Younger fans of the Dark Knight unable to witness his more mature exploits in the upcoming live-action movie still can appreciate their favorite crime fighter and plenty of his associates in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and TT Games, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, reviewed for Xbox 360, $49.99).
More than 50 playable comic book legends come to Lego minifigure life in an epic adventure and stud-collecting bonanza loaded with quirky humor and rampant destruction.
Story: After the Joker busts up a party celebrating the competition between presidential candidate Lex Luthor and philanthropist Bruce Wayne for Man of the Year honors, an insidious team-up between Luthor and the Clown Prince of crime results.
It will take Batman, Robin and eventually the combined might of members of the Justice League to stop the nefarious schemes of the criminal masterminds and their trusted accomplices as they attempt to control and wreak havoc on the citizens of Gotham City and beyond.
Play the role: One or two players (more about that later) mainly control pop-art stars such as Batman (in his black and gold costume), Robin (in traditional red) and Superman as they explore Gotham and a bit of Metropolis through a 15-chapter story and a seemingly endless amount of free play levels and areas.
Stopping the plans of Joker and Luthor will require visiting famed locales such as Arkham Asylum, the Batcave and Ace Chemical for encounters with foes including Harley Quinn, Bane, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc and Mr. Freeze.
Goals often involve breaking apart and building parts of historic places such as Wayne Tower or shooting down aircraft and chasing vehicles.
And, just like the last game, the Dynamic Duo has access to a great selection of functional costumes (available at buildable stations in each level) to help with specific tasks. For example, Batman's Power suit (shoots timed missiles to explode metallic objects), Robin's Acrobat Suit (leap onto poles and get encased in a translucent ball to solve puzzles and roll around).
The soothing voice of Alfred the butler is also always available to offer hints or access, via opened computer terminals placed around the city, to a map and vehicles.
Although I understand the game is about Batman (his Batarang is always a lifesaver in group fights), I wish I could take control of Justice League members, including Flash, much earlier on in the story. Their powers are often the highlight.
Take the always-posturing Superman (complete with hair curl). He offers heat vision, freeze breath (freeze waterfalls for teammates to climb on), extra strength, X-ray vision (to solve puzzles hidden behind walls), awesome flight abilities and the head butting of enemies.
Or, how about Wonder Woman? She uses a golden lasso to whip enemies, a tiara-rang to throw, can fly and harnesses super strength.
Green Lantern is equally impressive. He can assemble translucent green pieces that turn into items such as a giant hammer, train, biplanes and spider. The emerald hero can also fly and pull off some slick spins in the air.
Get to the action: For the first time, developer Traveller's Tales offers an open world to explore. In this case, it's a big Gotham City with too much space that's desperately in need of more varied tasks.
Most players, however, will enjoy the freedom. They can either hone into missions using a poorly implemented mapping location system (it really takes getting used to for pinpointing areas) or simply walk, run, climb, swing, glide, grapple and drive or fly around the town with eventual access to 25 modes of transportation including the Batmobile, Robin's motorcycle, Bane's Mole Machine, the Batwing and even a plain ol' fire truck.
Memorable moments (in no particular order): The multicolored fire outline of the Joker's face in Ace Chemical; an awesome boss battle starring a fear-gas version of Scarecrow; shining a bat signal into the eyes of a massive Joker mech-bot and temporarily blinding it; admiring a calm ocean set against a setting sun while aboard LexCorp's flying fortress; Superman leaving a wake as he flies close to the ocean at super speed; and invading the secret confines of Research and Development at LexCorp located on the sunny streets of Metropolis.
Violent encounters: It's a brick-eat-brick virtual world as villains and heroes take a beating, fly in the air, cry out in anguish and explosively burst apart. It's much more amusing than dramatic and will keep a child mesmerized. That is, as long as junior doesn't start busting up his older brothers' real Lego collection.
Balancing the cartoony violence, missions often offer the chance to put out fires, clean up toxic chemicals, rebuild the Batcave and even rescue citizens in peril from creatures such as man-eating plants with the reward of a golden brick (250 possible) for those up to the challenge.
Read all about it: Fans looking for a comparable level of sequential art action will appreciate DC Comics' trade paperback the All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Volume 1 ($12.99). Based on Cartoon Network's defunct series of nearly the same name (sans the "all-new" part), the book compiles the first six issues from the monthly comics series and features the kid-friendly art style of Sholly Fisch. The published action stars Batman teaming up with heroes including Black Canary, Superman, Flash, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman.
Pixel popping scale: 8.5 out of 10. Offering a perfect homage to Tim Burton's gloomy art deco version of Gotham City from his 1989 film "Batman," heroes weave through monolithic structures, glistening architecture, giant bronze statues, rocky ravines and streets loaded with minion mischief and anarchy.
The characters are equally impressive with a computer-animated pallet of textures applied to swishing-soft canvas capes, hard plastic bodies and paint jobs that makes them look as if they were pulled right from a Lego package.
Youngsters and fans alike will spend plenty of off game time wondering if they can buy some of the actual minifigures to add to their collection or try and build their versions of the heroes and villains.
Star power: For the first time, the Lego characters can talk. In the old days, players simply giggled as the on-screen narrative played out through the principals' mumbles and grunts.
Now, a more pointed sense of verbal humor emerges from the developers. We can hear the strained and funny dialogue between Superman and Batman play out, listen to Robin's rambling naivete and hear Vicki Vale report on the news, or better yet, Clark Kent with his own streaming video broadcast.
Actors bringing the characters' voices to life include Clancy Brown reprising his role as Lex Luthor and Laura ("Dragonball Z") Bailey as Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman.
An added, rousing extra to the action is the musical score compiling themes from Danny Elfman's work on "Batman" and John Williams' inspiring efforts on "Superman."
Extras and Unlockables: As in all Lego-themed video games, the collection of studs, dumped by objects and structures that are busted apart leads to buying new characters.
To purchase the key arch-enemies, however, players must find their location (such as Two-Face at City Hall or Penguin at Arctic World) and defeat them before a stud-based purchase price pops up. Now, the characters are ready to use in any free-play level and each has their own set of powers (i.e. villain Hush packs a pair of pistols).
Multiplayer: Two players can drop in and out during crime fighting or spree frenzies work cooperatively during missions and return to already-played levels for free play.
However, as with all Lego games, I offer parents with younger children some advice.
Set the ground rules for teamwork early. No arguing over who gets to be Superman, Green Lantern or Flash, and, especially no beating up on-screen counterparts. Nothing will aggravate a child quicker than his sibling constantly bashing his character into pieces, over and over again.
Also, a parent should control a hero for a bit to gauge the level of strategy needed to solve the puzzles. Getting stuck in a crumbling underground Gotham City Metro station should not have to frustrate the little gamers.
Final thoughts: Any veteran of the Lego games will endure Traveller's Tales' design risks to enjoy the new characters of Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. Younger comic book fans jumping aboard will be consumed with its action and exploration while finding hours upon hours of discovery awaiting them.
Note: Chapter 12 proved to be especially difficult as the Xbox 360 version of the game kept freezing during the cut scene that introduces Robin's multicolored Batmobile. I was told to go to options, turn motion blur off and turn subtitles on to solve the problem. Well, it worked but a little research on my end found other complaints about this issue and gamers a bit peeved with the sloppy design. Let's hope TT Games takes this to heart for its upcoming Lego Lord of the Rings game.
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A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in communications, Joseph Szadkowski has written about popular culture for The Washington Times for the past 17 years. He covers video games, comic books, new media and technology.
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