The Lego series hasn’t had many growing pains. From the beginning, it’s taken the refined gameplay of the well-established beat ‘em up genre and attached a child-friendly charm to it. Defeated enemies break down into their component Lego parts. Gameplay is easy to grasp, and the miming of the Lego characters adapting the source material of each game is sure to elicit laughter from players. But has a franchise this stagnant gone stale with the release of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, its latest wonderfully destructive title?
To its credit, Lego Batman 2 does make some efforts to keep its franchise fresh. Though this may put off some purists, cutscenes now include full voice acting. The voices in the cutscenes not only preserve the goofy, whimsical tone of Lego games but somehow enhance them as well. Fans of Steven Blum, the VA who voiced both Batman and Joker in the last game, will be relieved to know that, though he’s been replaced on those two characters, he voices no fewer than five Batman characters in Lego Batman 2. Between being the voice of Wolverine and the voice of Alfred and Bane, he’s not hurting for work.
One welcome improvement in Lego Batman 2 is the addition of the overworld of Gotham City. Instead of being restricted to the playable levels and the Batcave, players can now roam all over Gotham City to collect things like extra-unlocking red bricks, challenging gold bricks, and other various returning/new collectibles. For those who enjoy collecting every last item, as always, the latest entry in the Lego franchise offers plenty to do, but most of the collecting is done outside of the restrictions of the levels, which makes the collecting less aggravating overall.
The massive overworld does come with a caveat: The game’s framerate starts to crawl when a second player joins the fun, though this is less of a problem in the actual levels of the game. Otherwise, drop-in/out co-op is largely intact, but once the two players stray too far from each other, the screen splits up based on their relative position to each other, which is sometimes convenient and other times irritating. If a player needs to perform a ranged attack or target an object, it becomes difficult or even impossible with the limited screen size of co-op. Also, when two players enter into split-screen mode, the framerate slows down even more, making this reviewer feel like he was playing a Mega Man game with too many enemies on-screen in 1989 rather than playing a game with less than stellar graphics in the 21st century.
This isn’t to say that the graphics are poor, but nothing here will blow players away or even make them feel as though the Lego franchise has made massive strides in the way it looks. Characters and environments are well-represented in Lego form, and the art direction is well done. However, it does feel as though this series needs a fresher take on it to truly overcome the way it’s plateaued over time.
One inexcusable plateau in the Lego franchise is its lack of online co-op play. In fact, since Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga had online co-op in 2007, the franchise has regressed. These games are such a natural fit for online co-op that I can’t understand why it’s continuously left out of each new release. Certainly the series is more fun on a couch playing with a friend, but it’s a little tough to do that when online gaming friends have a tendency to be spread out across the country, continent, or even world. I doubt Traveller’s Tales expects my Canadian gaming friends to fly over to my couch to play Lego Batman 2.
The core gameplay is largely the same as the previous Lego games. Batman and Robin beat up henchmen and complete puzzles to progress through each level until they reach the supervillain boss of the level. Each boss has some kind of gimmick or pattern that players must figure out before damaging them. The puzzles aren’t very difficult and mostly revolve around destroying the correct Lego construct or using one of the various powerup suits’ (which do have a few new additions in Lego Batman 2) unique functions to solve a puzzle. Unfortunately, once players have solved a puzzle once, they’ll see it again multiple times throughout the rest of the game, taking away whatever little challenge there was initially. This is obviously meant to make the game accessible to players of all ages, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of creativity present in the gameplay. Overall, the gameplay is never sloppy but also never novel.
For fans of the Lego series and the DC Universe, this game is a solid buy. There’s plenty to do after completing the game, the story is fun, and the writing is witty as expected. For those on the fence, the game’s a great co-op experience for casual and hardcore players alike, but it doesn’t reinvent the series. It’s only been slightly refined. There comes a point for all of us where we stop playing with Lego blocks regularly. Once a fun project grabs hold, though, it’s easy to forget we ever stopped. For players burned out on the series, I think they should wait before playing with those Lego blocks once more.