LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes [Review]
I used to be a staunch LEGO game fan, lining up to buy them the day they came out. There was just something so endearing about seeing my favorite characters rendered with Lego that I couldn’t resist. The games were relaxing as well, providing me with fun without any kind of real danger of losing. It was like kicking back and watching cartoons.
Then, I noticed that my ‘cartoons’ were making me slowly lose my mind. I’d play through long, torturous levels while trying to figure out the one thing I’d missed to make the game progress. I’d spend most of a level punching everything in sight in case it produced studs, just so I could max out the stud meter for the level. I’d then proceed to lose a ton of them when my character got stuck on some piece of the environment and started freaking out, dying over and over again and losing every stud I’d found. I gave up on them after realizing this during the first LEGO Batman, a game that simultaneously gave me everything I wanted and hated out of a Lego game. Now, years later, I’ve given LEGO Batman 2 a chance, hoping it would fix all of its problems and give me the amazing DC Comics game I’d been dreaming of.
Instead, they kept all the old problems while making some new ones.
There are some really cool features that made me want to like this game. Having a huge roster of DC characters was endlessly cool, providing me with opportunities to play as characters that have rarely been done right in a video game. The only drag is that said characters pretty much just show up around the end of the game, so one of the main draws of this game was a wash for 90% of it. Superman gets unlocked pretty early in, and he’s great and all, but I really wanted to see some character variety.
The suits Batman and Robin can wear are supposed to make up for the lack of characters, and give lots of little abilities to get through the levels. If you played the previous games, you’ll notice that many of the suits amalgamate the powers of a handful of suits from the last game. For instance, one of the suits Batman wears combines the gliding and glass-breaking powers from the last game (don’t ask me why those two got put together). This seems like it would make your life easier, but it just frees the developer up to add more suits with new powers. There’s an electrical suit for Batman that lets him store electricity, an acrobat suit for Robin that lets him flip on poles and ride a giant hamster ball, and a handful of others.
They’re used in creative ways, and I like that they’re trying to add some variety to the levels, but all I found I did in each area was push forward in one suit until given the option to change into another. They don’t add much to the gameplay besides giving me more costume-specific tasks to do, meaning more bouncing back and forth between costumes. I felt like every few minutes I would hit a costume-specific obstacle, and have to smash and search until I’d unlocked the proper one to progress. Flow is not a word in TT Games’ vocabulary.
The levels look nice in many parts, but many are too long and too boring. If people think that levels in shooters tend to be incoherent messes made of disjointed parts, they’ve never played LEGO Batman 2. Due to the need to use all of those costumes, each level is a mess of pipes, fires, water, glass, and other disjointed pieces. They all seem to go on interminably, with some of them pushing past the two hour mark. Given that all I was doing for most of that time was hitting background objects in hope that my path would reveal itself, I wasn’t exactly having fun.
It also looks like no one bothered to fix the particular problems these games have with their platforming. As soon as I went after a purple stud in the second level, I saw that the collision detection was up to its old tricks. Trying to grab the stud resulted in me falling down the side of a building I’d been trying to climb for some time. I hit the ground without dying, something that amazed me, but I soon saw the predicament I was in. There was indeed a ladder down here for me to climb out with, but it was on the outside of the tower I was standing on. That meant leaping out over the pit and trying to hook around to the front of the ladder, praying that I would grab it. These games have always been finicky about hit detection on interactive objects, and LEGO Batman 2 was no different, so I ended up falling off that cliff about a dozen times before my controller was cocked back, ready to fly towards the nearest wall. Instead, I stood up and shut the game off, resolving to come back to it later.
This is a kid’s game?
The same thing happens in quite a few places when you need to use your powers to advance. I’ve had multiple objects fail to react in any way when I knew I was using the right power on them. Some of them are so stubborn about your position that they’ll hold you back for hours. I remember one particular waterfall that just would not freeze no matter how many times I tried to do it. I was stuck there for ages because the game would only read what I was doing if I was positioned exactly right. It drove me nuts.
Free roam has been added to this installment as well, in case you weren’t having enough fun already. They gave you a giant, sprawling city in which to hide stupid junk to collect later. Instead of just hiding things in straightforward levels, you now have to look for them across an entire city. It doesn’t help it that the city is really, really dull. Beyond looking for loot, it’s an inconvenience to do simple tasks, like going to the next level. There’s no picking levels; you have to drive to them, and there’s a reason I skipped every driving sequence in L.A. Noire.
Navigating maps is a pain. Instead of giving you an easily visible indicator of where to go, the game puts a trail of pale studs to show you where you should be going. It’s a nice gesture, but considering that the hood of your car obscures studs that are close up, and the trail changes directions in a poorly visible way, you’ll find that you slide right past every single turn you need to make. You could give up on it, but the lack of landmarks makes it all but impossible to get around, and the compass is just terrible. It’s symbols get jumbled up on each other, so you typically lose wherever you’re going behind something else.
I thought that the co-op would salvage it, but again, I was thwarted by the terrible level and play design. For starters, they had what appeared to be an interesting idea with their split-screen. Previous games just forced you to be on the same screen at all times, usually resulting in one player dragging the other to their death. Instead, LEGO Batman 2 carefully divides the screen into sections based on where you are. If I start working my way up and left while the other player goes down and right, it will cut the screen in two, allowing you to go where you want on the screen while showing you the chunk of the level that you’ve walked to.
It’s hard to describe, but it allows both people to go to different places while trying to make it look dynamic and fluid. It manages neither, as the split just makes the whole screen look confusing. It’s not bad when you focus on where you’re going, but if you take in the screen as a whole, like most players do, you’ll get a little confused with what you’re seeing. For me, it caused more than a few momentary stalls in my concentration while I tried to process why I was seeing two different things on the same screen. It tricks your mind into thinking the game is messed up, and it’s a really jarring effect. I’d take regular old split-screen over it any day.
On top of that, it still seems like the level designers have no idea how to keep things interesting for two players. If you play with a friend, you’ll find that there are a lot of times when one player or the other is just standing there doing nothing. The game tends to lean toward one person or the other, giving them a bunch of tasks that can only be solved with their powers, and then ignores the other person. For example, I had to climb a building once with magnetic boots (a slow process in itself), pull a few panels into position, use my magnetic boots to cross them, break a few containers open, fight some bad guys, and then finally build a platform and lower it to my partner. It might not sound like much on paper, but that was about a three to five minute period where my partner had nothing to do. Sure, bad guys respawned for her to fight, but since they don’t drop studs, they’re useless. All they did was slowly whittle away at her health and cost us studs, creating a boring, irritating, and unnecessary diversion.
I really want to like this game, but it feels like it’s actively trying to make me mad. The levels are boring fetch quests, the enemies are non-entities, the split-screen is a mess, the free roam is impossible to navigate, and the other super heroes who drew me to the game are barely in it. On top of all this, LEGO Batman 2 still has every single problem the LEGO series has had since it started. Traveller’s Tales needs to FIX some of these problems. There is absolutely no reason why a series that has been running this long and doing this well needs to suffer from the same poor hit detection and wonky platforming its predecessors have. It’s not enough to have a cool concept for these games any more, as they’re never going to be a step better than mediocre until these issues are dealt with.
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