Lego Batman 2: Cape & Cowl, Brick & Block
There’s an oddly non-negotiable line that the Lego “INSERT LICENSED PROPERTY HERE” games have to walk, the increasingly obvious cynicism of each successive inception needing to be offset by a greater weight of quality gameplay, charm and unabashed geek-appeal. It’s a particular problem for the sequel games; especially in the case of the Lego Star Wars series, which has been milked as mercilessly as every other element of George Lucas’ bloated and overindulgently-exploited franchise, but still something that’s a concern for the idea of a Lego Batman sequel. It might actually be of particular concern in this case given that, unlike the Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and Star Wars games which Traveller’s Tales have developed, Lego Batman is not a retelling of any particular and familiar story which could be played out in slapstick dumbshow, meaning that the same broad brushstrokes of narrative technique would have to be reused in any sequel.
Given that the playability of these Lego games started high and has only been refined for each new iteration of the basic idea the focus quickly shifts from an affirmation of the obvious to the charm by which Traveller’s Tales games have lived and… lived slightly less comfortably? It’s possibly an awareness of the potential limitations of telling a new and original story with Lego faces mugging and miming which has pushed the developers to make the leap into a game with voice acting. The foreknowledge of this was as much a source of trepidation as it was of anticipation, especially since only a few of the actors from DC’s well-regarded animated universe cartoons were reprising their roles but, happily, my fears were quickly allayed. Each of the significant figures has been made a broad caricature which, played against the ostensibly earnest line-readings, makes the absurdity even more (forgive me) endlessly delightful. Onto the unabashed geek-appeal then…
Batman, perhaps even more than any other superhero, has crossed into pop-cultural consciousness so completely that he’s dragged vast tracts of his supporting cast and rogues gallery with him, something exploited in the game to great effect as elements of previous incarnations of the character from the comics, several cinematic incarnations, and even Rockstar’s Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games. The geek, a creature of strange tastes and esoteric cultural fetishism, is well-fed on such a diet and when the game offers up rewards for pitting two characters, themselves intimately related to one another but not-at-all to the Batman milieu, as enemies that same geek transcends: they become the nerd who can recite seemingly endless and unbelievably specific and recondite facts and figures with an ease that can only be called, at its mildest, downright unnerving. Lego Batman 2 may have lost any pretence of being for all but the most open and accepting children and non-nerds, but it’s a game which seeks to better all competition and comes amazingly close.
As a birthday present, it’s f**king awesome.
(that’s “funking” in case you were wondering)