I have been a fan of the LEGO series since the original LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game was released way back in 2005.  I even bought LEGO Rock Band, but the franchise, through many of its standard iterations, has stuck to a level-by-level collectathon formula.  While fun and often funny, they never dared to do things drastically different from the formula established by the original Star Wars title.

So with the release of LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, the promise of an open world, fully voiced characters and the interplay of the Justice League team members showed signs of progress.  And for console players, that all may be true.  The Vita version, however, feels like the same game I played in 2005.  Though it offers some entertainment, due to some lazy presentation issues, the handheld version fails to soar above the other LEGO games.

From the title of the game, LEGO Batman 2’s problems are immediately apparent.  Though fans may assume the other DC Comics veterans play a major role in the proceedings, only Superman is incorporated well into the story.  Lex Luthor and Joker have teamed up to hypnotize the masses to elect Luthor as president, and only Batman and Robin are on hand from the start to take down this villainous twosome.  Superman appears sporadically in the first half of the game, much to the chagrin of Batman, and only becomes playable towards the latter half of the trio’s adventures.  A few other members of the Justice League are shoehorned into the final levels, making their appearance little more than setup for the inevitable successor.

The story itself is an original one, and the first to be voiced beyond grunts and shrugs in a LEGO title.  For the most part, it succeeds.  Batman is appropriately serious and scowls far too often, and Joker’s maniacal sense of humor translates well to a less violent setting.  Superman does steal the show on a number of occasions, as this game’s Clark Kent is jovial and just cocky enough to be endearing.  The voice acting best services him, but I imagine the story could have been told through the series’ patent mute characters.  Some of the jokes feel forced and fall flat, but I could watch a full half-hour cartoon filled with the repartee amongst the three leads.

When in a pinch, always rely on heat beam eyes. Always.

The rogues gallery present in the title includes a number of familiar Batman villains, but apart from Joker they amount to little more than cameos.  Characters like Harley Quinn, the Riddler and Two-Face are dismantled—literally, thanks to the LEGO aesthetic—during the early chapters never to be seen until players choose them in the Freeplay mode.  Instead of taking the opportunity to capitalize on the personalities of even a few of these scoundrels, the game ignores them as harshly as it does the neglected heroes.  Too many villains can muck up a story, but if they are introduced, they might as well amount to more than enemies with twice the health as the average thug.

Watching both the highs and lows of the story unfold is similarly disappointing.  The cutscenes, while amusing at times, look atrocious.  Compressed to dire levels, it is as if players are watching a poorly performing YouTube video.  Every cutscene plays this way, and there is no logical reason for this performance issue.  Even worse, they don’t actually follow with what precedes them each time.  Batman and Robin can change costumes to gain certain abilities throughout the game, but these do not always correlate to what the duo wears from game to scene.  In fact, Robin on a number of occasions dons a costume that players never encounter throughout the course of the game.  The videos are indicative of the lazy porting issues that arise from bumping the game up from the 3DS version and not using the console outings as the source.

The actual in-game graphics are strong for a handheld, though the LEGO games have never been particularly taxing on their respective consoles.  Unfortunately, the visual palette lacks a cohesive flair.  Loading screen interstitials are the most stylized images in the game; the rest feels pedestrian.  Levels struggle to decide if real world or LEGO objects define the universe.  The LEGO brand may be known for its adaptability, but from the Gotham Theatre to Wayne Tower, little stands out as truly memorable, save for a giant LEGO robot in the visage of Joker, which is a humorous sight to behold.

This may be the least sexualized Harley Quinn you will ever see.

Sound quality also loses consistency throughout the course of the game.  No dialogue is spoken during the levels, instead replaced by the series’ familiar LEGO mumbles.  These sound effects come off as muffled, and every now and then the timing can be off.  While it is great to here Batman growl every time he jumps, his combo-ending attack where he pummels an enemy like a punching bag is out of sync with the noise of each hit.  As nearly half of his attacks culminate in this move, the dissonance occurs so often that players become desensitized to it.  The bombastic score provides a charming, if jarring, backdrop to the decidedly small-scale gameplay, but the poorly integrated effects puncture the enjoyable score far too often.

Speaking of gameplay, don’t expect to find much beyond past LEGO experiences in this excursion.  Beating up enemy after enemy with the simple combos and projectile weapons merely breaks up the search for more studs.  For those who haven’t played a LEGO game, strewn throughout the world and hidden in nearly every breakable object are LEGO studs, which are the game’s currency.

Players can cash these studs in for new characters, bonus cheats and soundbites.  If all you’re looking to do is gather these studs and unlock all of the game’s content, then you’ll enjoy LEGO Batman 2.  But that’s the only real reason to replay the game’s 14 levels.  Several of them are disappointingly short, and other than amassing heroes and villains, there is little reason to explore the content again and again.

Batman and Robin may have their differences, but they make one hell of a team.

Each level works largely the same: players will travel from room to room, beating up baddies, collecting studs and completing the incredibly easy puzzles that arise.  Variation comes from the different powers required to solve each puzzle; Batman and Robin do not possess the abilities of their superpowered brethren.  From time to time they’ll find a platform with a new suit that will provide them with the tools to progress.  Batman can handle electrified platforms in one suit and become invisible to cameras in another.  Robin, on the other hand, comes in handy during more acrobatic situations but can also put on contamination gear to clear out puddles of acid.  It smartly breaks up what could have been a very linear experience, but eventually it becomes too predictable.

If you’re a compulsiveplayer like me, you’ll replay the entire campaign to collect everything the game has to offer, but too soon in LEGO Batman 2 it becomes less about the joys of gameplay and more about seeing a plan through to the end.  The game also includes a few Justice League missions, which are the standard scenarios of fending off wave after wave of enemies, each time with a different hero.  Extra content can’t hurt, but these missions, which predicate success on not dying, frustrate too often.  Characters that require aiming like the Green Arrow take to long for the reticule to appear and move to the proper spot that dying can be inevitable.  If you want the trophies, you’ll play the missions, but there is little incentive otherwise.

Since its inception, the LEGO franchise has tapped into that need to gather everything possible in the game, and the easy and accessible gameplay usually makes it feel more like fun than a chore.  And you’ll likely find some joy in the quintessential aspects of LEGO Batman 2, but the port, especially in the light of the console version, is a disappointing hodgepodge of serviceable and disappointing content.  I want to fly as Superman and drive around in the Batmobile, but all I have is a miniscule Batcave to explore.  Even with what the game does have to work with, it feels like the same LEGO game I played in 2005. Even then, the franchise did not stand for horrendous cutscenes and a lack of personality.  There have been plenty of advances made since that first LEGO Star Wars game.  I would have loved to see some of those used to form a more solid experience than what LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes offers.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+You’ll want to collect everything.
+Superman is an absolute badass.
+The game still has that classic LEGO humor.
-Cutscenes are painful to watch, and the in-game visuals lack style.
-There’s little new here; I played the same game years ago.
-Puzzles are predictable and simple.

6 and 6.5 represent a game that doesn’t do anything spectacular or drastically fails to meet the high expectations people had for it. These scores are for games that you would only recommend to diehard fans of the series or genre, something that the average gamer wouldn’t miss very much if he/she skipped it. A game in this range has rental written all over it.

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes was developed by Traveler’s Tales and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.  It was released on June 19, 2012 for PlayStation Vita (reviewed), 3DS, DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 at the MSRP of $39.99 for the Vita version.  A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for purposes of the review.