If you had told me ten years ago that I would enjoy a product with the name Lego on it I would have said you were insane. Imagine my surprise that I’m now hopelessly addicted to the Lego video game series.
Lego Super Heroes:
The Quest for Pieces?
From Lego Star Wars to Lego Pirates of The Caribbean, I have devoted endless hours to smashing, building, free playing, and minikit-ing (the hours are literally endless, because my love of video games far surpasses my aptitude for them).
When Lego Batman came out in 2008, I went through the roof; I rushed out and bought a copy as soon as I was able. That game, while flawed, quickly became one of my favorites of the franchise and I had hoped there would be a follow up. I was even hoping there would be a follow up involving Superman and other characters long before it was even announced. Here it is, 2012, and my hopes had finally been realized. But the question remains, have my expectations been realized too?
The main plot has Lex Luthor breaking the Joker out of Arkham Asylum in order to utilize Joker’s chemical expertise, plus a giant Joker robot, in order to win his bid to become President of the United States. Batman and Robin (and eventually Superman) set out to stop the unholy pair before it is too late.
So the plot isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it’s a Lego game so that isn’t expected anyway (but I am still waiting for them to do Lego Romeo and Juliet). The set up is fairly straight forward and simple with only a few twists here and there. My problem is that the entire story mode is dedicated to this one idea (as far as I know; Metropolis and The Justice League Watchtower are evidently playable areas, but I haven’t been able to access them yet). In the past game, we had a Riddler, Penguin, and Joker plots each five (or ten if you include the villain’s side) levels apiece, here the big draw is having more DC characters to play with and yet the bulk of the game deals with only two of DC’s stable of villains, with some cameos from Batman’s gallery. On top of that, a few of the levels feel like filler and could very easily been dropped. On the plus side, we finally get a Scarecrow boss fight, which the earlier game did not feature. A Bane boss fight is still MIA, a surprising move considering his status in the upcoming film, but you do have to avoid his tunnel mobile in level three. In addition I was disappointed that, outside of free play, you only get to play Green Lantern and Cyborg for two levels, Flash and Wonder Woman for one.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about the Lego series is the creative ways they find to tell the stories through purely visual terms. I have always been a fan of silent cinema anyway, and find wordless and visual communication to be very entertaining and stimulating. When I saw the first trailer for this game, among the excitement over many aspects they were featuring, I was very disappointed when the characters began conversing. But how does it work within the game? It’s innocuous enough, but I was still irritated by it, partially due to the fact that due to it being a Lego game the characters come across as if they were on the Marvel’s Superhero Squad TV show, which was cloying at best, rage-inducing at it’s worst.
As far as the voice acting goes, it makes perfect sense they made a big deal concerning Clancy Brown playing Luthor again, as he brings some class to the proceedings even though it seems beneath him. Steve Blum channels Mark Hamill effortlessly as the Joker, and in addition to playing Batman, Troy Baker reprises his role as Two-Face from Arkham City. Sadly Tom Kenny did not return as the Penguin and Nolan North is a poor substitute. Travis Willingham is rather cheesy as Superman, and the normally reliable Rob Paulson’s take on the Riddler really grates on me for some odd reason.
The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from the franchise and not much has really changed. You do get the added bonus of using characters who can fly. I at first thought they would do like they did with Jango and Boba Fett and just have the character sort of hover, but instead you can actually ascend and descend when playing Superman or anyone else with flying capability. The flying is inconsistent however. In Story Mode the flight is relatively easy, using double jump to initiate flight and to ascend, and the special moves button to descend. On the Gotham City map however you have to keep hitting the jump button while using the direction pad in order to actually move around which can make for some frustrating game play as the directional pad sometimes has a mind of it’s own. The same is true of driving the vehicles as you have to hit the jump button to accelerate, special moves button to reverse. You can get used to it, but I miss the freedom of vehicular movement in the previous game.
Speaking of the Gotham City map, nothing adds hours to the game more than having to wander around that huge setting. If you thought it was hard to find red bricks and unlockable characters in Star Wars III and Indy II then you are going to go out of your mind on this one (thank goodness for youtube). Worse yet, in the initial Story Mode outing, you have to traverse the map to get to the next level, sure they give you a trail to follow, but you have to practically crawl through the streets to avoid missing the turns not to mention turning around while in vehicles is something to get used to.
As for the new characters, Superman is an absolute joy to play. He’s already invincible so you don’t have to worry about some pesky thug blind siding you while trying to complete a task. His aversion to Kryptonite is treated in the same manner as Indy’s fear of snakes in the Lego Indiana Jones games. He has super breath which freezes enemies as well as certain water obstacles, and X-ray vision which is only used on certain panels which can also be accessed by Batman in his “sensor suit”. The best thing about Superman besides flying is his heat vision which can heat up and explode gold Lego pieces. You can also just stand back and blast every enemy and breakable object in sight if you choose to. Unfortunately the heat vision doesn’t work on silver Lego objects which require characters with bombs and explosives.
Green Lantern is capable of flight as well. His only other unique feature is the ability to control certain green bricks that pop up form time to time.
Cyborg is essentially magnet suit Robin with Superman’s heat vision (here it’s laser eyes) thrown in as well.
Wonder Woman is essentially an alternate Superman minus breath and vision, but including using her tiara as a boomerang and her lasso as a grapple in some areas.
Flash is pretty self-explanatory. He can build certain bricks that no one else can and can be hard to control accurately but he is also a lot of fun to play anyway.
Batman and Robin both have new specialty suits with unique abilities plus at least one (redesigned)specialty suit from the previous game. Most of these suits abilities can be recreated by other characters in the game.
Design and Execution
One of the biggest draws of the original game for me was both the overt and subtle nods to the Tim Burton design sense from Batman and Batman Returns. That element is somewhat downplayed in this game, but it is far from cast aside. For example, Batman’s design in this games is very much patterned after Michael Keaton’s costume from the first two films. Gotham Cathedral is still a pivotal landmark on the map, while the Penguin hides out in a giant globe labeled Arctic World in the Gotham Zoo. The Batmobile and Batwing also retain their appearance from the previous game.
In addition to the Burton references there are some sutble references to Joel Schumacher’s universe, mainly giant Lego statues throughout the Gotham map. There is even a reference to the 1966 Batman movie that had me chuckling.
The levels are gorgeously rendered and in some places jaw dropping. My particular favorites include the Ace Chemical level, and (SPOILERS) the assault on the Batcave. There is also a Wayne Tower freefall level reminiscent of Star Wars III that is truly exciting.
Sound Effects are relatively the same as before, but I get a sort of perverse glee when the thugs wail and scream after being hit by Superman (no different than how they sound when hit by anyone else really, but Superman makes it funnier).
Of course the biggest draw for me (being a film score fan) is the usage of both Danny Elfman’s Batman Score, AND John William’s Score for Superman. Both themes are the defintive representations of the respective heroes and it is nice to have that recognized even if it’s just by a Lego game. Unlike The first Batman game, which only used music from the first soundtrack, This game features some of Batman Returns (at least I noticed it in the Ace Chemicals level). As far as I can tell they only seem to use the Superman theme from William’s score, though when I first took off as Supes on the Gotham map and that theme started I got goosebumps. In order fill in the blanks (and not repeat the same music ad nausem) they hired a composer named Rob Westwood to write some new music and adapt the hero themes, sometimes within the same piece. His writing isn’t bad but you can tell the difference between his music and Danny’s.
Overall I think this game is worth playing even if it’s only for the nice visuals and music, but it probably won’t replace your previous favorite game in the Lego franchise, but then again, what do I know…