Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Play with the DC Universe in Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham




None of the recent hype for Batman vs. Superman made me want to go to the movie theater, but it did convince me to finally pick up a copy of TT Games' Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham video game for the Wii U. What can I say? I was in the mood for some superhero fun, and Lego Batman 3 is vastly more fun than the irritable, bloated and grumpy BvS.

As the number in the title suggests, Lego Batman 3 follows two previous games in the series. The first game was strictly a stand-alone Lego Batman game, and the second game introduced Lego Superman during the game and the rest of the Lego Justice League in its conclusion. This third entry begins with Batman and the Justice League, and the game expands from there to all sorts of characters and locations within the DC universe. So how does the third entry fare as a video game? In a nutshell, Lego Batman 3 has both too much--and not enough--Batman. Read on for my complete review.

If you've been following Lego superhero games like I have, you'll notice that they've evolved into fantastic examples of how to build a game around an entire superhero universe. Lego Batman 2 experimented with this idea, but it really came into its own in the Lego Marvel Super Heroes game. In that game, players could unlock a wide selection of playable Marvel characters and explore open-world environments that were based on popular locations within the Marvel universe. With Lego Batman 3 coming out after Lego Marvel Super Heroes, one would logically expect TT Games to up the ante yet again, with possibly a larger roster of unlockable characters and even more open world environments. Lego Batman 3 delivers on that expectation ... but not as much as one would expect.

Lego Batman 2 featured an open world Gotham City, which was divided into three huge sections that were fun to explore. Lego Batman 3 features many smaller explorable locations, which include the Batcave, the Hall of Justice, the Legion of Doom, the Watchtower space station, the moon, and the home planet for each of the Lantern Corps (e.g., the Green Lanterns, the Red Lanterns, etc.). Each of the environments are connected to each other via a series of slideways teleporter tubes (DC fans will know what these are), so players can freely visit the environments to play quest missions that are specific to them. There's enough extra content in each of the locations to keep players busy long after the main campaign is over. Curiously, even though Superman's Fortress of Solitude is the location of one of the mission levels, it is not an explorable environment of its own.




As for the plot, it's a story right out of the Silver Age of DC comics: Brainiac kidnaps members from each of the Lantern Corps to power a weapon to shrink the Earth, and the Justice League has to stop him. As with other Lego video games, the game play mostly involves breaking apart and assembling brick-based objects and the story is loaded with goofy humor and in-jokes. (There's even a playful jab at BvS, even though this game was released almost two years before BvS.) The super strength of this game lies in its countless nods to DC's long history in comics, cartoons, TV shows and movies, enough to keep DC fans engrossed for hours. If there's another game out there with this amount DC characters, locations and trivia in it, I can't think of it (maybe Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure).

Of course, I think there's an issue with Batman himself in this game. When I said that there's "too much" of him, it's largely due to his wardrobe of extra suits that allow him to do just about anything, including the ability to fly and use heat vision. Batman had extra suits in his previous two Lego games but for this third game that involves so much of the DC universe, they feel completely unnecessary. After all, why have a scuba suit Batman when players have Aquaman and Black Manta at their disposal? If the special Bat-suits had been kept out of the game, it would have allowed the main campaign to directly engage a bigger roster of DC characters (e.g., Black Canary, Dr. Fate, Firestorm, etc.) instead of just inserting them as unlockable characters that can only be used in free play missions. Furthermore, the explorable Batcave in this game is enormous and includes many of the same features as the Watchtower, while the Hall of Justice barely features anything and looks like a wing of an indoor shopping mall. What gives?




On the other hand, when I said that there's "not enough" Batman, I was referring to this game's best feature--tributes to the 1966 live-action Batman TV series which starred Adam West as the Caped Crusader. West provides his voice for three characters: himself, the '66 version of Batman, and the Gray Ghost. During the game, players have to rescue Adam West from various predicaments to earn extra gold bricks. After players finish the main campaign, it unlocks an extra level that is completely devoted to the '66 Batman show; after they finish that level, it unlocks playable '66 versions of Batman, Robin and Batgirl.


Go West, young man!


When players use the '66 characters, the Bif! Bang! Pow! graphics and sound effects for which the '66 show is known appear whenever those characters punch something. The '66 Batman character also has his own special abilities: his stealth mode is hilarious, and his Bat-bomb is an amusing nod to the '66 Batman movie. The '66 tributes make up a small part of the game and I wish there were more of them, because you can't have enough Adam West. Regardless, this is the closest thing we'll ever get to a '66 Batman video game, so I'll take it.

Some gamers have complained recently that the Lego video games are too much alike in their game play to justify buying more of them. The way I see it, a player's enjoyment of a Lego video game is directly proportional to the player's interest in the license that's being used in the game. If the player is an avid Star Wars fan, then she would probably enjoy the Lego Star Wars games; if she has little to no interest in Harry Potter, should would probably not enjoy the Lego Harry Potter games*. With this in mind, DC fans of all ages will really enjoy Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. It's so full of DC goodness that only the most jaded fans will be able to resist its super-powered charms.


*The only exception to this rule is Lego City Undercover, which absolutely must be played by anyone and everyone who considers him/herself to be a gamer .




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