LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, Life in plastic

Criticising a Lego  game is like grumbling about Christmas. It’s going to happen anyway, and keep happening every year until the end of time. Plus, you probably will end up enjoying it even if you do feel bloated and bored halfway through and you spend most of it batting your sticky, sugar-coated, hyper younger cousins away as they beg you to play with them.

Since we played the pinnacle of Lego gaming that is Lego Marvel Super Heroes we've found it difficult to truly love any instalment in the series that doesn’t reach Tony Stark and co’s lofty heights. Quite literally, in some cases Marvel Super Heroes’ open, towering city has yet to be matched in any Lego outing since but also because the combination of the team’s enthusiasm for the subject, the incredible amount of fan service and the spot-on humour combined to make it the Lego game to rule them all (the less said about Lego The Hobbit, the better).

Just as Marvel’s movies crush DC’s flicks at the box office, so its plastic doppelganger repeats the trick. Where Lego Marvel had the originality and references that a huge comic-book kingdom deserves, Beyond Gotham awkwardly squeezes the DC universe through the prism of Batman. All the powers that make superheroes unique are shared between characters with suit upgrades, robbing them of their individuality. Marvel Super Heroes worked thanks to your recognition of the characters’ powers Iron Man has lasers, so he can melt gold objects but how are you supposed to remember which Batsuit does that, and which is the one that can explode silver objects?

The result is that you’ll spend more time switching between costumes than Lady Gaga backstage, and it quickly gets tiring. It’s incredibly fiddly, too: you’ll keep accidentally switching to Robin, then Wonder Woman, then Robin again, then realising you have to walk over to Batman to switch back to him… only to find out that this particular level requires one of Robin’s suits. So you switch back again only to find out he’s over the other side of the room, at which point you have to put the controller down and take a break before you start coming up with some creatively colourful swears about men who dress up as nocturnal mammals.
“how are you supposed to remember which suit does what?”
On paper, the massive cast list is as exciting as it was when we first saw it in Marvel Super Heroes, but if you’ve played a Lego game before then you’ll quickly realise that most of the powers are unlocked with the first ten characters, which makes Batman and his wardrobe redundant. If you’ve made a Batman game where people don’t really want to play as Batman, then you might have done something wrong.

The killing Joke
It looks as polished as Lego games always do, and there are hints of that unique thought process that captures the feeling of Lego as a toy at one point, the problem of big tentacles flailing around a base is solved by a giant knife which cuts them up into sashimi and the dialogue certainly has plenty of personality. The trouble is, those personalities just don’t reach the effortless levels we’ve seen before.

Constant reference is made to how unfunny the jokes are, as Wonder Woman groans and Batman berates Robin, which only serves to highlight the misery of hearing them ourselves. Batman is a massive jerk, acting as if he might storm off to his Batroom at any moment, slamming the Batdoor as loud as possible. Okay, the Caped Crusader isn’t the chirpiest of dudes, but he kills many cutscenes through sheer grumpitude and is mean to Robin throughout. As fans of the comic know, the Boy Wonder doesn’t have a great shelf life would it kill Bats to be nice?

Our main, Scroogiest gripe is that the game expects you to know what to do in bafflingly obscure situations. At one point, we were faced with a fire. We tried to put it out with Batman’s freeze ray, but it kept relighting itself. We figured out without being told that Solomon Grundy’s size meant he could walk through fire, but we needed a genius on the other side to use a machine. finally, we realised that we had to use Lex Luthor in a giant suit to get through the fire, then switching to his smart person suit (can’t he be smart in any outfit?) to use the machine. It’s less of a puzzle and more costume-switching trial and error.

TT Games’ reliance on baffling Lego logic is a bad habit, one that threatens to overshadow the good: the mountains of jiggling studs, the wanton carnage of scenery destruction and the wealth of easter eggs and silly asides crammed in every level. The more it ‘pretends’ to be a serious action game, the more it clouds the dumb simplicity that hooked its fans in the first place. Oh, and time for TT to review the pop culture references why is Conan O’Brien in the Batcave?!

People who love Lego games will still find the ludicrous amount of value you expect from these worlds, but we'd be surprised if anyone loved Lego Batman 3. Call us a Grinch if you want, but we hold it to a higher standard.

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