Pros: + Villain levels bring some variety + Tons of unlockable content + No particularly useless characters
Cons: – Poor camera – Atrocious vehicle segments – Friendly AI is awful – Multiplayer is offline-only – Bland graphics and sound – Monotonous, button-mashy combat
LEGO Star Wars and Indiana Jones were loving spoofs of their source material, remaining faithful while injecting them with child-like whimsy and slapstick humor. While simplistic in nature, their charm and silliness managed to make them enjoyable for even adults.
You’d think with a franchise like Batman, the source material would bring a lot of enjoyment to the package. Really, why wouldn’t a superhero be an awesome fit for the LEGO series? No, somehow, a superhero franchise is the worst of the bunch. The jokes fall flat, the main characters of the hero story are tragically boring to play and, once again, those abysmal vehicle levels make up about 20 percent of the gameplay.
It’s important to note that, while LEGO Batman is ostensibly a kids’ game, there are a lot of problems with it. Kids probably aren’t going to notice, but for those playing with their kids, you’d do well to keep them in mind before diving in. LEGO Batman is a tough game to recommend. A kid will look at the vehicle segments and not really care that they’re so poorly designed (though they may frustrate). But if you’re a seasoned gamer looking for a fun, family-friendly experience, it’s better to look elsewhere, as even the LEGO franchise has much better games to offer.
There’s not much point talking about the story. You’re Batman and Robin and you’re fighting LEGO versions of the Batman franchises villains. The villains are causing trouble, and, as the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder, you’d rather they didn’t.
So as to fit almost every last villain in (even some of the really stupid ones, like Killer Moth and Mad Hatter), LEGO Batman isn’t based on a specific movie or comic, though you’ll find little references to them throughout the game’s story mode. One of the endearing points of previous LEGO games was the way they poked fun at iconic moments in their respective franchises, often resulting in genuinely humorous moments. None of that ever really shines through in LEGO Batman. The majority of the game’s humor comes from bad puns in pre-level text backdrops and Robin being a clumsy nitwit in cutscenes.
The core concept of LEGO Batman is the same as the other games: get your adorable LEGO figurine from Point A to Point B by bashing your way through hordes of enemies and solving simple puzzles. You’re occasionally required to build vehicles or terrain with stray blocks to advance. Besides completion of levels in Story mode, you can go back in Free Play mode, which allows you to use any character or vehicle you’ve unlocked, and it’s in this mode that you’ll spend most of the game.
The combat is very straightforward. Perform throws and punches, or special abilities, with the B and X buttons, to defeat X amount of baddies before they deplete your hearts. Even the boss fights rarely amount to little more. Sometimes, you’ll need to perform a simple puzzle before you can get a couple shots in on the boss. Sometimes, you’ll just need to fight another wave of goons. No fights present a challenge, and even if you do die, the penalty for it is laughably negligible to the point that recklessness is rewarded more often than punished. It’s an uninteresting combat system that requires no skill and only reinforces tedium–the exact opposite of what combat is traditionally for.
None of the characters in the Hero story are very interesting at all, requiring you to swap between suit power-ups that have only one ability each, such as the ability to withstand heat or shatter glass. The only purpose these suits really serve is padding, and they generally amount to a procedure like this: Find an obstacle you can’t pass, find the suit that allows you to pass it, proceed, find another obstacle that requires a new suit, rinse, repeat.
The Villain story is a bit more interesting, as characters all come with abilities of their own (many of them have two or three), and there’s no tedious searching for suits you need to switch between before you can advance. It’s in the Villain levels that LEGO Batman is at its best, although that still isn’t saying much. You’ll still have to deal with boring, button-mashy combat and the suffocatingly stupid friendly AI, the only real purpose of which seems to be getting in your way at every turn.
When your AI “buddy” (used loosely, considering these guys often want to make your job as difficult as possible) isn’t sabotaging your jumps and being completely ineffectual in combat, it’s getting stuck on objects. And that’s in the best case. If you’re really unfortunate, sometimes the friendly AI will actually cause your companion character to deliberately backtrack and stand in the same spot as though they can’t pass an obstacle you’ve already cleared. If that happens, the fun begins: you’ll be forced to switch between characters and advance at a crawl to get to a point where you can advance.
If you want to avoid these troubles, be prepared to invite a friend over to play local cooperative multiplayer, because there is no online—there hasn’t been since LEGO Star Wars. Yes, they actually removed a feature. If not, you can always drop in with a second controller and play as both characters, as even this is preferable to dealing with the horrible AI partner.
The camera does nothing to help, especially annoying in a game with such bland visuals as LEGO Batman’s. In this respect, the game is almost reminiscent of Tomb Raider, in the way that you’ll sometimes run into a spot where you’re not sure if you can safely stand or advance. These moments are uncommon, but not so that they don’t begin to build up and wear away at your patience.
Worse than the camera, worse than the AI, worse than the monotony by far, are the vehicle segments. They weren’t good in LEGO Star Wars or Indiana Jones and time has not sweetened them. Worse still, they’ve somehow become markedly worse. Remember the parts where you were required to drag a bomb around with a tow cable and destroy obstacles? Well, they’re back. But now, some of them have challenges that require precision handling (something the LEGO franchise’s vehicle segments are not known for) and you’ll die for failing them. But again, dying in this game is a minor, momentary setback.
The aforementioned Free Play mode does nothing to sweeten the deal. It feels more like a chore than a game. You pick a character and are given a random handful of others. Usually, the arbitrary pick gives you all the characters you need to accomplish any given task in a Free Play level. But sometimes you’ll make it 90 percent of the way through a level to find that chance sided against you and excluded the one character you needed to find the last hidden item. You then need to redo the entire level from the start. One puzzle situated at the end of a later level forces you to redo the entire mission if you fail. No checkpoints, no backtracks; you go back to square one.
The visuals are bland. Flat. The HD versions on PS3 and 360 are indistinguishable from those on the Wii and PS2, heads-up displays aside. For a game that revolves entirely around LEGO figurines, that’s not a crime, but more could have been done to differentiate the look. Characters animate well enough, though, and you can usually tell what’s going on—except when the camera refuses to display the action.
Apart from the soundtrack (much of which seems to be taken from Batman: The Animated Series and the Burton films of the ’80s and early ’90s), the sound is forgettable at best. You’ll hear the little clicks and clacks of LEGO bricks, and punches and kicks landing on enemies have that goofy action movie “Pow!” sound. The voices are infrequently heard, and do their respective characters justice well enough, though some of the giggling from characters like The Joker and Harley Quinn can be a bit grating (tons of fun in the levels where you play as both!).
LEGO Batman is not a good game. It’s not a good Batman game, it’s not a good LEGO game, and it’s just not a good game. The few positive points it has are far outshone by its myriad problems. The wealth of unlockables are made moot by dull, repetitive gameplay. Its occasional enjoyable levels are overshadowed by downright awful vehicle segments and horrendous friendly AI. It’s hard to recommend LEGO Batman—even to play with your kids—when preceding and successive LEGO games did it more effectively with fewer snags.