Lego Batman: The Videogame – Review

lbtv1Lego Batman: The Videogame was released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, DC, and TT Games in 2008 and is a throwback to simpler times when games gave very little story and were heavy on player action—a good thing indeed, given the game’s target audience of children of ten years and older.

Lego Batman is a classic good guy/bad guy game: the major villains in Batman’s Rogues Gallery break out of Arkham Asylum, terrorise the streets of Gotham, and Batman and Robin are called into action with the soundtrack from Tim Burton’s “Batman”—it is as simple as that!

The game is divided into two sections – hero missions and villain missions. The missions are organized into three episodes for each section and each episode is split into five levels. All missions can be accessed from either the Batcave or Arkham Asylum (I consider these two areas to be overglorified interactive menus, but will henceforth refer to them as waypoints). Initial gameplay begins with the first hero mission, and after its completion you can choose to either go to the next area or exit to the Batcave.

The waypoints are their own playable areas. The Batcave consists of three stories: the lower level, called the Hero Mission Room, the upper level, called The Batcave, and Wayne Manor. The lower level is used to access episodes by hopping into either the Batmobile, Batboat, or Batplane. When doing so, a monitor will appear where you select which episode level you desire to play. The upper level grants access to the Batcomputer where you can access characters, data, extras, and suit upgrades that have been unlocked for item purchase while also granting access to unlocked story clips and a section for entering cheat codes. The upper level also has a lever that can be pulled in order to gain access to the Arkham Asylum waypoint. Wayne Manor acts as the Hero Trophy Room, where trophies you have unlocked can be viewed, as well as a super-kit. placed on prominent display in the middle of the room.

Arkham Asylum is a single storey building that grants access to the Villain Mission Room, Villain Trophy Room, and the Experiment Room. The mission room grants access to all of the villain missions by hopping into either Two-Face’s armored truck, the Penguin’s submarine, or the Joker’s helicopter. As with the Batcave, a monitor will appear for level selection. The Villain Trophy Room works just as the Hero Trophy Room does. The Experiment Room, however, is a room that allows you to customize two playable characters for free roam. One of the asylum’s hallways hacks into the Batcomputer for convenience and a lever that can be pulled to return to the Batcave.

The game gives you great freedom in how you choose to play it. After the first area of the first hero episode is finished, you have the ability to either warp to Arkham Asylum and begin the villain missions, continue along with the hero missions, or bounce back and forth between the two. A unique aspect of the gameplay is that the hero missions have you playing as Batman and Robin to stop the villains’ plans, while the villain missions have you playing as the episode-specific villains to set the plans up.

Within each area are many collectibles scattered about the levels. Each area contains ten canisters called minikits, a red Power Brick, and studs which are used to fill up the stud meter (a stud is the round protrusion found atop Lego pieces). The minikits build trophies that can be found in the trophy rooms of either the Batcave or Arkham Asylum, the Power Pricks unlock extra gameplay options (such as invincibility, getting additional studs from defeated enemies, minikit and Power Brick detectors and more), and the stud meter not only adds studs to your overall stud meter used in the waypoints for purchases but a completely filled meter also aids in the unlocking of bonus levels. There are also twenty-five hostages scattered throughout the thirty levels that need saving.

The game is designed as a 2.5D RPG. For the uninitiated, 2.5D is a game with a playable 3D environment, but the camera remains in a fixed position and adjusts itself automatically during level progression, while RPG means Role-Playing Game, a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. While it can be played as a single player, Lego Batman is clearly meant to be enjoyed by two players (the game industry calls this co-op mode), with Player Two joining the game arcade-style by hitting the Start button on their controller. Each level leaves either you or your partner in control of two characters on the screen. If you are a single player, you can switch between both characters with the press of a button while the game’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) controls the character not being used by you. You start off each level in story mode, but after each level is completed you can return to them in free play mode.lbtv2

When you play the game in story mode, you can only use the two default characters that the story demands. In the hero missions, you will play as Batman and Robin. In the villain missions, you will play as the story-appropriate villains. As each stage is being loaded in story mode, a cut scene will play to set up the plot and instill the game with some light-hearted humor. As with many other Lego games, spoken dialogue has been reduced to grunts, sighs, laughter, and other noises while the scene is set up through visuals (usually the mastermind pointing at various locations on a blueprint—good luck understanding them) with some characters acting as a comic relief who wouldn’t otherwise behave in such a manner.  Afterward, text will appear. If you are playing the hero missions, the text will reveal a character profile for the level-specific villain you will face, giving a brief description of the character’s story arc, powers, and vehicle. If you are playing the villain missions, the text will be dialogue from the chapter’s mastermind to the level-specific character. After the text is another brief cut scene and gameplay ensues from there.

Playing within the levels is very simple: destroy everything, collect studs, and beat up the enemies (which are the police if you are playing the villain missions). Studs are found by creating and destroying objects, out in the open, and by completing minikits (they can also be found lying around the Batcave and Arkham Asylum). Level progression is achieved through solving various puzzles, many of which rely on partner cooperation. The AI character helps with puzzle solving automatically with little guidance from the single player. Level progression in the hero missions is also aided by obtaining various costumes, as the only tools the Caped Crusaders have on them are Batarangs and the grapnel. Different costumes, found in suit swappers, allow you to perform different abilities and are character-specific. The Demolition suit, for example, allows Batman to plant bombs for blowing up metallic objects, while the Magnetic suit allows Robin to climb up specially-marked vertical metallic walkways to access areas that Batman cannot. To vary gameplay even further, there are also vehicle levels. Vehicles can also be found in the other levels, but the vehicle stages have no playable characters in them.

In free roam mode, you have the ability to revisit completed levels as any unlocked or purchased character that you have obtained, which will allow you to get the most from each level by taking advantage of various characters’ special skills to reach previously unobtainable areas. For example, some areas of a level can be blocked by toxic waste that has been spilled and you need to become a character that is immune to the green ooze in order to gain access, while other areas require the removal of blockage that can only be removed by characters with great strength. Still other areas are accessed by approaching a sentry guard room window with an appropriate character (window designs offer hints as to who you can use), and so on and so forth. Everything found in these areas will either be a minikit or a Power Brick with the occasional hostage thrown in for good measure.

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As mentioned earlier, items collected in the levels are used to unlock everything from characters to extra playability attributes. However, if you achieve Super Hero or Super-Villain by filling up the stud meter in every single level, the result will be an unlocked bonus level found in either Wayne Manor or Arkham Asylum. The two bonus missions focus on collecting 1,000,000 studs, add to the overall game completion percentage, and can be accessed via the waypoints’ respective trophy rooms.

No game, however, is without its flaws, and this one has quite a few. The rules governing how studs are obtained or lost, while not flaws per se, are not agreeable to me. When you destroy objects, studs will emerge to be collected and you only have a short time to grab them before they disappear on you—and many times the studs will scatter about the immediate area, forcing you to run around in circles in your rush to gather them up. If you are attempting to fill up your stud meter, this means that you cannot wantonly destroy everything before deciding to collect them. Many destroyable objects are grouped together and you will find yourself destroying only three of four of them at a time, which I find to be quite tedious and therefore frustrating. Some studs are lost by having your health entirely depleted either while in a fight or falling off a cliff, and although you have the ability to regain them, you will count yourself lucky if you ever get them all back. If you die by falling over an edge, the lost studs will usually appear along that edge. If you die in a fight, you are too busy finishing that fight to collect them all back up—if you ignore fighting long enough to regain them, one of the enemies will have hit you several times, normally leaving you at half health after collection. The only exception to how studs are initially gathered is the vehicle stages, where uncovered studs are automatically added to the stud meter. As far as I am concerned, that is how it should be in the first place—even with the playability attribute/cheat called Stud Magnet this never happens; you are still running around to collect studs in character levels, only you are not running in as many circles. The worst part is that studs can only be collected after they have touched the ground, which leaves you to wonder which studs you have and have not collected. In character levels, the only studs that remain permanent are those found scattered about to begin with and if you release the temporary ones without having first collected the permanent ones, you will find yourself with undue stress as you will not be able to tell one from the other.

lbtv3The button for switching between characters in single player mode is the same for entering vehicles. When standing next to a vehicle, the button icon will show above it and you press it to enter. However, there is a 50/50 chance you will wind up switching to the AI character instead. Also the button for exiting the vehicle is another button entirely, which is counterintuitive; pressing the enter vehicle button in order to exit will result in you switching to the AI character.

The playable character fights indiscriminately. As you press the attack button repeatedly, you lose the ability to control the direction you want to go in. If destroyable objects are in the same area as a wave of enemies, the character can and will get distracted with destroying objects instead of fighting. The AI can also be a distraction as the game’s enemy detection fails to recognize the AI character as your partner. Some characters have a specialty move that can be performed (Batman can pick enemies up and slam them on the ground, for example); the only drawback is that this is the same button used for activating suit abilities (like planting a bomb with the Demolition suit) and building objects, and so if you are fighting a wave of enemies while wearing a specialty suit in the area where an object is ready to be built, one of three things is going to happen: you will either start building the object, use the suit feature, or begin fighting. Rest assured that your intention will be completely ignored, especially since building objects or using suit features take you out of the fight and leave you vulnerable to attack (and no, you are not immune to damage as you do so). Having all of these features controlled by the same button makes no sense, as not all of the buttons on your controller will be used—the Xbox 360’s trigger buttons and the Playstation 2’s L2 and R2 have nothing assigned to them.

The AI is useless outside of puzzle solving (and even it can be a little taxing to get it to perform its necessary actions, although this is rare). While it will engage in fights, the AI is weak and will only be able to defeat one enemy during the entire battle if you are lucky, nor will it come to your aid when you find yourself accidentally occupied as mentioned in the previous paragraph. It will (very rarely) be in your way whenever you are attempting to accomplish a goal and the worst part is that the AI cannot collect studs. Sometimes it will become stuck, which is great since you won’t have to worry about it getting in your way (especially in free play mode) however you will have to switch to it and free the character up in order to progress in story mode if a co-op puzzle prevents you from reaching the next stage.

All of these smaller flaws contribute to what is the largest of Lego Batman’s flaws – this game is biased against single players. Lego Batman is meant to be played with a friend and nowhere is that more apparent than in level sections that have endlessly respawning enemies. As a single player, you will find level progression very difficult because the enemies will not stop coming after you and, of course, the AI will not distract them for you. While the game is still quite playable and enjoyable for single players, the bias is blatantly obvious.

Even with the bias, the game still does not care too much about anyone who plays it. Exploration is both encouraged and punished. You can be tricked into thinking an explorable area is actually the next section of the level, so you will wind up going the wrong way and in some cases the previous section cannot be revisited. If you build something and its creation triggers a cut scene, you will never be able to collect the studs. Studs can also fall over edges, preventing you from ever obtaining them in the first place. To be fair, the levels give you more than enough to fill up the stud meter, but the fact that this happens at all is untenable. Also, the health meter (represented by a row of four hearts) isn’t an accurate display. You can be hit more than four times before dying and hearts collected from defeated enemies can appear to not have an effect on you health meter as it fails to provide a visual display of affection. In some games, like those in the Legend of Zelda series, hearts in your health meter show damage by having sections disappear after being hit before a full heart becomes empty. With Lego Batman, you are given no clue that this is happening. In free roam you can switch between characters using the toggle buttons, but as the game automatically chooses the additional characters you can play as, you are unable to control their position on the imaginary toggling line. When you find yourself using the same two characters in a level, you are unable access an options menu wherein you can reposition them side-by-side.

Another problem I have is that there is not enough variation with collectibles; most (especially the power bricks) can only be retrieved during free play mode. While making your way through the levels is entertaining enough, you are very rarely given the opportunity to branch outside of the linear gameplay. This game would have been much more enjoyable had the designers given the players the ability to retrieve half of the collectibles while in story mode.lbtv4

A minor problem this game has is that the fixed camera angle will mess with your depth perception at times. The further you move into the background the worse your perception becomes and at times you will find yourself attempting to push an environmental object left or right into position only to find out that you have placed yourself behind it instead. Foreground decoration can obscure visibility, but both of these are rare as well. Another rarity is in collectible-obtaining puzzle solutions that make no sense; at one point you have to use Batman’s Sonic Suit to break the ice that is protecting it while your instinct will tell you to use the Demolition suit to blow it up. All of these factors—overall from every flaw mentioned thus far—are indicative of this game’s greatest difficulty feature: handicapping the player.

Finally, there are three other flaws that need mentioning. The first is the fact that the game does not automatically assume you want to retrieve your saved game from the hard drive; it will always bring up a small menu option for either retrieving it from the hard drive or the cloud saved games. I have no idea what a cloud is in this manner and this game gives no indication that it can be played online. The second flaw is that the game fails to make it unquestioningly clear how everything from the super-kit to purchases in the Batcomputer are unlocked. The third flaw is that every time you beat an episode in story mode the game acts as if you have beaten it in its entirety, triggering the credits, completion percent statistic, and a Lego animation that I always skip through before you are automatically returned to the Batcave, the game’s default waypoint. This could have been handled much better by waiting for the player to beat all hero and villain missions before being triggered.

Taking everything into account, I would still consider this to be a must-have game. Lego Batman is immensely enjoyable and easy to pick up and play for the most part, despite it being frustrating at many points…but then, that is what cheat codes are for!

Lego Batman The Videogame is available on Nintendo, Xbox, PC and PS3

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