This review was originally posted on a website I briefly served as Senior Editor.
It’s pretty easy to see if you turn on your TV or walk down the street next to a few billboards that comic book characters are likely more ingrained in popular culture now than ever before. The biggest blockbuster movies, more often than not, feature those characters, major TV networks like CBS, NBC, and Fox feature programs based off of comics, and compilations of comics titles frequently make the New York Times bestseller list. The long and short of it is, though, that Marvel Comics characters seem to be getting a bigger share of the limelight these days, largely because of the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe that’s played out in several movies since 2008. Because of this, DC Comics fans may feel kind of like they’re left out in the cold.
In the realm of video games, though, DC Comics is king. Marvel’s recent video games, with the exception of last year’s Lego Marvel Super Heroes, haven’t been nearly as well received as DC-based efforts like Injustice: Gods Among Us, Scribblenauts Unmasked, The Wolf Among Us, or the universally praised Batman: Arkham games. This month, DC gets to add another solid outing to their list in the form of the latest licensed Lego game: Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham.
The nice thing about Lego games is that there’s always something for everyone, and that’s especially true of this one. Kids will find the gameplay fun and accessible, they’ll find the slapstick humor to be funny, and they’ll get to play as some of their favorite superheroes from the DC side of things, with a plethora of unique powers and abilities to take advantage of.
Adults, on the other hand, will find the puzzles simple but satisfying, the more nuanced humor to be sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and if you’re a DC Comics fan then you’ll likely find more Easter eggs and references than in many of the other more “adult-oriented” comics-based games out there. Still, as a third outing, this game has trouble escaping some of the trappings of other recent entries in the series. Is it different enough to warrant a purchase? Let’s find out.
Design and Story
Lego Batman 3 is a direct sequel to 2012’s Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, and begins out in the reaches of deep space. An encounter between several different Lanterns (including Red Lantern Atrocitus, Orange Lantern Larfleeze, Yellow Lantern and Hal Jordan’s arch-nemesis Sinestro, Blue Lantern Saint Walker, Indigo-1, and the Violet Lantern Star Sapphire) leads to an ambush by the Coluan cyborg supervillain Brainiac. Brainiac kidnaps all of the Lanterns in a plot to use the power of the emotional spectrum (established by Geoff Johns’ seminal Green Lantern comics run) to shrink the Earth so that he can add it to his growing collection of worlds.
In Gotham City, Batman and Robin are pursuing Killer Croc in the sewers of Gotham, who manages to escape after encountering the likes of villains Cheetah, Solomon Grundy, and the Joker. Back at the Batcave, Batman discovers that an alien ship is heading towards Earth, and he is suddenly brainwashed by Brainiac’s approaching craft and attacks Robin and Alfred. After Robin manages to snap Batman out of it, they head to the Justice League’s Watchtower as Brainiac begins attacking the planet. This requires the heroes of the Justice League to team up with the likes of Lex Luthor, the Joker, Cheetah, and others in order to make sure that they all have a planet they can go back to.
The story, much like the gameplay, is fun on a very straightforward level. The plot devices employed to bring all of these characters together don’t linger too long, and instead they help to get the pretense out of the way and just get us to the out-of-this-world craziness that can only be had by teaming up Solomon Grundy with Aquaman, or Ambush Bug with Detective Chimp. It’s kind of a blast. The only other noticeable difference that I gleaned was that the primary characters are all outfitted in their “New 52” costumes: Superman in his blue, trunks-less armor, and Batman in his intricately defined new suit.
The voice cast is one of the absolute highlights of the game, with video game superstar Troy Baker (Batman: Arkham City, The Last of Us, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare) returning from Lego Batman 2 to voice Batman. Other returning actors include Clancy Brown once again voicing Lex Luthor (a role he defined beautifully on “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League”), Christopher Cory Smith as the Joker, Laura Bailey as Wonder Woman and Catwoman, Josh Keaton as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern (reprising from “Green Lantern: The Animated Series”), Dee Bradley Baker as Brainiac (and others), Scott Porter as Aquaman, and Roger Craig Smith (who played Batman in Arkham Origins) as both Bat-Mite and the Riddler.
Some other surprises arrive on the voice cast as well, including Stephen Amell (from the CW’s “Arrow”) as Green Arrow, Kevin Smith and Conan O’Brien as themselves, and even Adam West as himself and the 1966 Batman! Burt Ward even makes an appearance as the 1966 Robin! There are a lot of fun nods and surprises because of the vocal performances and the dialogue, and the cast is appropriately zany in all of the right places, anchored by the wonderfully way-too-serious performance of Troy Baker as the Dark Knight (“Emotions are a weakness!”).
Level designs are pretty straightforward as well, but that’s generally to be expected from a game that is supposed to be accessible to anyone from young children to adults. The puzzles that the game employs can sometimes be evasive, only because seasoned gamers might be surprised at how close the answer is to their faces, but overall the gameplay serves as a fun element in addition to the story.
People who have played previous Lego games likely know the score by now: campaign levels are unlocked by playing through them in “story mode,” and their initial completion unlocks “free play” mode. During free play, you can use any character you’ve unlocked, including their abilities, to try and find secret items that may have been unreachable before with the assigned characters of the story mode.
Levels range from a mix of fighting and puzzle solving to the occasional vehicle-based shooter, with the ability of scoring Lego “studs,” which act as currency you can then use to unlock other characters or items. Certain characters all tend to fit in a different class with new abilities, but the biggest joy for me as a DC fan was seeing how certain characters moved. Batman’s glide is better than ever, when Wonder Woman starts flying you hear the theme to the classic Lynda Carter TV series play, and seeing the creative ways that characters like Cyborg and the Martian Manhunter fight was a pure delight for me as a comic book fan.
While it’s hard for me not to have a lot of fun with the Lego games, the limited amount of variation between titles does put a bit of a damper on the maximum enjoyment you can achieve if you’ve played any of the previous recent games in the series. Lego Batman 3 isn’t very different from The Lego Movie Videogame, which wasn’t exceedingly different from Lego Marvel Super Heroes. For the most part, you’ve done all this stuff before. As weird as it may sound, though, it’s not fair to call it a bad game, by any stretch of the imagination. The sense of humor is just as sharp and pointed as ever, and you can tell that the developers and the creative team have had a lot of fun in putting together a story that unites the entire DC Universe to tell one massive, yet simple, crossover story. Citizens in Peril are back, but this time you have to find some clever solutions to save none other than Adam West. It’s kind of a gutbuster listening to him say in his unmistakeable voice, “Hello! I’m TV’s Adam West. I don’t suppose you could lend me a hand…?”
This game also features more DLC support than any previous game in the Lego series, with a $15 season pass providing content packs based upon Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (adding one new level and several characters from all three films), Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (also adding a level and several characters), and a special pack celebrating Batman’s 75th anniversary with one level, and a giant Lego figure resembling Batman’s appearance in The Dark Knight Returns, as well as other Batmen resembling the character’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27 from 1939, as well as a few Elseworlds tales (like Vampire Batman from Red Rain).
Other packs are promised as well, including one based on the CW’s “Arrow,” in addition to two other packs that have yet to be detailed. While the levels don’t offer a lot in the way of anything new, they’ll definitely be enjoyable if you’re a fan of the characters or the films they’re based upon, since they add a lot of the trademark Lego game humor to some decidedly somber moments from those films.
In a way, calling this game Lego Batman 3 is kind of a misnomer, because the scope of the game is far bigger and more inclusive than just Batman and his cast of allies and villains. This is definitely far more of a DC Universe-wide game, with the story and character library taking full advantage of some of the most timeless, iconic, and obscure DC characters in existence. The best case scenario for complete enjoyment of this game is if you have a child who loves characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or the Flash, then this is the best game with these characters that a youngster can play. Additionally, if your child is a fan of the characters and you are as well, then you can play together and pick up different things as you go along.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham isn’t a groundbreaking entry in the Lego game series, but that’s okay. For the purpose that these games are supposed to fulfill, they do a great job, and always have. As we get deeper into the capabilities of new hardware, it stands to reason that they’ll likely have to do something to switch up the formula in years to come. For right now, though, Lego Batman 3 is fun, funny, full of an obscene amount of superheroes and villains, and bursting with narrative creativity in the way they can be used in the game. There are also a fair amount of surprise characters that will likely make fans yelp with that special kind of fandom-induced joy.
The bottom line is that this is another solid entry in the somewhat derivative series, but the old saying seems to apply here: if it isn’t broken, maybe it doesn’t really need fixing.