Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
The original Lego Batman is a game very fondly remembered in the hearts of many younger adults - who, even as their tastes in entertainment have matured, can recall playing it at some point in the past thirteen years since its release at time of writing. I myself never actually played Lego Batman 1 myself as a kid, finding that game on Steam for the first time almost two years ago to the day, but I have had a long history with the Lego franchised 3D collector-platformer games and am actually a huge fan of the general concept.
The games thusfar all followed a pretty simple formula: a small hub world serves to contain 18 – 30 linear levels based on adapting a sequence of installments in whatever franchise it was a part of: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, that sort of thing. Each level has a ‘Story Mode’ in which you take at least two canonical characters (each with a palette of varying abilities) through a series of puzzle rooms representing simplified versions of whichever film or book it was based off of, and also a ‘Free Play’ mode in which you repeated the same level but made use of alternate puzzle solutions, alternative routes, and every other character and ability you had unlocked. It was great fun that appealed to both the collector-completionist in me as a game, and as a fan of pretty much all of these franchises too through their light-hearted and fairly family-friendly parody of the subject matter. It might have been easy for some to write these games off as one-every-year hackjobs or kids’ stuff, but I would always passionately defend the games and the concept as one of the best examples of gameplay truly enjoyable and accessible to all ages.
Lego Batman 2 kept many of these features, but it did a lot to shake up the established formula, and still represents to date, the largest change to have happened between a Travelers Tales Lego game and its predecessor. Firstly, LB2 eschews the larger level pool in favor of a campaign of only fifteen individual stages – however, these levels themselves are often multiple times larger than levels in previous Lego games and even featured (for the first time) dedicated checkpoint save areas mid-stage. Furthermore, while based on a preexisting media property (Batman and the extended DC Comics lineup, duh) Lego Batman 2 does follow an original, albeit admittedly highly generic, storyline – which features, in another Lego first, fully spoken dialogue in all cutscenes whereas previously all story beats had been taken from preexisting narratives and conveyed through a lot of hammy slapstick physical gags and caricature sound effects. The story is ok, if nothing special, and the dialogue does seem like all well-written enough, not boring for adults but nothing challenging for children either, and while I must admit I much prefer the old silent-film era style cutscenes myself, I did find myself smirking at a few of the new jokes in the script and the characters are all played by consummate VAs with a lot of prior work in DC Comics productions too (Clancy Brown, Troy Baker, Steven Blum, et al.)
Where Lego Batman 2 goes even more substantially away from the formula of its predecessors is in making the between-levels hub world a massive open-world sprawling urban island representation of Batman’s classic home, Gotham City. Furthermore, within this massive open world is more than half the game’s content – puzzles and unlockable of all sorts are to be found throughout the city and the whole map can be gradually trawled for content at the player’s non-linear leisure, which as a big fan of, say, Ubisoft’s approach to collectables in the earlier Assassin’s Creed game, I did love to see translated into the Lego games model too.
Lastly, I’d have to touch on how Lego Batman 2 expands the focus of its content beyond Lego Batman 1. The story itself doesn’t follow on, it remains in a general DC Comics floating-continuity where all the bad guys are perpetually about to break out of prison only to go right back in once captured by the caped crusader and co. Many of the characters from the original LB1 return, although there are a handful of redesigns in the character roster. Most prominently, as hinted at in the subtitle, “DC Super Heroes”, a number of characters from the wider DC universe also show up throughout the story, like Justice League members Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and classic villain Lex Luthor. Furthrmore, I was very impressed by the amount of additional content manages to cram in from the wider DC pantheon. While not having any bearing on the main story, a large number of more obscure and often overlooked characters are worked into the hub-world as unlockables and boss fights, such as: General Zod, Sinestro, Captain Boomerang, the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Brainiac. The level design and musical score also takes from a range of DC sources, and while not fully based on any particular version of the DC universe, is very clearly largely inspired by both the 1978 and 1989 Superman and Batman films respectively, by way of the Animated Series cartoon, in terms of Gotham’s overall gloriously gloomy design and each character’s musical motifs that play while they’re presently being controlled.
Despite being a very good game overall, with a lot to be enjoyed here, I will say a few negative words against Lego Batman 2 for the sake of giving my complete and honest opinion. LB2 will run well on modern PCs, however, it does seem to have a number of optimization issues in regards to how well it can be run on a system making use of multiple monitors or atypical native resolutions. Perhaps it might just be a sign of how good I am personally getting at fully completing Lego games, but despite LB2’s larger list of things to do, it did seem to take me only roughly as long as previous smaller installments such as Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga, Lego Indiana Jones, and the first Lego Batman to reach 100%, and some people might prefer a harder challenge. I did find The Steam version to have no specific flaws, however, it would have been nice if LB2 had support for Steam Achievements, official native mod support, or Steam Trading Cards and Emotes, which it does not. My only majorly damming complaint however, is that LB2 actually had two expansion pack add-ons which only released on the console versions of the game and contained ten additional characters which aren’t obtainable at all in any PC version of Lego Batman 2 and it is really unfortunate that this was never addressed or rectified by the time it came for LB2 to release on Steam or ever since.
Never minding that one final gripe I had to level with the game, I would definitely indorse Lego Batman 2 to anyone coming in off of the older Lego games or, for general fans of Batman and DC Comics whose only gaming experiences of the characters might be the likes of the more mainstream Injustice or Arkhamverse games who are looking at one of the Lego Batman games to make this one the one to try if they want to get a taste of the format.