Lego Batman: The Videogame
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Having run the gamut of opportunity chez Lucas, LEGO Howard the Duck not withstanding, Traveller's Tales have taken quite a risk with LEGO Batman. Half the charm of their Star Wars and Indy plastic re-renditions was their subversion of fanboy familiarity: randomly placing Stormtroopers in Jacuzzis where there should be an escape pod, or putting a C-3P0 helmet in Indy's mitt rather than a golden idol. While you played them you were always looking forward to the next major set piece, wondering how the LEGO treatment would rub off on scenes of Nazi-melting, ewok slaying or Greedo shooting (first).
So the day Warner Bros left the Batman franchise on TT's Cheshire doorstep there must have been many heads being scratched. The final decision (or instruction) was that LEGO Batman should not reference any specific firm, comic or TV show but draw from the collected consciousness of all of them -leading everyone into familiar territory, but never letting us see the guidebook.
At one level this has hurt LEGO Batman, there's a level of parody that simply isn't there anymore. Charming as Robin falling over is, wonderful as it is to see the Riddler's bouncing sneak-walk and amusing as Poison Ivy's deadly snog with LEGO guards might be - the comedy is gentle and rolling, moments of bat-hilarity are far thinner on the bat-ground.
Then again, not having to walk the fine line between rolling boulder and Mongolian bar fight has also proved a double-edged sword, freeing up the level design and allowing for some frankly ludicrous stuff to be made out of LEGO that wouldn't have fit into prior canons: Aliens-style lifters, giant Riddleroperated mechs, lumbering giant Venus fly traps, hovering sludge-hoovers... there's some great stuff in here.
The game's meat is a series of three separate episodes of vigilante crimefighting, replacing the usual three movies of the previous LEGO games. Each contains five levels with a particular bad guy as its theme and eventual boss, and gameplay is pretty much business as usual. Hoodlums need smashing into bits, street furniture needs smashing into bits, bouncing LEGO bricks needs turning into many and various intricate machines and many, many widgets need collecting (if you're that way inclined). As ever, there are two characters charging around causing affray amid the plastic criminality, so if you are proud possessor of a young one or a well-meaning spouse then you're only a hurled gamepad away (or a pair of cursor keys) from some heavily refined LEGO co-op.
The back end of said episodes is the Batcave, a hub that sadly isn't half as engaging as the Mos Eisley Cantina or Indiana's university. Then again, this a also links through to Arkham Asylum, m which where you'll discover that each W bout of crime fighting has an equal and opposite prequel of crime causing, positing you as the villains setting up the escapades you've undone as the Caped Crusader and Boy Blunder.
What with the superpowers of the DC villain menagerie extending far beyond the rule that women have a double jump, this is where the Batman license pays dividends. For a start, meatier characters can knock rival LEGO people miles, the Riddler acts like a puppeteer controlling characters in other rooms, and Mr Freeze can turn cops into ice cubes or freeze platforms V over tanks of chemicals. Having of Batman's foes makes for a lot more variety, while the design of the game means that they have levels built around their talents rather than acting as a tepid unlockable when you're hunting for extra widgets in Freeplay.
This is further complemented by the various suits that Batman and Robin find on their travels - which cover everything from gliding, to bomb dropping and brick hoovering.
A lot of the faults with previous LEGO games were overlooked due to the original and clever treatment of hallowed source material, and I as such things could have different abilities for each character is nothing new, but the superpowered nature become a little dicey with the Lucas-stabilisers removed - but aside from occasional lacks of signposting, the game has been noticeably tightened. Make no mistake, we're covering the same ground as before here (the next LEGO game really should go to new places, rather than refine the template even further) but if you're looking at this as a game for your kids it's the tightest, most charming and intricately designed treasure that I've come across in aeons.
Honestly, the vehicle sections where you're charging around Gotham in the Batmobile towing a truck on a cable or simply pootling around an ice cream factory in a forklift are a paramount joy.
One For Fans
If you're of an age where you're in possession of tufts of body hair in dangerous places then it's a slightly different story - the nuts and bolts of LEGO Batman make it a better game, of that there is no doubt, yet the scene-by-scene fan-pleasing nature of LEGO Lucas fills you with a sense of anticipation and recognition that's near impossible to recapture, unless you're replicating something like Predator in a LEGO Schwarzenegger game.
LEGO Batman further cements Travellers Tales' place as a jewel in the crown of UK games development - but to keep the grown-ups reeled in they need to concentrate on stuff where everyone knows the words.