Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reviewing Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

I like the Lego games. They definitely have their flaws - the cameraman is on crack so it can be impossible to properly judge jumps, the vehicle levels are confusing with terrible controls, and the story modes tend to be very short - but the gameplay and puzzle solving elements are often genuinely fun, and there really is nothing like running around as your favorite character in a particular franchise and smashing the scenery into its constituent lego pieces. I also greatly enjoy the humorous take on the various franchises Lego has handled. The games are generally full of insider humor and hidden cookies that make me giggle.

The Boyfriend and I recently got Lego Batman 2 in from GameFly, so of course we played through the entire story mode in a marathon day of gaming. Like I said, they are pretty short games (there were only 15 missions), so this wasn't that hard to do. Lego Batman 2 was a bit of a landmark in the Lego Video Game world because it was the first game with dialogue. Until now, Lego People didn't talk. The games largely relied on the players' familiarity with the franchises and visual cues to convey the story. This resulted in some really creative and funny visual storytelling, so I was trepidatious about this change. My conclusions? Talking Lego People are really creepy. The dialogue did give them more storytelling power, however. Lego Batman 2 is not based on a pre-existing storyline like Lego Star Wars or Lego Harry Potter, so the ability of characters to describe situations and talk about what was happening was pretty much necessary in order to have more than a superficial plot. I missed the subtlety of the visual humor and storytelling, but all in all it was an acceptable change that added more than was lost. The voice acting itself was great, especially with Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor.

The game itself was fairly typical of a Lego game. The story and dialogue were funny, the puzzle-solving and scenery-smashing was fun, you wanted to kill the cameraman for making you miss that jump five times in a row, and the vehicles were difficult and awkward to control. The vehicle story levels were actually greatly improved, but controlling the vehicles outside of the story mode was just awful. During free play, you have the option to roam around Gotham City - a giant sandbox-like environment, filled with hidden lego bricks and unlockable characters, that is completely free of loading screens. This was another new idea for Lego Batman 2, which was awesome in concept but lacking in execution...largely because it is impossible to navigate without wanting to tear your hair out. The vehicle controls are painful. Flying around as Superman is cool, at least until you try to land somewhere, and the cameraman has a tendency to zoom in on Superman's Lego Ass. That's just awkward.

Generally there is little motivation for thoroughly exploring a Lego game beyond extending gameplay or the aforementioned smashing up scenery with your favorite character. Unless you are obsessively completionist, there is really no reason to 'find all the things'. Lego Batman 2 tries to rectify that by making exploration mandatory for unlocking bonus characters rather than allowing you to simply purchase them with Lego bits. Not sure how I feel about this. Some characters are much harder to get than others, and exploring a Lego game can get very tedious. I like a game that rewards exploration, but I just don't feel like this is enough of a reward. Especially when you are basically forced to play as Batman or Robin while exploring Gotham. Sure, you can walk around as Wonder Woman or the Flash...but to do anything, you have to switch back to one of the main characters.

I was disappointed by the lack of DC Super Heroes in the story mode. Superman doesn't become a playable character until halfway through the game, and the rest of the Justice League doesn't show up until the end. Wonder Woman wasn't playable until the very last fight. Batgirl wasn't even available as an unlockable character. Huntress was, but she was kind of boring to play. It felt more like 'Lego Batman and Superman', with a few other characters tacked on at the end. The other Justice Leaguers were just repackaged power sets. Only Green Lantern had an actually usable, unique ability that the three main characters couldn't duplicate, and it was entirely plot-driven. This feels like such a wasted opportunity. It was a fun game, but it's hard not to compare it to what it could have been. Maybe someday in the future I will get a proper DC Lego game, where you are based out of the Watchtower and teleport to missions on Themyscira or Apokalips or Oa and get to play as several superheroes that actually feel useful. And with no vehicle levels. Seriously.

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