Worth the wait
For years, Batman fans have suffered. Though many of us are avid video game players (it should be no surprise that a large portion of the demographics for comic books and video games overlap), we’ve been presented with subpar game after subpar game. Jump, run, throw things, and repeat until you get to the guy with green hair.
But then, a couple of years ago, someone finally figured it out. After years of waiting, gamers were finally able to get their hands on an experience that really got the Dark Knight, that finally offered enough ins and outs to satisfy both the gamer and the comic book fan. We finally got what we were waiting for.
I am, of course, referring to LEGO Batman.Let’s get one thing straight—Batman: Arkham Asylum is a fabulous game. I’ve fought my way past Victor Zsasz, beat up some thugs, and swung around from gargoyles. All of this was great fun, and I’m a huge Paul Dini fan. (Dini was responsible for the Arkham Asylum storyline, and was one of the primary writers for Batman: The Animated Series. Also LOST.) But still, Arkham hasn’t quite sucked me in, and when it comes down to it, LEGO Batman beat it to the punch.
I was, in all honesty, a bit worried about LEGO Batman after having played the two LEGO Star Wars games, which were wonderful. They were imaginative, clever, and funny. The Jedi characters could use the force to reshape their Lego-constructed environments, and the game was designed to reward replay. Each level had areas that could only be accessed when playing a second time in “Free Play” mode, where the player is given access to a set of alternate player characters, each with their own unique abilities.
Also, LEGO Indiana Jones was terrible. (I don’t really want to talk about it anymore.)Happily, LEGO Batman was even better than LEGO Star Wars. While LEGO Star Wars created a number of distinct character classes, each of whom had a unique ability (Jedi, Dark Jedi, blaster characters, and Jar-Jar Binks, who can jump really high—yes, this is actually useful—and the second game expanded to include distinct abilities for Imperial characters and bounty hunters), in LEGO Batman most villains have a unique ability, and even Batman and Robin can perform different tasks by donning different ability suits.
Even better, LEGO Batman, compared to the LEGO Star Wars games, is nearly two games rolled into one, as every storyline can be played from both Batman’s and the villains’ point of view, each with its own distinct levels. In effect, you get to clean up the bad guys’ mess, and then go back and create it all over again.From a Batman fan’s perspective, however, the real rewards come from the wealth of unlockable characters. If you get tired of Batman and Robin, you can unlock Batgirl and Nightwing, who have similar abilities, but, well, look more awesome. Hidden within the character builder feature (which was available in the second LEGO Star Wars game, but didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose) are pieces that allow you to construct a number of secondary characters from the Batman comics such as Azrael and the Spoiler. (I play as the Spoiler all the time. Stephanie Brown doesn’t get near enough respect, and I was giddy when I found out she had been included. Azrael, on the other hand, can go to hell. Seriously. He sucks.)
I’m actually looking forward to giving Arkham Asylum another try. It’ll be worth it just to spend a little more time with Mark Hamill’s brilliant interpretation of the Joker. But there’s something a little bit wrong about the construction of a game like Arkham Asylum. When you really get into Batman, when you take the character seriously and try to envision a “realistic” take on what makes him tick, you have to confront the fact that being the Batman is not and cannot be a very pleasant experience. Unless he’s a sadist (see Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin), he can’t really enjoy much what he does. There will always be someone he cannot save, all the way back to the parents who were murdered in front of his eyes. Thus, the more “realistic” a Batman game is, the less pleasant it should be to play.
Batman comics, however, are frequently unrealistic, constantly inventive, and a great deal of fun. Just like LEGO Batman.
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.