Who is Batman to you? The violent lawman of the modern comics? The wink-wink star of the 60’s TV show? Tim Burton’s gothic icon, perhaps? The point is this: Travellers’ Tales have never had a subject so open to LEGO interpretation, and with it, playful experimentation. And boy, do they love it. Did you feel that Indy was a tad shackled to his tombs and dusty continents? Gotham is open for business. The streets are torn from Burton – the looming LEGO gothic architecture is superb – while the animated series supplies villain-centric locations (ice-cream factory for Mr. Freeze, botanical gardens for Poison Ivy). All that’s left is to populate it; Tales turning to those innocent early days for their colourful cast. Needless to say, Bane doesn’t get to do much paralyzing.
Indy and Star Wars could do silly, but where in either would you find a man-penguin and cat-lady robbing a natural history museum while riding dino skeletons? Indy rode the occasional bike, but then we guess Batman’s crocodiles, ice-cream vans, military mechs and walruses would seem a tad out of place inside the Well of Souls. His loss. Bouncing bricks here (sign there’s plenty of building to be done) guarantee that fun is about to kick off. Now, the LEGO reviewers’ guide says this is where we drop the happy-go-lucky Bruce Wayne persona, and give the game’s dodgy platforming and AI the ol’ mother/sister dose of Bat-jitsu. Death holes? They deserve it. AI? Still comatose, but less deserving of a beating. You see, Travellers’ Tales have shifted emphasis from performing actions cooperatively to focusing on how two different move-sets can make for interesting puzzle design.
All that ‘character A’ interacts with ‘pad A’ guff has been pruned. Characters are defined by physical limitations. Man-Bat glides. Harley-Quinn double jumps. Killer Croc can dive. Bane can smash crates (ah, so that’s where his paralyzing skills went). Moving forward is now about navigating paths only certain characters can walk, allowing levels that actually resemble – gasp – a videogame challenge. It’s not particularly hard, mind; a passing resemblance will do for now. One move sure to please is the inclusion of the multiple-object-targeting Batarang. It allows the impatient to smash through levels willy-nilly, while speeding up the stud-hunting process that ensnares the obsessives. The studs are, of course, back in their thousands and more addictive than ever thanks to a multiplier rewarded for attack combos.
Above: All screens from the Xbox 360 version
Travellers’ Tales clearly feel comfortable in their LEGO universe, and the obvious affection they have for their conventions – stud-counters, hidden minikits, sight gags, Frankenstein-ish character creation lab – can make it easy to write LEGO Batman off as franchise re-skinning. However, how does this explain the sense of fun in Batman that was rare in Indiana Jones?
The cut-scenes prove they don’t need a film to parody in order to find laughs. The vehicle sections – absent in Jones – return in all their hectic brilliance (Wayne’s bat-garage has never been so well realised in a game). The length is doubled with 15 standalone villain missions that fill in the gaps in Batman’s quest (a nod, perhaps, to recent Bats director Chris Nolan’s time-hopping Memento? Er... no). You even get to build a robotic turtle. Indy was about paying homage, Batman is about embracing the dizzying, if essentially silly scope of his universe. Sure, it may not revolutionise the LEGO formula, but if this is the price to see Batman finally done some virtual justice, then so be it.
Sep 23, 2008