I know what you’re probably thinking right now: “Why would Homs play a video game made to promote children’s toys? Isn’t he a little old for that?” Well in my defense… actually you’re absolutely right. I saw this in the Steam store on sale for dirt cheap and picked it up out of nostalgia for my childhood. However, as the existence of this review implies, I found revisiting this game to be an interesting experience and felt compelled to write about it.
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is an adventure game released in 2012 for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and PC. At the time it was probably one of the most ambitious titles in Traveller’s Tales’ Lego series, featuring an original story, fully voiced character dialogue (a first for the Lego games), and a large overworld to explore. Do these features make a game that sticks together 9 years later? Or should these foot stabbing plastic blocks have stayed in the basement?
The plot of Lego Batman 2 sees the titular hero’s greatest nemesis the Joker receive a powerful new weapon from Superman’s archenemy Lex Luthor in exchange for Joker’s laughing gas, which Luthor plans to use to manipulate the masses into voting for him in the upcoming presidential election. In response to this villainous alliance, Batman and Robin team up with Superman to foil their plans which culminates in a climax that gets the rest of the Justice League in on the action. It’s a very simplistic story that functions mostly as an excuse to get DC Comics’s biggest names on screen together in the most kid-friendly way possible. The addition of full voice acting does allow for better characterization than the pantomiming in earlier Lego games, but in hindsight it’s definitely less charming than the wordless antics of past titles.
The game’s visual direction is a mix between the urban gothic style of Batman comics and films and the Lego toy sets brought to life through animation. It’s undoubtedly a weird artstyle, but not unexpected considering that it couldn’t really be considered a Lego game otherwise. The game’s music is largely ripped straight out of the soundtrack of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film with a few original compositions here and there. The Superman theme from the 1978 film by Richard Donner (Rest In Peace) also makes an appearance which never fails to put a stupidly big grin on my face. If you love those old films, the soundtrack will definitely brighten your day. While we’re still on the subject of audio, I also wanted to mention the game’s voice cast. Despite my previously mentioned preference for the pantomiming in older Lego games, I can’t deny that they got some of the best actors in the industry on this one. The cast genuinely sounds like they’re having way too much fun playing these exaggerated versions of these characters. The standout for me is easily Travis Willingham’s Superman, who sounds like he jumped off the pages of a campy silver age comic book.
The core gameplay of Lego Batman is similar to the other Lego games, in which the player navigates their characters through a series of levels filled with obstacles to overcome. There’s henchmen to fight, blocks to break, some very light puzzle solving and platorming, and usually a boss fight at the end to cap things off with some action. Throughout the game you’ll primarily be playing as Batman, Robin, and Superman who have all the gadgets and powers you would expect. Batman and Robin in particular can find additional super suits that allow them to negate certain hazards they otherwise couldn’t, such as security cameras and toxic waste puddles. You can also have a second player drop in for some co-op, which I consider the ideal way to play since the AI partners can get a little finicky. It’s an undemanding cycle that doesn’t really present much of a challenge, which is something I would normally consider a bad thing, but it was designed with very young audiences in mind, so there is an argument for it’s breezy difficulty, even if I personally think it should have been made a little bit harder. However, there are a few sections where the fixed camera angles interfered with determining jump distances, which was rather frustrating to deal with.
There are also three optional/additional objectives in every level. First there’s ‘True Superhero’ which requires the player to collect a large amount of coins before the end of a level. It’s a fairly easy task so long as you thoroughly smash every Lego object you can find, though it’s kind of ironic seeing superheroes essentially creating countless amounts of property damage for money. The next objective is collecting a set of 10 capsules called “minikits”, which are hidden in each level for the player to find. Some minikits are hidden just outside of the camera’s view in clever spots while others are locked in areas only accessible to characters with certain powers. You won’t be able to obtain every minikit on your first playthrough, but you can return to a level with characters unlocked in the overworld that have the powers you need to acquire the missing capsules. Collecting all 10 will unlock a tiny vehicle you can use in the overworld; it’s not a particularly useful reward, but it can be novel to drive around in a comically small batmobile from time to time. The third objective is to save a citizen in peril, which doesn’t give any particularly special rewards, but thematically is very appropriate for a superhero game so don’t hesitate to lend a hand if you can.
The other portions of the gameplay are found in the overworld which is a fully explorable Gotham City where the player can use their coins to unlock characters and vehicles. There are also obstacle courses and puzzles that will sometimes reward the player with red bricks that unlock cheat codes to make the game even easier. Unfortunately these activities can all get pretty repetitive since most of them are solved by Batman, Robin, and Superman’s abilities with only a handful of instances that actually require other characters. I also found that the flight controls in the overworld are really awkward, which is a major inconvenience since flight is easily the fastest way to travel. Overall I’d say the overworld isn’t bad conceptually, but feels undercooked in it’s execution.
So what would be of interest to a Catholic in a game like Lego Batman 2? Well there isn’t much in the way of overtly spiritual themes, but I do think that the superhero elements of the game like saving citizens in peril and putting the villains in their place do speak to some of our most basic teachings. The DC superheroes were made to be larger than life paragons of truth, justice, and hope to inspire young comic book readers to emulate their heroic virtues. Not in the sense that they should become crime fighting vigilantes, but rather that they should do what is right for its own sake. Such selflessness is very reminiscent of the teachings of Jesus, who lived his life exclusively for the sake of others.
Ultimately, Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes was a fun trip down memory lane and while there are parts that still hold up, I can’t let nostalgia blind me to the fact that there are some rough edges. The gameplay can be enjoyed, but suffers from a repetitive overworld, some awkward controls, and a lack of any real challenge for experienced gamers. I won’t say the game holds no value at all, but I would recommend picking it up only if you have a friend who might want to play it with you, ideally a younger friend because it is a kid’s game at the end of the day. At least you won’t have to pick up all the pieces when you’re done playing.
Morality and Parental Warnings
Lego Batman 2 prominently features slapstick violence throughout, but otherwise is a very clean, family friendly game.