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LEGO Batman is fun but formulaic Add to ...

  • LEGO Batman
  • Reviewed on: Xbox 360
  • Also available for: PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable
  • The Good: Wide range of characters with some fun new powers; Tons of unlockables; Fun concept.
  • The Bad: Vaguer than usual story for a Lego game; Still contains the odd platforming glitch; Franchise has become more than a little formulaic.
  • The Verdict: Fun Lego franchise is settling into a comfortable pattern.

LEGO Batman, like LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Star Wars before it, takes a beloved franchise and recreates it with scenery built out of Lego bricks (much of it destructible) and populated with stumpy Lego-people versions of Gotham City's most famous denizens.

The concept is still as cute and clever as ever, but at this point in the series it can no longer be called novel. In fact, as enjoyable as LEGO Batman still is, it also seems like the first hints of staleness are creeping into the series.

Holy identity crisis, Batman!

"Batman" itself is a far more sprawling franchise with many different interpretations, from the classic comic book Batman to the campy Adam West TV Batman and the brooding Dark Knight featured in Burton and Nolan's big screen adaptations.

As such, where LEGO Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones had clear storylines because they were lifted straight from the films, LEGO Batman's narrative is more ambiguous because it appears to be drawing from all three sources.

Comic book fans will appreciate the inclusion of some less mainstream playable characters like Man-Bat, the Mad Hatter and Killer Croc in addition to better-known ones like Two-Face, Catwoman, the Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Nightwing, Batgirl and of course the big three: the Joker, the Penguin and the Riddler.

Much of the humour, including Robin's portrayal as the bumbling comic relief sidekick, seems to have been inspired by the campy TV show, and underscoring it all is Danny Elfman's dramatic soundtrack from Tim Burton's Batman film.

The plot, since it isn't being lifted verbatim from any particular movie (or any recognizable script or scenario for that matter), is more vague and hackneyed than previous Lego games. The short of it is that Gotham's criminals have escaped en masse from Arkham Asylum. In the first half of the game you'll play as Batman and Robin rounding the criminals back up, and in the second half of the game (and by far the most fun) you'll step into the shoes of the criminals to pull off daring heists.

Batarangs and buzzers

In each mission you'll control the primary character (Batman, and later the Riddler, the Joker and the Penguin) while a second one tags along as a sidekick (Robin, and later assorted criminals). Gameplay involves switching between the two on the fly to take advantage of their special abilities, and a second player can take control of the secondary player in co-op mode.

Co-op, by the way, is still an occasionally frustrating experience due to the inherent restrictions of having two independent players restricted to sharing the same screen. However, the experience is far less painful than LEGO Star Wars thanks to a camera that dynamically pans in and out depending on how far apart the two characters are (like the Smash Bros. series).

The Batman universe introduces some fun new gameplay ideas, such as Batman and Robin's long-range Batarang weapons; the Riddler's mind-control ability, which allows him to take control of other characters; Joker's shock buzzer; and the ability of "Super Strength" characters like Clayface and Mr. Freeze to haul around huge objects. The assortment of air, water and land vehicles are cool as always.

The biggest innovation is the ability of Batman and Robin to change into different suits at strategically located swap stations to gain special powers. Some of the suits gel with Batman lore, like Batman's winged suit for gliding longer distances, while others, like Robin's portable vacuum backpack that lets him suck up Lego bricks, are more gimmicky.

Why so serious?

LEGO Batman upholds the Lego series tradition of offering a crazy amount of unlockables and secrets to uncover, resulting in decent replay value and a fair amount of depth for those willing to delve into the game's every nook and cranny. However the fact that it's all been done before in exactly the same manner, several times in fact, means that some of the initial wonder at such a unique concept has diminished.

With such a riotously fun concept as its backbone, it's going to take a lot for the Lego franchise to get well and truly stale -- and make no mistake, LEGO Batman is a lot of fun. But the series has settled into a comfortable pattern, and it's reaching the point where it could do with a little shaking up.

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