For the last time, guys, LEGO games aren't just for kids. Granted, that isn't an argument I'd pitch to my friends down the pub as I learn the new (supposedly improved) England squad to keep up with the lads - where did David Seaman go? - but it's an argument I'd make proudly anywhere else.
However, despite my affinity to a good slab of plastic brick, it's been six years and now 11 games since the Danish toy began transforming much-loved franchises into stud-collecting exercises. After LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars the next evolutionary step for LEGO games is overdue, and we need a big refresh to stoke the franchise fire, without just pasting Harry Potter's cute studded face over Obi Wan Kenobi's.
LEGO Batman 2 refreshes the series, even though it's not as significant a spark as I might have wanted. It retains much of what makes the LEGO games so instantly recognisable, but adds and refines enough awesome, like, stuff to make a new visit to Gotham City wholly rewarding. The open world twangs the heartstrings of exploratory geeks, while new character dialogue provides a better story than the vague disconnected rubbish of LEGO Batman 1. Personalities shine through more than ever, but the voiceover work is necessary to communicate an original storyline. There are some nice details in certain areas, too, like with Batman's not too subtle jealousy of Superman and the unlikely (and comedic) pairing of Lex Luthor and the Joker.
Outside the relative safety of the Batcave is an entire city and its surrounding areas, where iconic DC heroes and villains make their homes. While you'll unlock various characters as you progress through the 15 main story levels, most of your discoveries come from exploring the vast metropolis by foot, vehicle and air. Defeating villains across the city allows you to swap studs to add them to your roster, and the game packs in over 70 recognisable characters with their own unique abilities.
In the campaign, though, the standard level-based structure of almost every LEGO game since 2006 remains very similar - sadly, it's almost too similar. You'll fight bad guys, solve puzzles, and platform your way to the next amusing cutscene while blowing up your environment and collecting studs to spend on goodies.
Despite the familiarity, it's not at all bad or boring, but it's disappointing to see the formula remain mostly unchanged in the main story, whilst so much expansion has occurred elsewhere. Online co-op also remains entirely absent, and while split-screen play returns from Harry Potter Years 5-7, I'm still upset that I can't play on Xbox LIVE with my friends. Who plays split-screen anymore? No one even comes around to my house these days.
Despite these inconsistencies, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is a great LEGO game - my favourite to date. The risky addition of dialogue pays off, allowing Traveller's Tales to run wild in a way previously impossible with the series. Exploration and discovery have never been as good in a LEGO game, and the slew of famous faces will make any comic nut weep happy tears into their first edition copy of Batman Returns. If there was a series entry to prove that LEGO games aren't just for kids, it's this.
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Virgin Media verdict:
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