LEGO games have scaled many major properties down to blocky proportions, but few franchises under the LEGO game umbrella have been as successful as LEGO Batman. As the first DC superhero to receive LEGO licensing both in physical sets and in video games, Batman has a long history of representing the Burbank-based publisher in Minifigure form. There’s always a charm to seeing the gritty world of Gotham rendered with cartoon simplicity and slapstick antics, but some LEGO Batman outings have made a greater mark than others.
It’s a testament to Batman’s iconic status that the character has appeared in a number of LEGO games beyond the main LEGO Batman series. Games with LEGO Batman as a playable character include both The LEGO Movie games, which follow the precedent set by the films’ inclusion of the Caped Crusader. LEGO Dimensions, LEGO’s venture into toys-to-life gaming, offered a Story Pack that added a LEGO Batman Movie campaign and a Fun Pack that allowed players to use the gleaming Excalibur Batman and Bionic Steed. These games, however, do not focus on Batman or his world overall, making them ineligible to be considered LEGO Batman games in their entirety.
The LEGO Batman Movie Game could have been something special, with plenty of frenzied creativity to draw from the source material. Unfortunately, however, The LEGO Batman Movie‘s presence in LEGO Dimensions led to the solo game being a mobile-only adventure. It acts as a Subway Surfers-style runner with occasional rhythm game interludes in the mode of Tap Tap Revenge, all of which makes for a perfectly serviceable but uninspiring gameplay experience. With cheap portable PC gaming hardware becoming more and more common, the need to pick up a minor entry like this for an on-the-go option only continues to diminish.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham isn’t a bad game, but once the world of mobile gaming is left behind, the competition gets tough. Although this game still bears the LEGO Batman title, it isn’t as much of a Batman game as its predecessors, with the focus shifting to the Justice League as a whole. The Justice League is an iconic roster of characters, but it’s hard to beat the juxtaposition between Batman’s brooding image and his antics in LEGO form (although LEGO Batman 3‘s Green Loontern does give him a run for his money). The shifting cast, however, isn’t the change that creates its most significant problems.
Moving beyond Gotham might seem like a good way to freshen up a series, but the way LEGO Batman 3 implements the idea is sadly lacking. The second game in the series had set a high bar for an open-world city, preserving the rich texture of Gotham while filling it with studs to smash as the player careens around in the Batmobile. LEGO Batman 3 fractures its world into a variety of different hubs, none of which come together to complete satisfaction. Spread out across all of these settings, the plot also feels more disjointed, resulting in an experience that isn’t as cohesive as it could be.
LEGO game developers Traveller’s Tales clearly learned from its LEGO Batman 3 mistakes, and LEGO DC Super-Villains course-corrects with one of the best open-world Gothams in gaming. Despite once again focusing on characters besides Batman, putting his foulest nemeses at the forefront allows for a return to the flavor of the earlier games.
Environments still extend beyond Gotham, but the inclusion of a well-realized Metropolis and a greater focus on fulfilling areas helps it avoid the flimsiness of LEGO Batman 3‘s locations. LEGO DC Super-Villains has an enormous variety of content to offer, and players more interested in scale and polish than in Batman himself might want to prioritize this one.
LEGO Batman: The Videogame is rudimentary by some modern standards, but for every aspect of its design that might feel limiting, there’s another that comes across as purely charming. Fans who prefer their LEGO Batman games without voices have no choice but to opt for the original, as the first game in the series is the only one to feature the classic grunts and pantomime that characterized the older batch of LEGO titles. It’s also the most Batman-focused game of the bunch, a relic of a simpler time when Gotham’s billionaire detective was the only major DC superhero in LEGO’s hands.
Without a proper open-world Gotham, LEGO Batman lacks the extent of exploration in later titles, instead featuring a more traditional hub with limited scope. The real fun, however, is in the levels that the storyline leads Batman through. The Caped Crusader gets to face off with iconic villains in a wide variety of individually-tailored locations, from dealing with Poison Ivy’s threat in the Botanical Gardens to melting the Penguin’s schemes in Arctic World. Like the atmospheric corridors of Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s sneaky and stealthy experience, LEGO Batman proves that a carefully curated Gotham experience can be just as much fun as a free-for-all.
In many ways, LEGO Batman 2 is the transition point for modern LEGO games, and it achieves its ambitious changes with aplomb. True to its title, LEGO Batman 2 is the first to introduce a wider roster of DC characters, but it manages to do so while maintaining a focus on Batman, Gotham, and the iconic rogues’ gallery within the city. Similarly, the transition to an open-world structure manages to avoid the common pitfalls of emptiness or repetition. Batman may not be able to glide over the rooftops like in best-selling superhero game Batman: Arkham City, but in a game packed with so much fun, most players won’t find themselves missing it.
LEGO Batman 2 introduces spoken dialogue to both the series and to LEGO games as a whole, a controversial change that nonetheless pays off in its narrative. Rather than ripping bits of dialogue from a film like some LEGO games, the voice acting here is in service of the game’s own story, allowing for a fast-paced, funny plot that raises the bar from previous LEGO titles. With a perfect balance between the focus of LEGO Batman: The Videogame and the scope of subsequent entries, LEGO Batman 2 hits the sweet spot. Every LEGO Batman game has something to offer, but LEGO Batman 2 is the one that most consistently delivers.
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