Review: LEGO Batman: The Videogame

LegoBatman.jpg Like Indiana Jones and the numerous Star Wars editions, LEGO Batman is a deeply flawed yet remarkably entertaining game. This simple beat-em-up platformer has all the charm, humor and novelty the LEGO videogame brand has become known and loved for, but unfortunately it also retains the all-around unpolished feel that has hindered the franchise from the beginning.

Over a solid 8-hour adventure (give or take depending how much time you invest hunting for unlockables), LEGO Batman has you playing through 30 total missions divided into a 15-mission hero campaign starring Batman and Robin and a 15-mission villain campaign starring a host of Gotham City’s most infamous villains, including The Joker, Catwoman, Scarecrow, The Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Harley Quinn, Two Face, Clayface, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter, The Riddler and many others. The game plays very much like a basic action-platformer, as you guide your hero or villain through a 3D world collecting various bits and bobs, solving simple puzzles, hopping and bopping from platform to platform, and doing a lot of tapping on the Square button (I played the PS3 version) to pound on any enemies that cross your path.

This is game design in its simplest form, but for the most part it works. The puzzles, while not that difficult to solve, are generally clever in their craftsmanship, challenging you to constantly smash apart LEGO-built set pieces to uncover hidden building blocks to form into new structures like ladders, bridges and even vehicles, and to use the special abilities of all the different characters in fun and creative ways to progress. Combat too is exceptionally easy, but in the context of the LEGO universe it’s surprisingly fun despite its mindless button-mashing style.

Simple fun as it may be, LEGO Batman suffers from a forced focus on co-op. You see, the game was designed as a two-player cooperative experience. Due to the game’s drop-in/drop-out co-op design, you are always in command of two characters even in the single-player mode: one that you directly control and one that is AI controlled, with the added ability to switch between the two as necessary. When you have a second live player to partner up with, there are no problems whatsoever and the game is a blast. But as a solo experience this game is incredibly frustrating because of lousy AI.

Your AI partner requires constant babysitting to ensure that they keep up with your pace and don’t get stuck on an object behind you or miss the simplest of jumps. Even more aggravating is the AI’s lacking ability to watch your back. Let’s say you are trying to flip a switch or are in progress putting LEGO pieces together with enemies around. Your AI teammate won’t provide protection like a real live player would, so you go to do something and get interrupted time and time again. The game forces you to constantly switch back and forth just to complete the simplest of tasks, so in effect you are playing a two-player-only game by yourself. It doesn’t work.

LEGO Batman also has a general sense of bugginess about it. Sound effects occasionally fail to register, the framerate can be a bit choppy at times, characters (including you) get stuck on pieces of the environment far too easily, and of course the poor AI I already mentioned. As such a multiplayer focused game, I’m also very disappointed that co-op is limited to local play only, with online co-op support nowhere to be found. With the PS3 version you at least get the added benefit of remote play if you have a PSP, so if you own both platforms you’re essentially getting two versions of the game for the price of one (though surely the version built specifically for PSP is better optimized to the hardware than remote play).

As a single-player game, LEGO Batman isn’t worth your time or money due to the faulty AI. If you have a friend to play with, though, this is a game you should be eager to play, especially if you’ve been a fan of past LEGO titles. And if you’re a parent, LEGO Batman is the perfect entry-level-type game you can buddy up and play with your kids, working together for hours of fun solving neat puzzles and savoring the infectiously charming LEGO humor and presentation.

Had the solo experience been more refined I’d be a bit more enthusiastic with my recommendation here, but with that half of the game essentially all but broken I can only give LEGO Batman: The Videogame our “Try It” stamp of approval.

TryIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Co-op play is a blast for players of all ages and skill levels
+ Lots of playable characters from the Batman universe, each with unique special abilities
+ The charm and novelty of the LEGO presentation is back in full force
+ Remote play is a handy bonus feature in the PS3 version

Cons:
– Poor AI ruins the single-player mode
– No online co-op
– Lacks polish

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC, Xbox 360, PS2, Wii, DS and PSP
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Release Date: 9/23/08
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (offline only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!