My introduction to the long running Lego game franchise was PS3’s Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. It was an impulse buy. I didn’t know much about the series other than it was Batman, it was Lego and
I needed to fill the whole in my life with something that wasn’t porn it was on sale. I liked it immediately. The Lego-ized look was rad, the dialogue funny and the gameplay solid in a button-mashy-could-be-played-by-a-golden-retriever kind of way. After making my way through the first level I expected that I’d roll right into the next fixed camera stage but something unexpected and glorious happened instead. The camera panned back from its usual confines and handed the controls over to me, the humble gamer. At first just stood there frozen, unsure of what to do in this brave new world. I crept around the open area expecting to hit an invisible wall but it never happened, the further I roamed, the more I began to realize the truth, I was in an open world Gotham! Once the initial shock wore off and the tears of joy stopped blurring my vision, I hit the city hard. I couldn’t believe the absurd number of things one Bat could do in this dank Lego wonderland of crime. There were buildings to climb, gorillas to ride and fine upstanding citizens to mow down with the Batmobile, as well as impressive assortment of unlockable DC characters and vehicles to horde. I rode this sense of wonder all throughout the many hours I spent enthusiastically 100%ing it.
Naturally, when they announced Lego Batman 3, I lapped up every bit of news about the huge roster of characters and the exotic open world Lantern planets. I was hungry and with months still to go the anticipation was too much, so I picked up Lego Marvel as a snack to help me through. It hit the spot. It was like a sup’ed up version of everything I had fallen in love with about Lego Batman 2. Finally, after months of anticipation, November 11, 2014 hit and it was meal time. I rushed my day-one copy home from Best buy and began demolishing story mode. After a few hours of unlocking the various areas of the game, I began to feel that something was off. Every element of the past success checklist was carefully integrated by the development team. All my favorite heroes and villains were present. By all logic I should have loved this game and if this were Lego: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, I probably wouldn’t be so critical, but this is Lego BATMAN we are talking about here. I must over-think this, I must over-feel this.
There were lots of great ideas at work and its obvious the creators went out of their way to please the DC fans but somehow the sum of all its beautifully crafted parts isn’t as much fun to play as it should be. I think the central problem was the game’s lack of evolution in its core elements. By now we all know the Lego game drill; button mash till all the enemies have exploded, laser-beaming and bomb your way way through every obstacle, laugh at joke and repeat till the credits roll. TT Games has gotten an incredible amount of mileage out of that formula but after now about 20 of these games released fatigue has started to set in. The player’s expectations are changing. The once cute zero-threat enemies, the huge cast of characters with the same agonizingly lame button mashing attacks and the child’s play puzzles are now holding this game back from being anything more than a mildly entertaining way to burn 60 bucks. Heck, for less than half of that you could have a lot more fun
having an exotic dancer give your designer jeans the kind of gash stains that even the most concentrated detergents wont get out buying the vastly superior Marvel Super Heroes.
I can mostly get past the lunkhead gameplay mechanics, its a pretty minor gripe but the biggest let down for me was the changes they made to the open world formula. Exploring the city was my favorite thing about Lego Batman 2 and Lego Marvel Super Heroes they were teeming with life and were full of fun little puzzles and diversions. The Lantern Planets are lifeless. I would have much rather glided across the rooftops of Gotham and Metropolis or even swam through Atlantis than explore the lifeless spheres that make up the bulk of the open world sections. Where are the cities? The buildings? The people? Its lonely in space. Most of the time I found myself just roaming around hoping to trigger a random baddie fight just so I could see another person. In LB2 there was a practical reason to explore in the city, its how you got from level to level. Aside from collecting unlocks, there really wasn’t a compelling enough reason to spend any real time on the Lantern Planets of LB3.
You cant deny the simple visual charm of the Lego game franchise. Its distinctive look has been refined with every generation and it is simply gorgeous in Lego Batman 3 on the PS4. The sheer amount of small details they packed into each character and structure is incredible. If you just whisk through the game you’ll miss all the quiet little moments like all the adorable characters specific idle animations and all the details of the miniaturized versions of London and Paris. The cast of classic and deep cut unlockable characters is substantial enough that even the most studied DC fanboy would have a hard time complaining about an obscure character they forgot to include. I mean, come on, they even included Composite-Superman!
Though, with so many Heroes in the spotlight I couldn’t help but feel the potency of their presence somewhat diluted. There was such a feeling of awe when Superman finally made his appearance in LB2. You felt the otherworldly-ness of his powers casting a shadow over Batman and Robin’s mere mortal abilities and when you finally got to could control him it was thrilling to finally have some real power in your hands. It was the same when you finally unlocked the rest of the super-powered cast. If they had just made little tweaks to the fighting mechanics it would have made a world of difference to the players who have been to the Lego-verse more than a few times before. Even the little kids that mash their way through these games would have appreciated a special move system and unlockable upgrade system like the Scott Pilgrim PS3 game. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have paid double price if there was a special move that had Black Canary kiss Zatanna, like the Knives Chau and Kim Pine special. Though I guess that would take Lego Batman 3 solidly out of the “kids game” realm.
I know I had more than a few gripes with this entry but don’t get me wrong, Lego Batman 3 is a good game and its certainly a much better time than facing that ever expanding list of social problems phobias you have. Much of my disappointment was amplified by the fact that both of these properties are so near and dear to my heart. I’m a lifelong Batman and Lego fan, like has a Bat symbol shower mat and has turned down numerous dates to reorganize his mini-figure collection level fan. Wow it sounds much less cool when you type it out. Where was I? Oh yeah. There are some terrifically cool aspects of LB3 and it was great to see all my favorite DC characters and locales so vibrantly and respectfully rendered. I just wish they would have thought a little less about who else they could cram into the character roster and thought a little more about what they could do to better engage an audience of evermore sophisticated gamers of all ages.