, March 14, 2013

Protect Gotham City from Evil Minifigs in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes



In my opinion, Traveller's Tales' Lego video games are works of evil addictive genius. Unlike other licensed video games, Lego video games combine the logic of game play, toy play and toy collection into a single interactive experience. Since the first Lego Star Wars game was released back in 2005, each subsequent Lego game has added new features to this format but the original combination remains intact. In a Lego video game, players control characters to guide them through game-like scenarios, interact with objects and environments as if they were brick-assembled toys, and acquire new characters and vehicles to complete a virtual, in-game toy collection. These games also feature a two-player cooperative option, so you and a friend can play with the toys each game has to offer.

One of the latest Lego games is Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, which was released in 2012 for each of the major consoles. Lego Batman 2 is not only a sequel to the previous Lego Batman game; it also takes everything that's great about Lego video games and makes them even better, resulting in a title that's great for both video gamers and superhero fans alike. Read on for my complete review.

Lego Batman 2 finds Batman and Robin investigating a mass breakout of super villains from Gotham City's Arkham Asylum, a breakout that happens just after they foil one of the Joker's latest schemes. The Dynamic Duo's search for clues leads them to the real culprit behind the prison break: Lex Luthor, who plans to use Joker and his laughing gas to help his presidential campaign win the upcoming election. Realizing that they might need more help than usual in defeating this sinister partnership, Batman and Robin call on Superman to aid them in their fight to stop Luthor, capture the Joker and save Gotham City.


The title Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is not entirely accurate; most of the game's main campaign plays like a World's Finest team up between Batman and Superman, with other DC heroes appearing in the campaign's epic final chapters. Nevertheless, Lego Batman 2 provides all sorts of DC-inspired fun. This marks the first time that characters in a Lego game actually speak instead of communicating with each other in grunts, gibberish and gestures; as such, Clancy Brown reprises his popular voice role as Lex Luthor for the game. The game's levels are challenging and well designed, and its original story is consistently entertaining and witty. The script mines plenty of humor out of Batman's chronic refusal to ask for help when he needs it, as well as his annoyance at Superman's inexhaustibly sunny attitude. There's even a playful jab at Arkham City, a recent non-Lego Batman video game.

The main campaign is only part of the game's appeal; the rest belongs to its representation of Gotham City. In previous Lego games, missions were connected to each other through "hub worlds", environments where players could select new characters, access new levels or access previously completed levels in free play mode. The hub worlds became progressively bigger with each successive Lego game, but the hub world of Gotham City dwarfs all of its predecessors. It's an enormous open environment, spreading across three islands that are connected by bridges, waterways and metro systems. The architectural design of the game's Gotham is pulled straight from Tim Burton's Batman movies (albeit with some Lego-specific changes), and the city is brimming with many locations to visit, villains to defeat, citizens to save, and collectibles to find and purchase using the Lego studs you accumulate during the game.

For me, the main campaign was a fun gaming experience, but it was the open world of Gotham that turned Lego Batman 2 into an obsessive-compulsive fixation. Being a child of the 80s, having the chance to get my own collection of DC hero and villain minifigs gave me flashbacks to Kenner's Super Powers action figure line from that same decade so I found myself planning in between game sessions how I was going to amass this collection as quickly as possible. (Fun trivia fact: Both the Super Powers line and the minifig collection in Lego Batman 2 include Cyborg, a superhero who is frequently associated with the Teen Titans, as a collectible character.)


Even if you aren't as collection-obsessive as I am, virtual Gotham City is still fun to experience. You can drive through it using the selection of vehicles provided, sail around it, or fly over it either in a plane, helicopter, or as a flight-capable character. The cityscape is quite breathtaking to behold, even for something that was built to the scale of Lego minifigs.

You will unlock half of the superhero characters during the main campaign: first Batman and Robin, later Superman, and then finally Cyborg, Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. The rest of the heroes and villains are only unlockable after you purchase them with Lego studs. The exact number of heroes and villains you can collect varies, depending on which console you have (I was playing the Wii version of this game). To get the most fun out of the heroes and villains minifig collection, I made sure to get as many of them as I could before going back to the main campaign in free play mode. After all, what's the point of collecting so many figures if you can't play with them to see what they can do?

Of course, Lego Batman 2 does have some peculiar quirks. Flying takes some effort to master, particularly when you have to navigate a flying character into a small, tight location. A few of the hero and villain minifigs are vastly under-powered in comparison to their comic book counterparts. For example, the Green Lantern minifig can only use his power ring to fly and assemble of green brick structures--that's it. Sinestro does even less than that, since there are no yellow brick structures for him to assemble with his power ring.


The selective reduction of powers is probably due to the Lego video game format's inability to translate certain characters' abilities into something the players can control. If that is the case, I would have preferred if Traveller's Tales selected different DC hero and villain characters that would work better with what the game's programmers could accomplish. Regardless, the game's problems are insignificant in comparison to everything else it does so well.

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is the best Lego video game to date, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys Legos, superheroes, and video games. There's also a feature-length straight-to-video Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite that's scheduled for release in May and is based on the game's plot and cut scenes. Check out the preview clip below.






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