Monday, May 4, 2009

demo monday: lego batman

terrifying giant lego man Last week, I was on the road, this week I have visitors (as a result, this one isn’t going to be very long). I faced two challenges: find something for two players, and find something that The Girlfriend could also play. My choices were limited, and Travelers’ Tales-developed Lego Batman: The Videogame was what fit the bill.

A quick download later, we were ready to go. What did we think?

Well, first, let me review Girlfriend’s performance – she tried real hard! Her video games of choice include Pokemon and The Secret of Monkey Island – nothing to be ashamed of, surely, but she certainly shies away from anything involving precision jumping. She had some troubles with depth perception and with hopping from one platform to another, but she did manage to rise above her inexperience to become a valued member of the team, and also she punched Catwoman. Good job, dear!

The best thing about these Lego games, which include Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones, is their accessibility to those who typically don’t play games. They’re easy to pick up, and you can get killed as many times as you want with no real penalty. This means that even the frustrating bits of the game aren’t frustrating like old games used to be. They do this while also making them enjoyable enough for people who cut their teeth on Mario and Zelda, with lots of unlockables and collectables and funny little moments to keep one interested. What you get is a series of games that don’t make everyone completely happy, but have something for most everyone. That alone is worth recommending them – they’re gateway games. It’s only a matter of time before we’re blasting through Army of Two together.

Let’s talk about this specific demo, though. Lego Batman is just like Lego Star Wars. You break stuff to get studs. You punch guys. You watch cute cutscenes. Little-to-nothing has changed, outside of a change of license. It plays the same and it looks the same. It’s the same as any sequel, really, so I was disappointed but not surprised.

One way Batman switches things up compared to earlier Lego iterations is the way it delivers its story. Star Wars and Indy both follow the basic arcs of the movies upon which they are based, which means that Travelers’ Tales has a little bit of something to lean on from a storytelling perspective. People are familiar with these scenes and these characters, so you don’t have to pay an awful lot of attention to constructing your narrative – just stage the scenes in Lego and you’ll get a laugh. Batman sort of goes its own way. It draws its art and music styles mostly from Tim Burton-era Batman, but doesn’t follow the narrative of any given comic book or movie arc. They can tell whatever story they want to tell, in theory, but the fact that their Lego characters don’t talk sort of negates this. Because you don’t already know the story, your objectives are occasionally unclear. It does help that at the beginning of a stage it shows you a picture of Catwoman and tells you about Catwoman, and then later in the stage the camera pans to Catwoman. A caption reads, helpfully, “Catwoman.” In spite of this stellar storytelling, the narrative and the humor derived from it suffers.

Buy or pass? Well, it’s a tough call, but I’d call it a buy, with strings attached. If you don’t have a girlfriend or young family member to play it with, that’s nearly enough to take away its recommendation. If you do have a girlfriend or young family member, but haven’t played Star Wars or Indy, ignore Batman and pick one of those games up for less than half the price. This one’s fun, but it’s hardly unique.