Caped crusader gets Lego-brick treatment
REVIEW: Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Xbox360, PS3, Wii) Travellers Tales. $89.
At a time when new ideas and innovation are becoming increasingly rare, at least the games industry can be safe in the knowledge that when it hits on a winning formula, it makes the most of it.
The Lego franchise is a case in point: after decades of struggling to translate one of the world's most universally popular toys into the digital format, it wasn't until 2005's Lego Star Wars that developers finally worked out how to build a decent game out of Lego bricks.
Capitalising on the runaway success of themed Lego sets, the team at Traveller's Tales harnessed the imagination and creativity that the building blocks are famed for and constructed a fun, quirky take on the Star Wars saga, winning plaudits for its cute but clever adaptation of a classic movie.
Similar tongue-in-cheek versions of other popular films and characters followed, with Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean all undergoing the same brick-based reboot.
Batman is the latest star to get the Lego treatment, and if ever there was a character that could do with lightening up and taking himself a little less seriously, it's the caped crusader.
The dark and dramatic Christopher Nolan films of recent years were fantastic, but perhaps a little po-faced considering the subject matter. There's fun to be found in the idea of a rich bloke fighting crime in a rubber bat suit, particularly when he's made of Lego bricks.
As with previous Lego games, each level is made up of a series of environment-based logic puzzles, requiring you to switch between dozens of characters, using their individual skills and abilities to unlock doors, avoid traps and open up new areas to explore.
Everything you see is made up of building blocks, and can be smashed into tiny pieces for bonus points or reconstructed to reveal new items and accessories.
The action can get a little repetitive after a while, but the attention to detail that's gone into making everything look like it was assembled by hand, while retaining a distinct comic book feel, is incredible and is sure to appeal to the inner child of anyone who had a toybox full of Lego bricks growing up.
After a couple of early scene-setting levels featuring familiar Batman and Robin shtick, the game kicks it up a notch with the introduction of the first of many guest stars when Superman swoops in to lend the dynamic duo a hand.
This sets up a running joke for what follows, as the proudly un-super powered Batman gets increasingly annoyed at the idea of being upstaged by the Man of Steel in his own game. The fact that his sidekick Robin is in star-struck awe every time Superman shows up to save the day just adds to the Dark Knight's frustration, and there are some genuinely funny moments built around the trio's awkward relationship.
The Gotham-Metropolis crossover continues as The Joker and Lex Luthor team up as the game's main villains and dozens of other DC characters make cameo appearances.
Comic book fans will appreciate the inclusion of some relatively obscure superheroes, each with their own powers and unique abilities. It would have been nice to see a few of them get a little longer in the spotlight, but even the walk-on parts are deftly executed.
There's the usual emphasis on exploration, and multiple play-throughs are essential to find the hundreds of gold bricks and secrets tucked away in Gotham City's blocky recesses.
Unfortunately, one of the most frustrating parts of the game is how difficult it is to navigate the sprawling city – there is a map of sorts, but finding your way through the maze of flickering icons and confusing sidestreets can be an exasperating experience.
Although the game is primarily designed to appeal to younger gamers, there are plenty of nods and winks to the more mature crowd. That it works on both levels gives it the feel of a particularly good Simpsons episode or Pixar movie, and although it's far from perfect, Lego Batman 2 is easily one of the best family games of the year.
- © Fairfax NZ News