If there is one word that might be used to describe the LEGO video game franchise, that word is "stale". The series has been around for seven years, longer than the current console generation, and what was new and innovative at that time has become a bit tired in the years leading up to now. While the core gameplay, and the resultant problems with it, have remained largely unchanged since the beginning, the developers wisely used a different twist with each successive LEGO property. Two examples would be the potions of Harry Potter, or the RTS elements of LEGO Clone Wars. These additions kept things interesting, but the core experience and all its quirks were still largely the same.
LEGO Batman 2 is the largest departure from form for the LEGO series yet. The sloppy platforming elements have been reduced dramatically, and the puzzles are far more interesting and user-friendly. Voice acting has replaced the funny but limiting nonsensical grunts and gestures, making the story far more enjoyable. The hub world has been made obsolete due to the inclusion of a large, gorgeously realized Gotham City, giving the game a fantastic open-world feel. All of these things combine to make LEGO Batman 2 the best LEGO game to date, but a few maddening problems keep it from being a masterpiece.
Long time fans of the LEGO series shouldn't fret; the game still features everything you love, from smashing bricks to accumulate studs, to a high level of replayability beyond the story mode as you attempt to unlock new goodies. LEGO Batman 2 still feels like a LEGO game, through and through. There has been a shift, though, in the game's content, with fewer and shorter sections of punching LEGO enemies into bits, and far fewer platforming sections. This latter change is certainly welcome, but I did miss the mindless but satisfying fighting against waves of minions.
Coinciding with the reduced emphasis on bashing and jumping is a much larger focus on puzzles. The new suits for Batman and Robin give them plenty of options for overcoming whatever obstacles are ahead of them. Batman's electricity suit, for example, gives him the ability to absorb a charge of lightning, allowing safe passage, and then he can use that charge to power up a nearby device, unlocking a new area. Robin's hazard suit works in similar fashion, allowing the Boy Wonder to vacuum up radioactive goo to clear a path and then spray the gunk where it is needed. All of the puzzles seem to flow together much more naturally, as well; there are few areas where you will be stumped for very long.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game, as a fan of DC Comics, is the inclusion of other super heroes than the Dynamic Duo. I was a bit disappointed, however, at how much of the game goes by before any of the Justice League shows up. In fact, apart from the final sections of the game, you are limited to Batman, Robin, and Superman alone. Given how the game was advertised, I was expecting more LEGO Justice League, I guess, but clearly, Batman is the star of the show.
Throughout the story, little character touches here and there are reflected in gameplay. From the beginning, it's clear that Batman doesn't really like Superman, and resents having to rely on the Man of Steel at all. I felt the same way controlling Batman in a level when Superman was available. The Man of Tomorrow has the equivalent of about four suits of powers, plus flight. I found myself feeling a bit jealous of my son, who was using Superman. I'm sure this was part of the intention, and I must say, it worked perfectly. Such an integration of gameplay mechanics and story elements is very sophisticated, particularly for the LEGO series.
While LEGO Batman 2 is very enjoyable, a few major issues still rear their heads, keeping the game tantalizingly close to true greatness. The biggest issue is the dynamic split screen. Due to the inclusion of flying heroes, there is no way to turn split-screen off. The split is chaotic, twitchy, and headache-inducing, ranging from vertical to horizontal splits and everywhere in between. I tend to get motion sickness when I play FPS games for more than a couple hours at a time, and I found myself feeling the same way after perhaps an hour of LEGO Batman 2. Sadly, the bugs that the LEGO series is known for are still present. The game totally froze up on us no less than three times, and in two separate instances, characters got stuck in the geometry, forcing a save game reload.
Unless the developers can figure out a way to minimize the split-screen problems and iron out the bugs, the LEGO series may have reached a plateau. LEGO Batman 2 is very, very good, with a charming story and quick pace of gameplay. The collecting elements that LEGO fans love are better than ever due to the open world; flying around in Gotham is undeniably fun. I still heartily recommend the game, particularly for super hero fans, but this one is a few bricks shy of being a true LEGO masterpiece.
The Co-Optimus review of LEGO Batman 2 DC SUper Heroes is based on the 360 version of the game which was supplied by the publisher.