I have to admit that deep down LEGO games are my Kryptonite. There is something about the whimsical nature of LEGO minifigures fashioned after some of my favorite franchises that just brings out the kid in me. To this day playing with LEGO blocks is still a joy. As an adult I find that after I build a set with my kids, I simply want to marvel at the genius in engineering. The kid inside of course just wants to play with the newly constructed toys, but I wouldn’t be a very good father if I took my kids’ toys away and played with them while they watched.
And that is why the Traveller’s Tales LEGO games work so wonderfully. My kids and I can play together without having to worry about taking each other’s toys. The development studio has time and again managed to create truly magical worlds out of nothing more than building blocks. Of course, each game has focused on popular franchises with existing worlds, stories and characters to build from, but the simple gratification of smashing something into a shower of coin studs has yet to be duplicated by other games. There is just something fun and vibrant about the way each game is presented, even though that presentation can be viewed as formulaic. It is a formula that works.
Each consecutive LEGO title has found a way to improve upon a new idea or feature implemented from the previous game. The first LEGO Harry Potter introduced a fully functional Hogwarts school to be explored in between each chapter. I know, I know. LEGO Indy 2 had a functional world hub before Harry Potter, but Indy 2 is a game best forgotten otherwise it would taint an otherwise great track record. The third LEGO Star Wars brought a whole new level of visual fidelity and confirmed that Traveller’s Tales could branch out from simply copying a story previously told and add new gameplay mechanics into their tried and true formula.
While LEGO Batman 2 doesn’t have a real-time strategy element, the game does bring two new concepts and handles both with an almost effortless perfection: Talking and flying. We recently posted a teaser trailer for LEGO Lord of the Rings, and that was the first time I was aware that Traveller’s Tales was planning on including minifigures with actual voices. Upon watching that trailer I admit that I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. For one, the inclusion of lines cut directly from the Peter Jackson movies almost felt like I was just watching a highly polished machinima. Secondly, all of the previous LEGO games had gotten along fine without voice overs, so why change the formula now? I feel like an Apple fan the moment after Steve Jobs has told me about a new feature that I didn’t realize I needed and hearing the words, “you’re gonna love it.”
Hot damn. Voice in LEGO games makes a huge difference. It IS the feature I didn’t realize I needed. Sure, pantomime can be used effectively to tell a story, but hearing the subtle nuance of vocal inflection during banter between Batman, Robin and Superman completely enhances the humorous narrative. Now maybe the voice work wouldn’t be as strong as it is in LEGO Batman 2 if the script wasn’t so good (I’ll keep total judgment on the voice work until LOTR comes out later this year), but the folks at Traveller’s Tales nailed a fun comic book romp that manages to bring together so many DC characters. While the title doesn’t focus as much on intertwining as many Batman enemies as the Arkham games from Rocksteady, there are plenty of nods to locations within Gotham and the characters from the comics to keep an OCD nerd like myself busy for quite a while.
The other new feature I mentioned earlier that LEGO Batman 2 handles wonderfully is free-roam flying. Obviously, if a game includes Superman, gamers would expect him to be able to fly. Flying is handled by double tapping the circle button and then tapping or holding the cross button and aiming a little crosshair to propel the hero forward through the open world of Gotham. Subtle shifts with slower movements can be tricky at times, but overall the flying aspect allows for all sorts of height to both the story levels as well as the open-world levels. This is a nice change of pace and visual scope from the previous LEGO titles. Flying up to the top of Wayne tower and then looking out across the whole of Gotham City goes to show that the folks at Traveller’s Tales are committed to enhancing the systems and game engine to provide new and fun experiences with each title.
The one drawback to this newer open-world game engine is that objects don’t always appear when you first come up to them. The quickest comparison I can make is to that of an Unreal Engine game. Often times a world will load up but the textures don’t always pop in right away. The same feeling of objects loading into the player’s immediate area a few seconds (or sometimes even minutes) later can be a bit off putting. Fortunately this problem mostly occurred during my open city hunt for all 250 Gold bricks and not within the actual story levels. It is so easy to quickly move from one location on the map to the next that expected objects may not be loading into memory as fast as you can travel to the next location. I’m curious if this problem occurs in the PC version (or even the Vita version) and is more symptomatic of memory restrictions on the PS3 or if it is inherent to the game engine itself. It isn’t a big problem, but one that is noticeable.
One other minor annoyance is that in between story missions, players can roam and explore the streets of Gotham City, but a lot of the open-world content seems pointless to play around with until after the story is finished. Gold Bricks can be found but not collected without having the correct specialized suit for either Batman or Robin. The suit usually is nearby, but most of the time there is an environmental puzzle that almost feels overly complex just for the sake of keeping the gamer engaged. Some of these environmental puzzles can be shortened considerably by switching to another unlocked character, but unfortunately the unlocked characters can’t be accessed until the story has been completed. While this isn’t a bad thing (why else would you be playing the game if not for the story?), it seems a bit artificial or arbitrary to keep unlocked characters from being played until finishing the campaign.
I don’t want to go over all of the traditional features of the Traveller’s Tales LEGO games other than to say that yes, there are Red Bricks which boost gamer stats, Gold Bricks to unlock additional characters and a hidden world, mini kits throughout each story level (which build cute micro versions of several vehicles used within the game) as well Citizens in Peril, which are just average Joe LEGO characters trapped by devices or who somehow managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These trademark collectibles extend the core gameplay experience by allowing players a chance to scratch that “gotta catch ‘em all” itch while exploring and playing through the story levels again with powers not necessarily available on the first run through.
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is a fantastic summer game that offers up a fun original story with humor and comic references that both kids and adults should enjoy. Bright, vibrant story levels, gobs of collectibles, and flying, driving, and even running through a large open city provide plenty of fun for the whole family.
+ Open city environment with plenty of collectables
+ Voice acting provides a fun new element to the LEGO games
+ Flying is fun
– Objects don’t always load up in the open city right away
– The additional DC Heroes don’t unlock until late in the story
– Switching to “purchased” characters in the open city can’t be done until the story is finished
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS and Vita
Publisher: Warner Bros.
Developer: TT Games
Release Date: 6/19/2012
ESRB Rating: E10+
Source: Review copy provided by publisher