To try and describe Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes as a game is to also describe every other Lego game that’s come before it. But as mundane an introduction to a review as that may be, Traveller’s Tales is quite clearly dipping its games in some sort of mystery Teflon goo before they hit store shelves because any criticism you throw at them doesn’t stick for long.
A lot of that has to do with how they handle the dual-IP nature of the franchise. Combining everyone’s favorite childhood building blocks with blockbuster properties such as Star Wars and Harry Potter (shudder) is a formula that hasn’t failed the developer yet, critically or commercially. And that’s mostly because they’ve consistently spread the love and reverence evenly between both IPs, and also managed to throw enough good-natured and perfectly timed humor in to boot.
In a broad sense then, Lego Batman 2 still follows those tried and tested tropes to a T. You run around eye-catching platformer-lite levels made entirely of Legos, smashing the environment and pocketing the resulting studs, clobbering baddies and solving puzzles. There’s drop-in/drop-out co-op, and a ton of unlockables to purchase with all the aforementioned studs you’ll be collecting as you play. That’s the game. And just like every Lego game before it, it’s still addictive fun and the mechanics work as well as they always have.
The differences, however, come from the scope and the scale of the endeavour. Tossing a bunch of DC’s finest into the mix obviously necessitated a game that’s big enough to hold all those bloated egos (especially yours, Superman). So, for the first time in a Lego game, you now have a huge open world to explore. And while said Lego games have always tended to favor a hub-and-spoke approach to level design (remember the Cantina from Lego Star Wars?), this is the first time we’ve seen one this size.
Lego Gotham City is a masterpiece of design: filled with collectibles, citizens in peril, challenges, and all manner of other time wasters. It also has a day/night cycle with dynamic weather. It’s hard to believe you’re ogling a Lego game at times, especially when you notice the sun peeking through the horizon at sunrise. You’ll also be struck by how affecting the art design is, with the game managing to evoke an amalgamation of the animated series, as well as the Burton and Nolan films all at once.
Accompanying the visuals is an audioscape that changes with the carousel act of superheroes on screen. Aside from well-done sound effects, it’s especially neat how the game blends in Danny Elfmans’ and John Williams’ scores whenever you’re playing as the cover stars. Also new to Lego Batman 2 is voice acting; something we’ve never seen in Lego games before. While there was a fear that the slapstick comedy of the previous games would be undermined, Traveller’s Tales clearly know their stuff. In fact, the voice acting arguably makes things even funnier, making levels a treat to replay.
Keeping with its hub-and-spoke design, you need to first drive, fly or run to mission markers from the map and then sit through a short loading screen while the actual level loads in. While getting to your destination can be fun thanks to the myriad toys at your disposal (not to mention the use of character specific abilities such as Superman’s flight and The Flash’s super-speed), the lack of a mini-map does grate a bit. You’ll need to pull up the world map from the pause menu each time you want to (re)orient yourself. Path finding issues aside, the vehicles and super powers themselves are brilliant, even if flying does take a while to get the hang of.
Once you load into a level, you’ll find that they play out as you’d expect. You’ll need to switch between characters (if you’re playing solo) and use their powers to progress. There are also suits for both Batman and Robin that give them extra abilities; walking through electricity, wall climbing, invisibility or x-ray vision, for example. You’ll be using these suits in tandem with character switching and platforming to solve the game’s many puzzles.
While its swell that these puzzles are challenging enough for all age groups, some of them can be extra obtuse and will leave you running circles until you figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. That said, you’d much rather be doing these than matching keys to doors (or whatever else passes for puzzles in most modern games), so don’t knock it. There’s also a fun (if shallow) combat system with counters and grabs, although it would have been nice to see the AI pulling its weight a bit more and not leaving most of the combat to you. As with all Lego games, there’s no penalty for dying aside from losing a few studs from your stash (which you can promptly recollect in any case).
The pièce de résistance though is the absolute blast of a story. It all starts with a Man of the Year contest, and a certain someone turning out to be a rather sore loser. Suffice to say that members of Batman’s infamous (and voluminous) rogues’ gallery make an appearance, joined by their fiendish counterparts from Metropolis. You’ll also open up an insane roster of characters (with unique special powers), vehicles and cheats for use in the open world or to replay missions with. And you’ll be doing a lot of replaying thanks to a lot of the game’s secrets only being accessible via unlockable character-specific superpowers.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is a rarity in this (unfortunate) post-platformer world of ours. It rolls in a gaming experience that’s balanced for gamers of all ages (including the fabled casual audience without pandering to them in any way), with a co-op element that’s perfect for some shared gaming time whether it be with your siblings, friends or a significant other. Suddenly those little niggles don’t matter as much.