Little history lesson to start things off: the first LEGO game I ever played was LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game for the Wii. I was taking a break from World of Warcraft at the time, and, as a fan of Star Wars, it looked like a neat diversion. It was so much of a diversion, in fact, that I managed to find the upper limit of studs you could collect (I want to say it was somewhere in the range of 2-4 billion).
Skip forward 10ish years and 25ish games. I've not played all of them, but I've picked up and devoured a fair few of Tt Games's LEGO iterations, and my interest in the latest of them, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, should come as no surprise to any one who has followed this site, or me, for any length of time. While named after the Caped Crusader, Beyond Gotham also goes to great lengths to encompass as much of the DC universe as possible, bringing in not only the Justice League and the various colors of Lanterns, but also the characters of the 60s Batman TV show.
How does it bring together such a wide variety of characters? Through a goofy comic story, of course. Brainiac, a super intelligent AI originally from Superman's home planet of Krypton, decides that he wants to shrink the galaxy's planets to preserve them for a collection he's starting. To do this, he captures a Lantern from each color of the emotional spectrum, and uses them to power a shrink ray. He makes his way to Earth, where the Justice League and their various Rogues, are forced to work together to prevent him from yatta yatta yatta.
Yes, the story is dumb, but it's the exact kind of thing that both Marvel and DC have been pushing out for years. For those that can deal with the outlandishness of the situation, this, much like LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, works off the strength of the voice cast and Tt Games's ability to present likeable caricatures of our favorite heroes. The banter between an always brooding Batman and a hopeful, yet naive Robin never gets old, especially when Robin is busy trying to get close to Superman, or attempting to convince his mentor that his stirring speech on the bonds of friendship was what broke Brainiac's mind control, and not the electrical shock that preceded it.
The story also allows some of the voice actors to really strut, as a good portion of the characters are affected by Lantern emotions during the course of the story. Watching Flash zip around the screen yelling “Mine!” because of an orange avarice ray, or seeing the Joker show genuine affection and concern for Batman after being affected by the light of the Star Sapphires, is genuinely entertaining and used to great effect during the many cut scenes. The game's best surprise is the incorporation of the Batman TV show, with Adam West providing the voice of 60s Bats as well as showing up as the “character in peril” collectible found throughout all the levels and the over world. He does a great job hamming it up with every line delivery, and I dare anyone who's seen the 60s TV show to not have a dumb smile on their face as they play through the hidden level devoted to the show.
If you've ever played a LEGO game, you know what to expect from the game play. Enter a level, break everything made out of LEGO bricks, collect studs, and put together any bricks that are left bouncing to solve puzzles. Occasionally you get stuck because you didn't break every single thing on the screen, thereby missing the obvious solution to the puzzle presented to you, but it's been that way since LEGO Star Wars and I don't think that's changing anytime soon.
What has changed, and what constantly seems to change, is the hub world that connects the story levels. With LEGO Batman 2, as well as LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, Traveler's Tales embraced the concept of an open world, offering a wide open Gotham and New York, respectively. Beyond Gotham takes a step back to a more segmented hub world design, but instead of feeling restrictive, the design actually adds to the truth in the title. The game goes beyond Gotham by offering not only The Watchtower, the space station home of the Justice League in orbit around Earth, but also each of the Lantern planets, which, while scaled down in size, allow you to ride, fly, and explore. It's a little overwhelming at the start, especially when you begin to fly around Oa, home of the Green Lanterns, and the screen warps a little to help deal with the spherical nature of the world, but after a while it becomes easier to deal with. I wish there was a more direct way to check your progress on each of the levels and planets instead of having to bring up the map and select each location individually, but the design feels as large as Marvel's New York, only in more manageable chunks. I would have liked to have seen less going back and forth between interiors, a move required to clear finished character quests to make room for new ones, but it seems necessary given the scope of some of the things
Another major change from the earlier LEGO Batmans is the introduction of the Costume Wheel. As everyone knows, without actual super powers, Batman is reliant on his never ending supply of gadgets, and where past games simulated this with special pads that allowed him to don different gadget suits, Beyond Gotham keys that to the triangle button, freeing you to choose whatever suit you want without having to search for a costume pad. It also makes switching between characters in Free Play mode easy, as the entire roster is available at the touch of a button. It's a small change, but one that makes a tremendous difference.
Playing on a PS4, the game looks amazing, and where other games chugged along with load times between areas, Beyond Gotham never makes you wait more then a few seconds. It's also a blast seeing the big figs introduced in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes tearing around the DC Universe. Multiple characters, like Bane and Martian Manhunter, have transformations from standard size LEGO figs into their larger counter parts, while others, like Lex Luthor and Cyborg, have gadget suits available to them that produce a big fig as well. They have even added the onomatopoeia effects for punches and kicks to the 60s TV show characters, which flash on the screen during the action, complete with horn sound effect.
The only major complaint I have has to do with the game's soundtrack. 3 full Batman games in and Tt Games is still using Danny Elfman's Batman '89 score for just about every scene in the game. In fact, the only time the music shifts from the score is when other characters with theme music of their own take to the air; it's still down right hilarious hearing the Wonder Woman theme every time the heroine takes to the air. Yes, the songs are iconic, and nothing elicits an “Oh, Batman!” response quicker then Elfman's theme, but after three games there has to be someone who can come up with something different to play in the background.
Soundtrack aside, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is a comic fan's absolute delight. There is more then enough content and nods within the world and the roster to make the purchase worth it in my eyes. The formula itself may be old, but it never feels dated, and even though the new hub structure can be a bit intimidating and confusing at points, the structure is one that can be iterated off of. I say can be, like there's not going to continue to be a ton of LEGO games in our future. I'm so silly sometimes.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!