Sorry. Well, not sorry – it had to start like that. The Batman theme tune from the old TV-show is probably one of the most iconic TV themes of all time and Batman himself is probably one of the most iconic superheroes. Just like LEGO is one of the most iconic toy brands on the market. Throw it all in a blender and you should end up with a tasty, iconic shake, right?
Even though the game is called LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, it should probably have been more accurately named LEGO Justice League or even LEGO DC Universe (much like previous games in the series). Yes, the game has somewhat of a running Batman theme – collectibles carry the Batman logo, for example – but this is a LEGO game circulating around a DC Comics dream team of heroes and villains. Batman doesn't have centre stage here.
It all starts in the sewers of Gotham, where Batman and Robin are hunting down Killer Croc. Killer Croc escapes and join ranks with DC Comics' kings of crime – Lex Luthor and the Joker – who have already signed Cheetah, Solomon Grundy and Firefly to their wicked schemes to take over the Justice League Watchtower. However, everyone's plans are overthrown as Brainiac enters the scene and makes his way towards Earth.
TT Games has been making these games for years and in seemingly endless variations. While one might think that the franchise is just a template, cut, copy and paste, this game actually takes a more adept route. The game is polished and well thought through. Everything seemes to be dosed just about right – the chapters and missions are long, but not too long; puzzles and objectives are tricky, but not too tricky; cutscenes divides the chapters into missions, but don't interrupt the flow of the game. This experienced approach is one of the very core strengths of the game as a whole.
Another strength would be the character design. The characters manage to stay true to both their original comic personalities as well as this, let's say "less formal", format. The voices behind the characters fit really well and the script is of the calibre that can be appreciated by children and grownups alike. It's an odd thought that once upon a time, the LEGO games were more or less silent. Now they obviously have some very talented writers on staff and voice actors to portray the product on speed dial – just like it was meant to be.
Playing through the game, you'll stumble across endless homages and references to things that came before; from games to movies to TV shows and comics. Also, keep your eye open for cameos. If you know your pop culture, you'll get them. If you don't, you'll still be able to enjoy them as fun little additions. Besides the script, this is one of the things that makes the game enjoyable even for someone who maybe initially is outside of the targeted group of players. Parents playing this with their children, for example, can appreciate the little messages, while children will appreciate the new experience.
Playing through the game, you'll also stumble across the harsh realisation that this game can't be fully completed in one go – LEGO games are almost infamously designed to be played through several times and this is no exception. While some gamers love grinding for unlocks, other gamers will only grind their teeth in dismay at this outlook. The way that LEGO Batman 3 (and most LEGO games) deal with this and present it to the player, works as a spur for some and a punch in the face for others – things can be right there, under your nose and you're not allowed to touch ... until next time.
This is debatably saved by the fact that at any point in time, a friend can pick up a controller and you can take on the missions together. It's most definitely a more efficient way of tackling the different levels, but the almost seamless transition between solo and co-op means you don't actually need someone to play with you at all times – just when you want the company. The experience might be different with a sidekick, but the game more or less plays the same.
Another thing that may also raise an eyebrow or two is the way the game is designed to give you small clues in order for you to create the bigger picture about how to move forward. However, sometimes the hints provided are so tiny and seemingly insignificant that it's actually really hard to link them to the task at hand. You'll find yourself scratching your head over how to proceed more than once, only because the developers decided they didn't want to give it all away and ended up giving away nothing instead. It can be frustrating. It can be really frustrating.
LEGO Batman 3 offers a lot of entertainment and is a pleasant experience overall – from the dialogue, to the little winks at pop culture, to the actual gameplay. Almost everything feels balanced and the game runs smoothly; the story and its characters offer plenty of giggles. However, it's not everyone's cup of tea to almost be forced into going back and replay sections in order to "complete" the game. It's one of the things that TT still need to figure out and balance – finishing the main story with less than 30% completion is somewhat disheartening. And it's definitely up for discussion whether or not LEGO games in general are good enough to be played repeatedly. That said, this is a very good game and it's definitely showing another side of the franchise that isn't just a tired, cloned cash-cow in a new dress.