Inevitably, discussions of LEGO video games always start out with a "Back in my day" type of sentiment, but after ten movie and comic book tie-in video games, that joke's starting to get a little old. LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes takes the blocky mechanic back to Gotham City, and injects a little extra into the mix - a whole bunch of DC Comics characters to play along with some shiny new gameplay features.
The most obvious thing that's different, this time around: The little yellow people can actually speak, rather than making the muffled sad trombone noises we've heard in previous titles. It's the first TT Games LEGO title to include voices, and while it's somewhat jarring at first, it really opens the game up to a whole lot of humour, character development and - indeed - a deeper plot line (can you imagine Lex trying to convince Joker to kill the Batman through a series of shrugs and grunts?).
The team's gone all-out on the voice acting, too. Two old-school DC series actors return - Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor (in a role he's played for over a decade), and Charlie Schlatter as Flash. Then there's Rob Paulsen (Pinky from Pinky and the Brain) as The Riddler, and not one but two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Townsend Coleman (Michaelangelo) as Commissioner Gordon, and Cam Clarke (Leonardo) as Green Lantern. (Before you ask, yes, Nolan North is there as well, playing Scarecrow).
But how did all these characters all converge on the scene? Let me give you a little backstory (for once, it's worth paying attention to): Bruce Wayne has narrowly beaten Lex Luthor in Gotham City's Man of the Year award. Unfortunately for him, a bunch of Batman's greatest enemies aren't so keen on the situation, so Harley Quinn, the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker and Two-Face converge on Gotham, looking to spoil the party. Turns out - as great as Batman is, there are still some things the Dark Knight can't quite handle by himself, so the distress call goes out to Superman... and when things don't get better in a hurry, the rest of the Justice League is brought in. We were concerned that the extra characters would feel tacked-on, that they would detract from the winning Batman formula, or that they'd bring the curse of the super-hero tie-in to the game.
Fortunately though, none of that happened, although Superman himself is a little flawed. As with most LEGO franchise games, there's a lot of focus on co-op and partnered play. Traditionally, Batman and Robin have well-paired skillsets, so even with special suits, neither is at a particular dis/advantage to the other. Not so when you get Superman involved - that guy can just fly straight through a level, picking things up from high places and racing towards the finish line. And that means that - by focussing on his character, you forget about poor Batman, stuck back at the start unable to progress because you haven't triggered the next part of his path. Still, as frustrating as that gets, I guess it does teach you to think of your friends.
That's not the only frustrating element of the game - DC Super Heroes really does push the acceptable difficulty level of a game that's promoted as being "for children".
...but we can ignore all of that, thanks to another brand new addition: DC Super Heroes would be a little cramped if it tried to squish all those extra characters into one teeny tiny map. So TT Games decided to make the map bigger. This is now the first open-world LEGO game (laying the groundwork nicely for LEGO City Undercover, as introduced at E3). You're able to check out virtually all of Gotham City, from Arkham Asylum, the GCPD, ACE Chemicals, the works. And everywhere's packed with red bricks and studs to collect, of course (as well as new characters and bosses to unlock and play). While you might finish the game in less than 12 hours, completists should expect to spend at least that long again, running around the map to find all the cool stuff. "Cool Stuff" including the 250 Golden Bricks that are dotted around the city - you'll be awarded a handful for completing objectives in story mode, but the rest are only accessible by certain characters in certain parts of the map. With 50 characters to play as, it should keep you busy.
With all the colourful, friendly graphics we've come to expect from the franchise, coupled with a stunning soundtrack (original pieces coupled with Danny Elfman's score from both Batman and Batman Returns, PLUS John Williams' score from Superman - which plays every time the Metropolis Marvel takes to the skies), LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is one of the best LEGO games we've seen - and one of the best Batman tie-ins, to boot.
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is out right now, for 3DS, Wii, PC, PS3, PS Vita and Xbox 360, so you can take your pick. Want to try before you buy? We've got a nifty new LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes demo for PC, which you can download and play right now!
I like video games and music and cups of tea and noodles and beagles and colour-cycling LEDs.
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