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Monday, October 06, 2008

Game Review - LEGO Batman: The Videogame

Immensely fun despite flaws.



The Good:
Original story * Almost every other charcater from the Batman universe present in this game * Batman and Robin have a variety of suits, each granting them different abilities * Villains are playable * Robust A.I. * High replayability value

The Bad:
Poor vehicular controls * Lack of co-op play

LEGO games have always been about smashing objects mindlessly and collecting as many studs as possible while engaging in extensive puzzle solving. The occasional light combat and platforming segments do well to provide added challenge. Sandwiched in between the levels are cut-scenes that are laced with as much humor as there is creativity. This has proven to be a very effective formula that never ceases to entertain players in prior LEGO games. What Traveller’s Tales has done is to take this tried-and-tested formula and plaster it onto the Batman universe.

Little has changed since the first LEGO game, LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, so if you enjoy the past LEGO games, you’re going to find LEGO Batman a blast. On the other hand, if you have always disliked the LEGO games, LEGO Batman isn’t going to make you change your mind. Having said that, flaws present in the past LEGO games are still here, but the fun that you’re able to derive from this game is more than capable of making you overlook its shortcomings.

Yes, little has changed, but what has changed is the adaptation of the story for the game. Unlike prior LEGO games, LEGO Batman doesn’t base its story off any of the Batman films nor television programs – so what you have here is essentially an original tale. Basically, all the villains – via one way or another – have escaped from Arkham Asylum and Batman must now go all out to capture them and put them behind bars once again. A tale not very imaginative, but certainly plausible – an intelligent excuse to throw every other character in the Batman universe into the game, including The Riddler, Penguin, The Joker, Two-face, Killer Croc and Catwoman among a host of other more well-known villains.

To cast that many characters in a game, yet not have them to be playable would be a pity. Fortunately, LEGO Batman allows the obverse. There are a total of 6 acts, each being further separated into 5 chapters. The first 3 acts put you into the shoes of the iconic Batman and Robin, while the later 3 acts pit you as the villains, with you playing as different villains in each act. This fact alone makes LEGO Batman a game that is choke-full of variety as different characters have different abilities.

You may be dismayed by the fact that you will only be playing as Batman and Robin in the first 3 acts, but as Batman and Robin, you will be able to rotate through a variety of suits. The demolition suit provides Batman with the ability to blow metal objects up, while the glide suit allows Batman to fly over a short distance. Robin is able to trade his reds and greens with a magnetic suit, which grants him the capability to walk up metal walls, while the water suit permits Robin to dive and activate underwater switches. Needless to say, this paves the way for some really creative and innovative puzzles, some of which ingenious. While there remain puzzles for which the solutions to them are in equal parts nonsensical and dumb, those instances are rare.

Playing as the villains, The Riddler can mind-control specific people, while the Joker can electrocute others with a handshake. Clayface has super strength and can double jump, while Catwoman utilizes her whip to full effect. But the later 3 acts aren’t just there for the sake of adding that welcomed layer of variety to the game. In fact, they tell a simultaneous story to that of the first 3 acts, detailing how the villains actually plotted to steal objects of desire and wreck havoc in Gotham City – something that is both unique and refreshing not in the world of LEGO games, but in the entire world of videogames. You will play through the similarly-themed places, but different locales.

Vehicular sections scattered throughout every act serve to inject more variety into the gameplay and introduce a change of pace from the many on-foot levels, but are severely let down by the horrendous controls more often than not. Navigation of vehicles is barely functional, feeling erroneously loose at best. Pushing the analog stick in the desired direction to steer your vehicle should warrant no less than an appropriate, if not perfect, translation in other games, but LEGO Batman doesn’t always understand what your action means. For instance, if you nudge the analog stick left, your vehicle will make a bewildering 360 degrees turn. This flaw relegates the vehicular sections here into a mess of brainless trial-and-error shooting – it gets worse when the game requires you to pull a mine to a specific spot. Amazingly, I experienced near perfect vehicle navigation towards the end of the game – a case of a lack of polish in the earlier portions of LEGO Batman, perhaps?

The need to wrestle with the controls to get your vehicle to an objective isn’t the only problem with this game, however. More alarming is the lack of co-op play – a move best described as contradictory since LEGO games have always been built upon the fun of playing with a partner. Neither local wireless play nor online co-op is offered – which means you’ll be playing this game alone on the PSP. Co-op play is all the more substantial given the infamously poor A.I. of LEGO games – and indeed, the A.I. has suffered in the home console versions of LEGO Batman (if online feedback by the gaming community is anything to go by). Fortunately, the A.I. here is far from being poor – robust, if you would. The solid A.I. is most evident when there are puzzles which require both characters to solve. However, it should be noted that the A.I. isn’t able to dispose of enemies.

While the lack of co-op and online play may make for provisional entertainment, that isn’t necessarily the case with LEGO Batman. Each act lasts approximately 2.5 hours, with the entire game setting you back at 15 hours. But this isn’t just about the length or content of the game, but the replayability. Studs collected in each chapter can be used to buy unlockables, including extra characters. Once you have completed a level in story mode, free play mode would be unlocked as well, giving you the opportunity to play as any of the purchased or unlocked characters for that particular chapter. And there’s good reason to replay each level as different characters: each level is scattered with hidden items that aren’t always obtainable with the default characters you play as in story mode, but instead, accessible only to specific characters.

Final Comments
Despite its flaws, LEGO Batman is still an immensely fun game. This is one of the LEGO games that you have come to play and love: Smashing objects and gathering studs, solving creative and innovative puzzles, light combat, mild platforming and the distinct sense of LEGO humor in each of the cut-scenes. Noteworthy is the fact that you also get to play as the villains for the first time. The robust A.I. and high replayability value of this game more than compensate for the poor vehicular controls and lack of co-op play.


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