By Chris Matel

Da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, Batman…

In our first day of traversing the expanses of the Los Angeles convention center, we kicked things off by meeting with Richard Earl of Traveller’s Tales. You’ll remember the developer as the same ones who have put out the most recent LEGO branded games: both Star Wars games, and, more recently, Indiana Jones. While their previous efforts were more focused on recreating film classics, their LEGO Batman game draws on various sources of inspiration to put the caped crusader, and his exuberant sidekick, Robin, back into the gamers’ hands.

I mean, da-na-na-na-na-na-na-na, LEGO Batman…

Batman has seen various iterations and plays-on -character across media—some for the good, and some, well, not so good…but that’s debatable, because there’s just something indelible about “Holy catch phrase, Batman!”—but the true impetuous of the character has always been rooted in darker origins. Such being the case, a LEGO-inspired title may seem like a strange home for the dreary premise of the hero. However, fans of both LEGO and Batman may find something enjoyable in the upcoming TT game. From what we saw (and played) with our very limited time with the 360 version of the game, things are still fun when your favorite characters are turned into LEGOs.

That said, not much has changed from the basic TT-developed, LEGO formula; though, the hero-heavy focus of the game has created a twist to the setup. You’ll still be playing through levels to collect studs, assembling key items, finding Mini-Kits and playing cooperatively with a friend (with jump-in and out accessibility) or the computer. The big change really comes from the availability of the developers to create their own story; they’re no longer tied to specific events or sequences.

Dark and colorful: an allegory to a specific masquerading Batman villain?...

The game offers an interesting mix of dark environments contrasted with the colorful scheme of LEGO pieces. It may seem odd for the youthful orientation of the toys, and it may not graphically stand out from the previous games, but everything looks right: LEGO even created their Harley Quinn toy based off of the developer’s models.

Bringing a change of clothes to the party…

Things play out similar to past games as well. 30 levels large (six episodes, five levels each) the game is divided in two parts (Hero and Villain), and we had a taste of both.  The main differences between this LEGO title and the others are the various perspectives to the story. As an example, Batman and Robin will have to save the Commissioner by using Tech Suits (we only saw Robin’s magnetic boots and Batman’s glider) and unique weaponry (such as the Batarang, using a reticule to target where you wish to throw the gadget), conversely, playing as Harley and The Joker, you’ll have to kidnap him. Both perspectives used puzzle elements competently in the now-classic LEGO ways, but this time around the AI looks stronger than it has in the past, and was more helpful in getting the job done.

Though nothing taxing on the brain, the puzzles, of course, require tag-team action to complete. On the villain side, Quinn and Joker had to traverse a Funhouse, in a classic 2D platforming style. Unlike the past games, however, you won’t have to be right next to the other character to swap souls: a change for the better. Finding our way out of the fun house led us to a group of goons who joined us to overpower a gaggle of police who were easily dispatched with a few shots from our pop-guns.

Must…resist…but…can’t…“Will our caped crusader survive his Fall debut? Tune in next time! Same LEGO-developer, same LEGO-gameplay”…

Basically, TT is staying true to the premise they set out with in their original LEGO Star Wars game, and that’s not such a bad thing. Accessible-yet-challenging gameplay ran smoothly in our demo, despite the early version of the code, and specialized, unique abilities for characters looks like it will keep things fresh, yet familiar, from the other titles—Joker’s electric buzzer was just about as entertaining as watching Chewy pull off enemy arms. We’ll just have to see if things can get repetitive, playing as a LEGO-fied character, the third time around come this Fall.