I’ve been playing the new Lego Batman video game (PS3 version), working on a review for the newspaper, and thought I’d share some of my initial impressions about the title:
* I haven’t played any of the previous “Lego” games, but I imagine they follow the same basic, stripped-down formula: button-mash battles, platform climbing, a bit of puzzle-solving, collecting lots and lots of “studs” (keep your mind out of the gutters pal) to purchase special items and extras, and some sections where you “build” stuff out of Legos (and by build I mean hold down on the circle button).
* Overall it’s a pretty decent, if overly simplistic formula. There’s some variety in that by moving the controller stick this way or that while button-mashing you can pull off some fancy moves, like making Robin do backflips. But overall this is an average action/puzzle game with a cute makeover, and I can see the combat aspects becoming repetitive very quickly.
* I’m a bit slow, so I always appreciate a good tutorial when I start a new game to show me the ropes. Lego Batman has a horrible one though. The instructions show up for a few seconds and then disappear, never to return, even when you pause the game. As a result, I had to restart the first level, because I couldn’t figure out (or remember, take your pick) what I was supposed to do to get to the next section (more on that later).
* One obvious new addition is the ability to throw batarangs at far-away objects and enemies. You do this by holding down on one of the buttons, moving the cursor to the stuff you want smacked and then letting go. It sounds simple, but it doesn’t handle well and could have stood some tweaking.
* As far as tone goes, the game is decidedly more Adam West than Christian Bale if you know what I mean. As you might expect with a game aimed at kids as much as fans and adults, there’s an attempt at slapstick humor, especially with Robin who pratfalls and double-takes so much you’d think he was trying out for vaudeville. The jokes fall flat at times, but overall I appreciated the goofy approach.
* You can switch back and forth between Batman and Robin as you play the game, and each character gets a variety of special suits to wear. Some are useful, like Batman’s Glider suit that lets him fly across large chasms. Others, like Robin’s Magnetic outfit (ooo, he can walk up walls!) are just kind of silly.
* Co-op play is great and one of the main reasons to purchase the game. If you’ve got friends or family members who wouldn’t mind wasting an hour or so away socking Lego versions of Clayface and Hush then you’ll both have a great time. Unfortunately, friends and family are all you’ll be able to rely on, since the co-op is offline only. The lack of any Internet component at all seems like a real missed opportunity.
* The flip side of the coin is that the AI is horrible. When playing solo, your computer-controlled partner will follow you around like a dumb puppy, which is problematic when you need him to stay in one place to trigger a trap or open a door. What’s more, he is incapable of finishing off any of the enemies that attack, which means you’ll be having to do the bulk if not all of the fighting on your lonesome.
* One of the pluses in the game is that it boasts lots of unlockable stuff, including costumes, characters and more. I haven’t gotten there yet, but apparently at the halfway point you can start playing as the villains, which is a nifty touch.
* The real problem for me with the game is the often obtuse puzzles. Too often I’d be wandering around some empty room I’d have cleaned out of goons and blocks and could not for the life of me figure out what to do next. Usually the answer would be right in front of me, but hidden behind another object, or obscured or be so completely unintuitive you’d never figure it out unless you went to GameFAQs. That’s not good level design, period. In fact, as with the batarang issue, it’s downright sloppy and a major demerit against the game.
* That being said, I’d give the game a tentative (and borderline) thumbs up, based on what I’ve played so far. The platforming bits themselves are fun, and, as I’ve said, if you’ve got friends to play with the enjoyment factor doubles considerably. Plus, smashing every object on the screen into a shower of little one-piece bricks is a great way to release agression. Keep in mind though that your mileage is going to be entirely dependant upon your tolerance for the sort of annoyances that frequently crop up in this game.