Traveller’s Tales’s Lego titles have for years been predicated on inventive co-op puzzles and cheeky dialogue-free humor, a template moderately shaken up by Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. The company’s sequel to 2008’s original Lego Batman game is most notable for giving its characters actual voices—unlike every one of its prior Lego efforts, which conveyed plot through cutscenes full of grunts, shrugs, and other nonverbal gestures, this DC Comics adventure is overflowing with voice acting. That shift is a considerable one given how much narrative is conveyed through scripted sequences, and furthermore, it allows for a greater range of comedy than in its slapstick and goofy reaction shot-heavy predecessors. It also allows the publishers to drop numerous inside jokes (a dig at Batman: Arkham City is particularly pointed) while telling an involved and coherent tale concerning the Caped Crusader, Boy Wonder, and their Justice League of America cohorts attempting to thwart a bevy of baddies led by the Joker and Lex Luthor, the latter of whom is running for president. Most important, however, is that it provides genuine personality to its myriad characters, who are here recreated with a fidelity that’s complemented by the Lego series’s trademark exaggerated silliness.
While dialogue expands Batman 2’s storytelling, the game’s open-world structure is less rewarding, simply because—though one is often free to traverse Gotham City without major constraints—it affords only a superficial level of freedom and exploration. Grand Theft Auto this is not, though that’s hardly a major knock considering that the action is primarily predicated on Traveller’s Tales’s tried-and-true puzzle-solving, which is accompanied by familiar secondary directives to smash everything in sight in order to snatch up studs and discover 250 hidden gold bricks. Collecting is a major component of each area, but despite the fact that studs function as money used to purchase new vehicles, it remains secondary to the main tasks at hand. Those put you in charge of Batman and Robin in a variety of areas filled with brain-twisters of a middle school-set level that require you to alternate controlling the heroes in order to properly build objects, pull levers, flip switches, and perform other likeminded operations. Even when you get to take the reigns of Superman, the Flash, Wonder Woman, and other Justice League do-gooders, all of these are similar enough to make later levels feel somewhat redundant in terms of mechanics, if not specifics.
One welcome twist to Batman 2’s gameplay is the introduction of superpowered costumes (a strength suit, an electricity suit, an acrobat’s uniform, etc.) for its titular hero and sidekick that must be used to proceed past diverse environmental hazards. Unfortunately, even that feature grows stale after the first five hours or so (which is only half the time needed for the central campaign), and is less exciting than the fact that Traveller’s Tales’s conundrums have been designed in a more logical manner than those found in its Harry Potter and Indiana Jones games. Progression is rarely thwarted by awkward or nonsensical placement of clues, platforming is mercifully kept to a minimum (thus leading to fewer pointless deaths), and vehicular segments and the diversity of the characters’ powers help provide an overall smoother experience. And yet, ultimately, that’s still not quite enough improvement to make this more than a minor franchise upgrade, since for all the intricate riddles thrown one’s way, and all the crime-fighting fisticuffs against an enormous rogue’s gallery of villains, it’s hard to shake the sense that Batman 2—despite its inherent kid-oriented focus—could have used more Portal 2-style cleverness, excitement, and danger in order to truly push it to the head of the puzzle-oriented pack.