Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: Q4 2008
If you would have told me three years ago that some of my favorite games ever would be based on the same Lego building blocks I used to swallow as a kid, I would have stared at you blankly and then punched you in the mouth. However, I would then have to return and apologize later, as the Lego Star Wars series completely blew me away. The simple gameplay, the outrageous humor, and the huge cast of characters running about in their Lego world somehow turned out to be one of the most brilliant gaming concepts in a long time. Now, the team at Traveller's Tales is looking to bring another beloved franchise into their blocky world, this time recruiting the Dark Knight and friends for the upcoming Lego Batman.
At a recent GDC demo, the team parceled out a few details of what would be in store for gamers in Lego Gotham City. It seems that all of Batman's hard work has been undone, as the entire roster of villains has escaped from Arkham Asylum. Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow and all the rest of the Caped Crusader's nemeses are once again running amuck. Therefore, it's up to Batman and trusty sidekick Robin to track down the nefarious evildoers and send them back to Arkham once more. The team admitted that it was a little harder creating their own brand-new story this time rather than having the arc already laid out for them. However, it did grant them a certain freedom to create the levels and gameplay first, and then go back and devise a story that fit into the universe they had created. They also spent a lot of time working with the DC Comics crew, making sure they kept all of the characters as genuine as possible in the cutesy, silly Lego world.
The game's level design hearkens back to a more 2-D approach in order to make it more co-op friendly. The developers didn't like the fact that partners kept losing track of each other in Lego Star Wars, with one character often getting lost trailing offscreen, so they've reduced the dimensions in order to allow the camera to pull further away from the action. There are still hints of depth here and there, but for the most part, the game is contained in the simple straight line, left-to-right level design that so many of us remember from our childhood.
Unlike Obi-Wan, Luke and the rest of the Star Wars crew, Batman doesn't know much about lightsabers, and he wouldn't be caught dead wielding a blaster, so instead he'll let his fists do the talking. Combat has been completely redesigned from the ground up, with the heroes punching, kicking and generally clobbering enemies into submission. In a pinch, Batman (or Robin) can use his trusty Batarang to lock onto villains or reach inaccessible switches or loot. Also, the Batarang replaces Star Wars' grapple, and now instead of instantly zipping to the end of the line, players can pull themselves up or lower themselves down in order to get the best angle on things. Furthermore, since our (anti)hero has always relied on his technical prowess to substitute for a lack of super powers, he can also don various suits that will grant special abilities. In the demo we were shown, Batman can jump into a glide suit to cross long chasms, while Robin can utilize a magnet suit to walk up walls and dangle from beams.
If simply thwarting the forces of evil doesn't cut it for you, then how about becoming evil itself? That's right, in addition to the hero storyline, the developers are creating a whole set of villain missions that will show you just what the bad guys have been up to since their daring escape. The demo we saw featured Joker and Harley Quinn setting up a trap for Commissioner Gordon in the hopes of luring Batman to the abandoned carnival. Since the Joker isn't much for hand-to-hand combat, he tended to rely on twin Lego Uzis and a supercharged joy buzzer. Make no mistake; even in this world, he's a heartless killer.
While the full roster of characters still hasn't been announced, the length of the game belays a pretty sizable cast. The developers are expecting 36 total missions, which means that we'll likely be seeing just about every recognizable character from the Batman universe. Also, Free Play will obviously return, and players will be able to easily cycle between all of their available choices in every level. Even better, you no longer have to be standing right next to other characters to tag them in, and indeed several puzzles will rely on one character holding down a switch while the other races through to open the door, create a bridge, etc. For those of you who still love to play Legos with friends, online co-op will almost definitely be included via Xbox Live, PSN and the DS wireless network.
All praise goes to Traveller's Tales yet again for combining super-impressive character models with pitch-perfect pantomime cut scenes. When asked, the developers admitted that back when they were creating Lego Star Wars, they had tried using character voices, but it never sounded right having Alec Guinness' voice coming out of a doll made of blocks. The result of this decision, obviously, has created a world of top-notch physical comedy, and one in which you keep playing for the next break in the action just to see what will make you laugh next.
From the looks of things Lego Batman is primed to be yet another smash hit for the Lego gaming series, proving once more that simple fun can be just as impressive as great water effects. The minds behind this title know that fans have high expectations, and they seem to be on track to deliver in a big way. Currently, the game is still on schedule for a Christmas release, and it will likely be the stocking stuffer that every gamer is happy to see.
More articles about LEGO Batman