Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Dad's Corner: LEGO Batman Review

Since I've got a lot of gifts to review at the moment, Aaron has happily play tested another video game for the family.

So, I'm back to review another video game for dads, moms and their kids. This time out, I got to put my hands on a copy of LEGO Batman for the PS2, which I was greatly looking forward to. Why? Well, because I love superheroes. I love LEGOs. I love video games. And I loved the first LEGO video game put out by Traveler's Tales - LEGO Star Wars (both volumes, actually). On the other hand, I was not so much a fan of LEGO Indiana Jones, so the question going in was "Will LEGO Batman deliver?"

Well, deliver it did, and I frankly cannot get enough of this game. LEGO Batman is fun, quirky, engaging, has tons of replay value and manages that wonderful line of being both easy enough to let inexperienced gamers play, but having challenge enough for experienced gamers to enjoy the game.

The game is outright goofy. You're playing as LEGO versions of Batman, Robin, their allies and their enemies, for crying out loud. The cut-scenes, establishing the story are done all in mime, and have numerous silly elements (Robin is a particular source of comedy here). And the game itself isn't too terribly complicated. There are four buttons used: One to fight, one to jump, one to activate your character's special power or interact with the environment, and one to switch from Character A to Character B. That's it.

You also can't die. I mean, you can be defeated, exploding into a little pile of LEGO bits. But you don't die. You just lose a little bit of your money - found in the form of round LEGO studs. That's it. So, no matter how bad you are at playing video games, you can get through the game eventually.

Another wonderful thing about the game is that you always have a partner. (Batman and Robin, go figure.) And the partner does lots of wonderful things to help you. But you don't have to rely on the AI - oh no, a second player can hop in to the game. Even better - that second player can drop in and drop out as needed. So, if dad is playing the game and your kid gets home from school, he can join in. But when it's time for dad to go help with dinner, dad can drop out and the kid can keep playing. It's a lovely feature that was introduced in LEGO Star Wars, and I'm glad to see that it remains.

All of this establishes why the game is fun and easy, but what about the replay value? Well, I'm glad you asked. The game is broken into three storylines, one focusing on Batman and Robin chasing down the Riddler and his allies, another chasing down the Penguin and his allies, and the third going after the Joker and his men. In the main storylines, you play as Batman and Robin, and get to use various gadgets and special tech suits to chase down the baddies. Once you finish any of the three storylines, however, you get to flip the story. In each scenario, Batman and Robin arrive as the villains are already in the middle of the crime - but how did the villains get there? Well, once you've completed a storyline, you get to play as the villains and find out the other half of the story. Tremendous fun, and since you're dealing with LEGO figures, the amount of guilt you might feel for doing heinous acts to the helpless citizens of Gotham City is fairly minimal.

But as much fun as the villain arcs are, the real beauty of the game comes from "Free Play Mode." As you play through the story, you'll notice that there are areas you can't get in to, or items you can't reach, all because you have the wrong abilities at the time. In Free Play Mode, you get to come back through the game with any characters you have already unlocked - hero and villain alike. Rather than being restricted to Batman and Robin and whatever Tech Suits you find in that level, you get to bring in a team that includes Batman, Robin, all their tech suits and a whole host of villains. I enjoy playing through the game's stories, but Free Play Mode - and trying to unlock every hidden thing in the game, is where I really find my fun.

Overall, I love this game. I felt like LEGO Indiana Jones didn't work, but I'm enjoying LEGO Batman even more than I liked LEGO Star Wars. And while thirty-something dads can love the game, it'd be a great game for most kids as well - especially kids who are fans of Batman.

So, to sum up:

The Good: LEGO Batman is fun, easy to learn, and extremely forgiving to new players. The Free Play mode and villain storylines add a lot of replay to the game. Two-player cooperative play is extremely easy to use, making it a great game for families.

The Bad: Some players might find the game too easy. Also, going back through the levels to find hidden items might not provide a different enough experience to make replaying the entire game rewarding for all players. Also, while the violence and destruction are against LEGO characters, buildings and landscapes, the game is largely about beating up your opponents and destroying the landscape.

The Ugly: Even in Free Play mode, figuring out how to locate some items might drive some players insane. Also, the goofiness of the game might not fit for people expecting the feel of Batman from this summer's The Dark Knight.

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