When Lego Star Wars came out, I was a major sceptic. The idea sounded ludicrous. And indeed it was. Yet at the same time it was a hugely entertaining game: cute, quirky, and excellent to romp through with a friend.
Now, however, after several Lego crossover success stories, the ridiculousness of the premise seems to have finally caught up. Where once things meshed in a weirdly magical way, now the cracks show through. Lego Batman, rather than bringing the best of both worlds (each awesome in their own right), seems to fail both at being a Batman game and at being a Lego game.
What exactly went wrong here? Well, the Batman side of things has been let down more than somewhat by the absence of a solid core of source material: rather than basing the game on one or more of the Batman movies, Traveller's Tales have opted for a new story (if you can call it that) drawing on a range of Batman comics, movies, television serials, and toys. Now, this is cool because it means you get to see a host of different Lego-fied villains (the Joker, the Riddler, Two Face, Clayface, Mr Freeze, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, the Penguin, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Bane, and even lesser-known adversaries such as Man-Bat, Killer Croc, Mad Hatter, and even Killer Moth – although, in some of these cases, one has to ask: why?), but the flipside is that there aren't any classic scenes to recreate amusingly with tiny blocks. The set pieces are weaker; the jokes, more often than not, fall flat; and the game doesn't hang together on a narrative that everyone knows.
It isn't all bad, of course. There are some weird and wonderful additions (some very unexpected – and, I assume, toy-influenced). Although you can initially play only as Batman and Robin, the gameplay is spiced up with different suits – each with its own associated powers. In addition to varying things up a bit, this feature is also nice in that it shows off different versions of Batman (the grey suit of Adam West's day; the black-and-yellow of the Michael Keaton Batman; etc). Special mention must also be made of Robin's magnetic boots, because watching him walk up the side of a pipe beats any of the game's other comedy moments hands down.
There is also a fair bit of fun to be had taking a host of Bat-vehicles for a spin. Vehicle interludes provide a little bit of relief from the standard puzzle-platformer gameplay, and also show some of the better uses of actual Lego. Which brings me to my next point...
Where Lego Batman really falls down is in its lack of Lego-ness. Aside from characters and vehicles, most of the game isn't actually made of Lego! All of the backgrounds (even the buildings – which I would have picked as incredibly easy to make out of Lego blocks) are just painted-looking. And while this is a nice throwback to Tim Burton's Batman film, it is no substitute for what should be one of the primary features of the game. Everything just feels a bit ...off.
Without the really cool feel of being in a Lego world, niggling flaws from the previous games, still not addressed, now start to grate quite considerably. There are still puzzles that make no sense (and are therefore difficult without offering any sense of achievement for completion), and general level design is not great. While the game remains fun if you have a friend handy, the artificial intelligence is often painfully inept. In fact, Robin's comic blunderings in the cutscenes are just the tip of the iceberg: far less annoying than his failure to cooperate effectively in-game. Worse, multiplayer has gone backwards from previous Lego titles – with online play conspicuously absent.
Ironically, the one really good part of the game is that you get to play as the bad guys. The whole second half of the game turns the tables, with the player now controlling the villain in the lead up to the action in each of the preceding Acts. Not only does this give access to exciting new gameplay styles (each one of Batman's nemeses having their own unique powers), but it also makes the otherwise bland storyline rather more interesting. That you never actually get to face the caped crusaders will be disappointing for most, but I can appreciate the point of this: you are allowed to dabble in the dark side, but it would be against the rules to allow evil the opportunity to triumph.
Sadly, though, running with the devil (in the pale moonlight) isn't enough to save the day. Lego Batman may have its moments, but overall it is a sadly mediocre game, likely to disappoint fans of the previous Lego games, and definitely not worth picking up for anyone else.