Like the rest of the known universe, I love Batman. It doesn’t seem to matter what he’s in, or how often DC shows me another rehash of his tragic origin story, I still find myself consuming pretty much any and every piece of Batman media I can find. There’s something endearing about his earnest gloominess and commitment to pretending to be the good hero because he only leaves goons paralyzed instead of dead. And yet, despite the fact that Batman is, as a property, obsessed with a teenage love of being dark and edgy, somehow it works incredibly well as a LEGO product.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (3DS, Android, iOS, PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Released Nov 2014 | Developed: Traveller’s Tales | Published: WB Games
Genre: Platformer | HLTB: 11
Despite being a toy line expressly built around creativity and smashing brightly-coloured boxes together to make some cheery chimera construction, the LEGO games are great at capturing their own image of the Batman franchise that manages to retain a sense of authenticity without sacrificing a kid-like appreciation for fun. The licensed LEGO games began in earnest with adaptations of Star Wars and that made sense to me; sure, that franchise is all about war, but it’s also inherently a bit goofy, with space wizards waving glowing swords around and massive spaceships engaging in dogfights with more flashing lights than a Brixton rave. That silliness should – indeed, did – mesh well with the target audience of LEGO and the result was a sharp and funny platformer which did so staggeringly well that the series was quickly expanded to encompass more and more licensed franchises.
Batman was one of the first new franchises that LEGO adapted after the success of LEGO Star Wars. While I’ve never played the original LEGO Batman game, it clearly did something right as it spawned several sequels and spun off into a reasonably popular sub-series in its own right. I have played the second game, but it’s the third that we’re diving into first on the blog (I confess, it’s because it was on sale and I love a good saving), but that’s okay because the third is a particularly fun entry and there’s absolutely nothing in these games that requires you to have played the previous games.
LEGO Batman 3 certainly does like its audience to have some understanding of DC characters and comics though. Obviously it’s not entirely compulsory – these are games made so kids can play them after all – but the game doesn’t spend any time explaining who any characters are. It’s enjoyable because it’s a big, bombastic superhero story, but it will undoubtedly hold more resonance if you have a broad knowledge of who is running around.
And when I say a broad knowledge I certainly do mean it. LEGO Batman 3 begins with Brainiac abducting the leaders of each Lantern Corp before setting his villainous sights on Earth. If you know DC Comics then you know what’s coming next as Brainiac is all about doing one thing and one thing only: true to form, he wants to use his mighty shrink ray, buffed up by the combined power of the Lanterns’ power rings, to shrink not just a city but the entire world to add to his collection. However, the Justice League is an obstacle to his plans, so Brainiac tries to mind-control Batman to try and sow discord in the ranks of the defenders of the world. Naturally (this is a LEGO Batman game after all, he’s in the title) the caped crusader breaks free and tries to organize the League’s efforts to stop Brainiac.
In many ways this story feels like a direct response to the criticisms of LEGO Batman 2; namely that it billed itself as a Justice League game but really was just Batman-focused. This one, in contrast, involves a huge array of Justice League heroes and villains in far wider ways as League standards like Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Cyborg and Green Lantern find themselves fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their respective nemeses as even the Joker and Lex Luthor realize the need to marshal their forces against the power of Brainiac. It perhaps reads a little twee on paper, but the caveat that this is a game made so children can enjoy it as well remains; in reality, there’s a sheer fun factor to seeing the Joker capering around or Solomon Grundy winding up as the only sane man in the band of baddies, sharing eye rolls with Robin as yet another hero or villain does something over-the-top. It might not be the most comic-authentic retelling of these characters, but it is the most LEGO-authentic way to write them, and that carries a lot more weight.
It’s also a story very much built around the Lantern Corps, which almost feels like the game was made specifically for me. I love the Lanterns, so to get a game with them as a central focus was an absolute delight. I’m still waiting for that wonderful day we get a game based around Blackest Night, but I’ll take this fun, multi-coloured romp as the league try and gather the collected power of all the lanterns to save the world. Of course, that’s only in the story mode; like every other LEGO game, one of the big draws is replaying the game in Free Play mode, where you get to use any and every character you’ve unlocked to explore the levels and uncover all of the secrets. I can remember being wowed when the original LEGO Star Wars game featured 56 unique characters, but LEGO Batman 3 has over 200, not to mention a plethora of playables added in the various pieces of DLC, making it perhaps the most comprehensive collection of DC characters in gaming. Chances are, if there’s a character you like, they’ll be featured here.
If you’re familiar with the LEGO games – indeed, any of them – then you’ll not be too surprised at what’s on offer here; the LEGO games have a formula, and LEGO Batman 3 does little to deviate from it. It does however do some significant work to expand that formula; with the gift of hindsight, it’s easy to see how this game paved the way for the more extensive, semi-open worlds present in the most recent releases. The main levels work the same as ever; each stage is a colourful mix of basic platforming challenges, bopping enemies on the head, and manipulating the trademark building bricks to construct solutions to puzzles or to advance your progress in the level. There’s little depth to the combat – most fights are simple horde rushes of goons who just punch wildly and the easiest response to it is just to mash the attack button in response – although most stages end in a boss fight. I say fight, but in practice these are more like set pieces as you avoid attacks until a specific weak point opens up or you’re given an opportunity to build something that gives you an opening.
Each character can interact with the world in a variety of ways. Batman and Robin are by far the most diverse heroes as they (alongside a scant few others, such as the Joker, Cyborg, and Lex Luthor) can access different suits, each of which augments their powers. Robin’s Tech Suit, for example, lets him interact with computer panels, whereas Batman’s Space Suit grants him limited flight and a laser to melt golden glowing bricks. The heroes have access to a suite of unique suits, so the spread of their powers is very broad; in contrast, most other characters have access only to their relevant skills or abilities, meaning you’re expected to switch between characters in order to fully explore a stage. Once you beat a stage you can replay it in Free Play, meaning you’ve access to all of the characters you’ve collected thus far, and to that end every level is stuffed with secrets and collectibles that you can gather only in Free Play, so you’re expected to replay stages at least a little.
However, LEGO Batman 3 doesn’t just end there. It also features a frankly huge array of content outside of its story mode. Whereas the original LEGO games had small hub worlds from which you could access all of the levels, such as Dexter’s Diner or the Mos Eisley Cantina in the Star Wars titles, Batman 3 instead gives us a set of open-ended and explorable worlds to run around in. Most of them are linked as well, so while you exit levels in the Watchtower (itself already a multi-levelled structure filled with secrets), you can travel quickly to the Batcave, or the Hall of Justice. As you gather the collectibles in each of these hubs other ones open up as well, and the end result is one of the largest and most open LEGO games to date. Finding all the collectibles in the stages isn’t too bad, but once you’re out in the hub worlds it can feel a little daunting, and I can’t say I’d blame anyone who decided to instead just grab a guide and thumb through it for the last pieces you’re missing.
For my money, LEGO Batman 3 does little wrong. A cynic might perhaps point to the fact that the LEGO games rarely offer enough in terms of breaking away from formula, and although Batman 3 does expand it, I don’t think it does enough to convince anyone who doesn’t enjoy the way these games work. It’s probably not going to offer much to a non-Batman fan, but in all honesty I can’t see anyone but DC fans buying this game. If, like me, you are a DC fan, then it stands as a charming love letter to the franchise. Its humour is gentle and safe for its target audience, trending towards wackiness, and while that’s not my personal preference it does still work well. The widening of the scope of the story to properly include the Justice League, as well as adapting one of my favourite villains, is a clear improvement for the LEGO Batman series, and with that widening comes a massive array of fun characters to play with. Suffice it to say, I think LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is one of the finest-tuned releases in the LEGO catalogue.
6/7 – EXCELLENT.
Games with a touch of brilliance. It might only just miss out on being an absolute favourite, but you should definitely play this.