- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Superhero and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at LEGO Batman: The Videogame.

DC Comics’ Dark Knight becomes part of the legendary universe of virtual building blocks in LEGO Batman: The Videogame (for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, $59.99). Warner Bros. Interactive gives a pair of players the chance to control the Dynamic Duo and their archenemies in a constructible tale of good versus evil.

What’s the Story: According to Alfred the butler, “It appears that all of Gotham’s most heinous villains have teamed up to break out of Arkham Asylum. They are set to wreak havoc through the streets of Gotham City, and will cause a great deal of trouble for our crime-fighting heroes. It’s time to bring back justice to our fair metropolis.”

Control your destiny: The game excels in the cooperative story mode as the Lego-ized versions of Batman and Robin attempt to manage the chaos unleashed on their crumbling city.

Heroes can use “batarangs” and bat grapples and change into newly discovered high-tech costumes on the fly, including Batman’s gliding suit or Robin’s magnetic boots, to work through the game’s levels. I especially found the Boy Wonder’s attract suit amusing - it sucks up Lego pieces to use to build items. My gaming cohort exclaimed, “I’ve got the power to clean!”

After three harrowing chapters, players can see the darker side of Batman’s world as they go into Arkham Asylum for another trio of adventures led by the Riddler, Joker and Penguin. The controllable villains have their own unique powers: Harley Quinn swings a giant mallet to bop Gotham’s finest and the Joker uses an electrified buzzer.

Get to the action: Players work through 30 missions (15 for the good guys and 15 for the bad) as they build, destroy, solve, swing, punch, drive, kick, flip and fly to success. Rewards in the form of “studs” - the currency of the Lego universe - are issued for almost any destructive action.

A bunch of vehicles and planes are also at the player’s disposal, such as the Batwing, the Joker’s ice-cream truck, Mad Hatter’s glider and Bruce Wayne’s private jet, with an occasional in-air mission spicing up the game.

Once missions are completed, players can go back in the Free Play mode and find new secrets and try to collect the difficult-to-find kits as they explore Gotham’s nastier locations.

Star power: The Caped Crusaders face a rogue’s gallery of their most feared villains, including Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Killer Croc, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Bane, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow and even Killer Moth. Appearances by Batgirl, Alfred, Hush, Commissioner Gordon and Man-Bat, as well as Nightwing and Bruce Wayne, further reinforce the game’s comic book roots.

All of the characters eventually are playable - some are opened at the end of a mission, some can be purchased with Lego stud currency, and all work in the Free Play mode.

Perhaps the most important star in the game is the booming musical score crafted by Danny Elfman for the 1989 “Batman” film.

Memorable moments: Roaming through the Batcave (watch out for the swarm of bats), jumping into the Batmobile, taking part in a fantastic midair battle using Scarecrow’s Biplane and Joker’s Copter, and fighting Harley Quinn in a garden of cards all will have the Dark Knight fan frothing.

Also, the Joker capturing Commissioner Gordon in a cage in an amusement park offered just a hint of the Clown Prince of Crime’s exploits seen in the classic comic “The Killing Joke.”

Pixel popping scale: 7 out of 10. The miniature block figures and vehicles look as if they were built with Legos right out of the package, while the locations and scenery are pleasantly detailed and nonblocky. Playing in a high-definition format really brings the three-dimensional comic book world to virtual life.

Violent encounters: Characters act and react like Legos: Punch, flip or blast a foe enough times, and he’ll explode into a bunch of pieces and valuable studs. Take too much damage and lose all of your heart icons, or slip into a pit of radioactive goo and, “holy breaking up is hard to do, Batman,” your character falls into a pile of pieces with studs deducted for the deadly mistake. Don’t worry - your recently deconstructed hero quickly comes back to life.

Extras and unlockables: Here’s where the fun really begins. In the Batcave, players will find many areas loaded with goodies. Stop by the Bat Computer to buy new playable characters, crazy action options (including slippery floors) and some great bat trivia (the Penguin’s full name is Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepott). Go into the library to view recently assembled treasures. Visit Arkham as a villain and find more extras among the total chaos as aggressive inmates run loose.

Read all about it: DC Comics offers the monthly kid-friendly title, The Batman Strikes! ($2.25 each), based on the recently defunct Kids WB cartoon, starring most of the characters seen in the game, including Killer Moth. Unfortunately, the last issue, No. 50, was released this month, but trade paperback compilations ($12.99 each) are available.

What’s it worth: Gamers already well-versed with the Lego video-game versions of the “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars” universes will find the Batman adventure familiar territory. Those new to the vision of game developer Traveller’s Tales will love the action that gives junior and senior crime fighters a wonderful bonding experience.

*Visit Zadzooks at The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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