“Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well. You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on… none of you are safe.”
-Batman, Year One
So The Lego Batman Movie is out and it’s hilarious. Before they get around to making a video game based on the movie based on the toy based on the comic book character, let’s have a look at the Caped Crusader’s plastic origins with Lego Batman: The Videogame, which was the first combination of two merchandising giants.
DC’s Batman is one of the most enduring characters in modern American fiction and undoubtedly the most popular superhero of all time. Lego bricks are no less iconic than Batman, having become firmly rooted in culture consciousness, making the brand one of the best selling children’s toy brands ever. Put the two together, Batman and Lego, and you’ve got a merchandising giant, culminating in the recent theatrical film release.
In light of what this little game launched, it looks somewhat primitive coming back to it after all this time. 2008 wasn’t that long ago, but Traveller’s Tales’ Lego Batman game doesn’t do much to deviate from the Lego video game structure founded by the Lego Star Wars games. But that’s what is great about it.
You always know what you’re getting with the Lego video games. They really aren’t much different from each other beyond the various film or character franchises they adapt. Lego Star Wars and Lego Batman play pretty similarly, though of course the latter transports us to Gotham City rather than a galaxy far, far away. With two more video game sequels to come, the Lego Batman video game series made some strides to innovate, but it’s pretty basic here with the first game.
Before the husky quipping of Will Arnett’s Lego Batman, there was this little story told without dialogue. Though the later Lego Batman games would use voice actors, this one has all of its characters grunting and growling their approval or disapproval. It adds an extra layer of humor and turns the whole thing into an energetic charade performance. There’s no depth of character that needs to be portrayed (this isn’t Nolan’s The Dark Knight), so the quirky, silly characters are just fine in their quirky, silly world.
Something should be said, momentarily, about the fact that this is a kiddie game. To those out there who say that something can’t be entertaining unless it’s grim and bloody, “adult”, I’d say this: get off your high horse. Seriously. It’s perfectly within your human rights to enjoy what you want to enjoy but to say that a piece of entertainment is good or is not good based solely on how “adult” it is is ludicrous. Lego Batman is childish, accessible, multiplayer fun. If you can’t play it as an adult and have a little fun, I wonder if you’ve even got the capacity to laugh at yourself now and then? Don’t be too proud to play a kiddie game, provided it’s actually a good one.
Anyhow, Lego Batman begins with the rogues gallery of Gotham busting out of Arkham Asylum, like they always do. Nevermind that criminals like Penguin and Bane probably would’ve gone to Blackgate rather than Arkham. This first entry in the Lego Batman trilogy is the least accurate to its source material, let’s just get that out of the way.
The Joker, Bane, Poison Ivy, Two-Face, the Mad Hatter, Clayface, Killer Moth, the Riddler, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Man-Bat, Killer Croc, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Scarecrow make their way into the city and immediately stage a massive crime wave. Only one man and his more appropriately-aged sidekick can put a stop to this madness: Batman and Robin.
There are thirty levels in Lego Batman divided into chapters with five levels per chapter. Each chapter has a mastermind: the Riddler plans to rob the Gotham City Gold Reserves, the Penguin is out to usurp authority in Gotham using his penguin automata, and the Joker plots to detonate bombs in the city and unleash his laughing gas over the populace. Each of the masterminds has several other villains in their employ.
After completing a chapter as Batman and Robin, the corresponding villains chapter unlocks, allowing you to play the same levels but from the perspective of the villains. Hero mode shows how the Dynamic Duo catches the baddies but villain mode demonstrates how the reprobates go about executing their plans.
After completing each level, free play mode and new playable characters are unlocked, allowing you to go back through the level to plumb for secrets. You won’t be able to find them all in the story mode so returning with new characters is essential.
Collecting new characters is one of the principal joys in these Lego video games. It’s quite the delight to see some of the most obscure members of pop culture given the Lego mini-figure treatment. Individual characters also have unique and helpful abilities to navigate through levels. For example, Batman and Robin can use grappling hooks and batarangs, but the Joker can power electrical devices with his joke hand-buzzer, Killer Croc can walk underwater, and the Riddler can use mind-control techniques, to name a few.
Melee fighting, smashing and constructing objects out of Legos, collecting Lego studs as currency to unlock more characters and vehicles, returning to the Batcave or Arkham hubs between stages, it’s all very basic stuff. Those looking for a more involved gameplay experience ought to look elsewhere, but for immediate, accessible fun with an emphasis on action, puzzle-solving, collecting, and exploration, Lego Batman and others like it by Traveller’s Tales could be your go-to.
The 8-bit Review
Of course we can’t really expect a game about plastic mini-figurines to feature the most cutting-edge graphics, and that turns out to be the case with Lego Batman. The characters look exactly like Lego figures but it is surprising how much emotion and personality they can convey through their faces and movements. The graphics are less smooth than in later games, edges of objects appearing sharper and more jagged. Compare it to your average 2008 game on PlayStation 3 (the platform I played it on) and Lego Batman looks primitive.
I don’t mind poor graphics, and this was really a PS2 game first, but one of the aesthetics I didn’t care for was how realistic they made the city backgrounds look. That jars with the Lego pieces lying around, which look like they don’t belong. I can’t imagine that they could’ve made everything, even the backgrounds, out of Lego pieces but the end result is strange to the eye, nonetheless.
Even though Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins was out in ’05, Lego Batman chooses Danny Elfman’s iconic score instead of Hans Zimmer’s for the soundtrack of this game. As good as the Dark Knight trilogy was, this is still the music I most identify with Batman, probably in large part because of the animated series.
As good as Elman’s score is, though, Lego Batman doesn’t have much musical range because of it. The soundtrack as it plays throughout the game is just a mish-mash. The moody, brooding score quickly grows tedious because it is all you’ll hear throughout the game. At least it was incredible music to start with, so there’s that at least!
Also, it should be said that while there is no voice acted dialogue, the grunts and growls are from real actors. Steve Blum provided the gravelly tones of this Lego Batman. That man’s a treasure.
With thirty levels full of secrets and studs to collect, there’s plenty to be done. Some of the levels even allow you to helm the Batmobile, Batboat, or Batwing, or the villainous equivalent, which helps to mix up the pace of the game. However, in each level there are 10 minikits and a red brick to uncover.
The minikits build a little trophy and are worth cash, and the red bricks unlock secret features like stud-multipliers and invincibility. Of these really the multipliers are the most useful. Collecting enough studs to purchase and unlock everything would be pretty time consuming otherwise, and the game itself is easy enough without invincibility. That’s because when your character dies, you only lose a little money, you don’t actually get a game over. With no game overs, it’s simply a matter of perseverance to clear each level and find everything.
In the hubs of the Batcave and the Asylum, there’s also a little kiosk where you can create your own customizable character. There aren’t a huge number of options, so you veteran DC fans can’t exactly create your own Polka-Dot Man, Gentleman Ghost, Darkseid, or some other character who isn’t already in the game.
Batman and Robin both have unique utility suits they can switch up during stages. These give them unique abilities such as magnet shoes or remote control devices to solve puzzles. The villains have their own equivalents, such as Man-Bat being able to shriek out a sonar to shatter glass similar to Batman’s sonar suit.
There are boss fights and groups of thugs to plow through but the most difficulty in each level is going to be the puzzles. Many of these are fairly obvious but on occasion there are puzzles which require a combination of abilities and a capacity to apply what you’ve already learned in a new way. Put those detective skills to the test. Nothing in the extreme, though.
Imagine if they threw down some serious ethics and philosophy that Batman normally has to deal with. Like should you throw this switch and divert a train to kill the Joker intentionally or through inaction let the train continue on its way and possibly kill any number of individuals stuck on the track ahead? It’s hard being the Dark Knight.
The best part of the gameplay is the couch co-op. It’s rare to find many games these days with simultaneous multiplayer but having someone alongside with you helping to collect items and solve puzzles is great. Out of the Lego Batman games, this one does a pretty good job of maintaining visibility for both players at once. There’s no dynamic split screen or anything so it’s simply a matter of staying in the same general area. Yeah, that can be tough when two players really want to go off exploring but split screen has its own issues.
Quick messages by Alfred appear on-screen during some stages where you’re confronted with a new ability and application for the first time. It’s fluid and that’s it for tutorializing so there isn’t a need to sit through walls of text or consult a manual, if anyone does that anymore. Simple control schemes keep games simple and Lego Batman is a good example of that with only a small assortment of buttons and inputs you’ll have to use the entire game.
The only thing keeping Lego Batman from a perfect score for accessibility is the odd puzzle now and then which seems counter-intuitive. Most puzzles are simple enough to figure out but it’s when the game requires you to use an ability in some off the wall way that you can feel somewhat cheated. That’s what trial and error and exploration is for.
There’s a lot of replay value in these games with thirty story mode levels and then free play mode on top of that. However, once every puzzle is solved and every character, vehicle, and brick collected there’s really no reason to come back to the game ever again except out of nostalgia or to play it through with a new friend.
There isn’t much difference between Lego Batman and the Lego Star Wars games which preceded it. These are all highly formulaic games. There’s a hub, you access your levels, you unlock free play mode, characters, minikits, bricks, collect studs, and so on. The pleasure comes from this unique take on your favorite franchise, if you’re a Batman fan. If you aren’t, first off shame on you, and secondly there are plenty of other Lego games adapting other franchises. But at their core, they’re all the same. Reliably homogeneous.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
The first Lego Batman video game is not as polished or detailed or as accurate to source material as its two sequels. It feels like a drop in a bucket compared to the far more vast and populated Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. However, like all of the Lego video games, Lego Batman is just fun to casually play. Not too hard, not too demanding, perfectly accessible.
Lego Batman: The Videogame is available on practically everything: PlayStation 2 and 3, Xbox 360, PSP, DS, Wii. I’d recommend it for gamers looking for a multiplayer experience that’s a little more innocent, or for those gamers who have young children. I’m looking forward to playing through the Lego Batman games again with my son, in fact. If you are a Batman fan, then yeah Lego Batman might help you get your giggles in, but I’d recommend the second and third games for more DC universe stuff. Play those until we get The Lego Batman Movie: The Videogame.
Aggregated Score: 7.0