Change is a scary thing. Move too quickly and your brand will lose its identity. Wait too long and both creator and consumer become entrenched. Formula becomes formulaic, and routine transforms into rote. The changes Traveller’s Tales implemented in LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes freshen up the franchise, while still not going quite far enough.

Prior to this, the LEGO game format hadn’t changed drastically since the first Star Wars title was released in 2005. With the Caped Crusader’s second building block outing, minifigure versions of the heroes now are fully voiced rather than resorting to pantomime. Additionally, rather than simply using a tiny hub area to purchase characters and admire completed minikit sets, the entirety of Gotham City is an open world. This is where my greatest joys and most significant disappointments with the experience met. Instead of a sandbox we might expect from more mature titles with the feature, Traveller’s Tales can’t shake the linearity of its heritage.

While you are certainly free to roam about the city when not taking on the game’s 15 (sometimes overly lengthy) missions, your mobility is limited. There is a section during the story when Superman, who can take to the skies, will join you. Without the ability to switch between all of the unlocked characters at will though, most collectibles are still out of reach.

This creates a significant dichotomy in the design. The open world is fun, moreso in fact than the story missions, but it serves little purpose other than fan service. With the exception of a few of the cheat code style Red Bricks, nothing you do in Gotham influences how you experience the story missions. It’s only upon completion of the final battle that you get the ability to freely swap out characters and access the powers you need for much of the collection.

The different costumes for Batman and Robin return, with both members of the dynamic duo suiting up to solve puzzles and access new parts of the levels. Much of the progress through the story is dependent on picking up the right uniform for the right task. Early on, paths are linear making it quite simple. Later, the areas open up a bit.

The inclusion of more cerebral gameplay is welcome, but it also creates a barrier to entry for very young players. With the older LEGO games, completing a level was as simple as moving from point A to point B. Now, it is quite conceivable that progress can halt entirely for children who haven’t yet developed the necessary critical thinking skills.

This is a dramatic shift for the franchise. The target demographic has ticked upward in age, and the series is no longer simply focused on young players. Rather, the design seems to encourage parents and children playing co-operatively on the couch (there is still no online multiplayer). I had a great time playing this with my children, but have seen my four year old get frustrated in a way he didn’t with earlier entries.

The split-screen function is dynamic and without a set configuration. As players move around the environment, the angle of the split adjusts rapidly. This makes for some dramatic views, but can become disorienting quickly.

The story is extremely well written, with presidential candidate Lex Luthor teaming with The Joker to secure his bid for the White House. In an attempt to ensure that the heroes cannot thwart him, he creates a Kryptonite-powered deconstructor ray. This device is not only capable of harming Superman, but it can dismantle anything made of black materials. Now… who do we know that has a fetish for the darker tones?

Despite the addition of voices, the traditional LEGO humor does not suffer. Instead, the characters are only enhanced, becoming even fuller caricatures of the comic paragons. Batman’s disdain for Superman is particularly well crafted, especially alongside Robin’s extreme giddiness over meeting the Kryptonian. Unfortunately, these scenes typically only bookend the story missions leaving gameplay that is enjoyable but traditional.

If you are interested in finding every hidden collectible, expect to put in far more than the 10 or so hours to complete the story missions. It seems that with each entry in the franchise, more is squirreled away requiring a return trip. Most levels in LEGO Batman 2 saw completion with only one or two of the 10 minikits. In each, there is also a civilian in danger. You’ll be swinging back for many of them, too.

250 Gold Bricks are also dotted across the city, with three of them available in each of the story missions (one each for completion, filling the stud meter and rescuing the civilian). The remaining squares are hidden, requiring the destruction of specific objects or navigation of a Batsuit-based puzzle to obtain.

These elusive macguffins allow you to build doors through which heroes can be purchased for use. Unfortunately, with the exception of Superman, other DC Heroes appear very infrequently. Other than the final two levels, you won’t see much of them.

Villains are acquired differently. Across Gotham, there are remote Bat Computers. Not only do they give you access to vehicles (including those built with story level minikits), but also they identify the location of a nearby supervillain. Defeat the ne’er-do-well and you’ll be able to purchase him/her for use. The gold doors and hidden foes are the bulk of the fan service, with achievements tied to some of the most iconic battles. The most important villains to acquire are The Joker, Lex Luthor and the Riddler for their roles in obtaining collectibles. WIthout them, many of the red bricks won’t be accessible.

One thing that the LEGO series has always been known for are familiar worlds faithfully recreated with the iconic building blocks. This title is no different, but given the scope, not quite everything is made from the little pieces. For instance, there are two types of flames and water: LEGO and more realistic. Only the LEGO versions are subject to your influence. Everything still looks good, but there are times when both types are present, obstructing clear solutions to puzzles.

The audio, much like the figure collecting, is all about fan service. Danny Elfman’s theme from the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman film is nearly omnipresent. The moments that it fades out are filled with John William’s iconic theme from 1978′s Superman as you soar around the city as The Man of Steel. It’s great that both of these tracks are present, but a bit more variety would have been appreciated.

I greatly enjoyed my time with LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. The move toward full voicing and this first attempt at an open world are smart moves for the franchise. It’s a shame that it feels so much like two different games on one disc, though. Had the opportunity to collect items and take a more substantial breather from the linear story been available, this game would be an unequivocal success.

Unfortunately, it still feels a bit too firmly rooted in the LEGO game formula. If you’ve enjoyed past entries, then I am confident that you will enjoy this game. If you’re burnt out on collecting studs, perhaps wait a bit until this comes down in price. LEGO Batman 2 is an enjoyable experience, but it’s one that will feel just a bit too familiar.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Funny, enjoyable story
+ Tons of fan service
+ Collectibles will keep you busy long after story is complete
+ Voicing is a smart improvement
+ Open world provides freedom the series hasn’t seen before…
- … but don’t expect much from it until you finish the story.
- Familiar themes are used a bit too much
- Flying controls are frustrating
- Other than Superman, other DC Heroes are largely incidental

 

 

7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes was developed by Traveller’s Tales and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. It was released on June 19, 2012 at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.