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Starting to feel as old as Adam West but still fun.

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    LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Starting to feel as old as Adam West but still fun.

    When my fiancee handed me Lego Batman 3 for our anniversary, I was excited. The Lego series has always been one of my favorites ever since Lego Star Wars 2 and I’ve played every one since, even getting my fiancee hooked around the time Lego Batman came out. Having felt that each successive Lego game improved the series, I was quite excited to see what Lego Batman 3 would bring to the table and as I played through it with my fiancee, I began to notice that that didn’t hold true anymore. Though the game was somewhat fun, I felt a bit of the magic was gone with this release and it felt like a sharp decline in quality this time around. But does that make it a bad game or just a bad Lego game? Read on.

    For those unfamiliar with the series, the Lego games made by TT Games are action adventure games in which you play through a storyline usually broken down into 15 individual levels. In each level, you’re tasked with solving numerous puzzles or defeating bosses while exploring for collectables and breaking Lego objects to collect the game’s currency (studs). Afterwards, you’re usually given the opportunity to explore a larger hub world for collectables, solve quests, buy new characters or extras or return to completed levels in "Free Play" with any unlocked character so you can solve puzzles unavailable or unsolvable during the story mode. There are characters aplenty to choose from and they’re broken down into classes, each of which can solve a particular puzzle element, such as blowing up silver objects or utilizing technology to open new pathways. The games also feature drop in, drop out co-op play so anyone can hop in and join the fun at any time without losing your progress or can bow out during difficult times without any penalty. While characters can die, rather than end the level characters drop studs, which creates a more relaxed environment that encourages exploration. And with Lego Batman 3, the formula remains the same (barring a few minor changes).

    While many of the Lego games are based on popular movies and follow along with the storyline of said movies, the Lego Batman games have always struck their own identity. In Lego Batman 1, you were tasked with hunting down individual villains (or heroes) which had their own storyline. In Lego Batman 2, voices were introduced and it was the first Lego game to have a unique storyline in which Lex Luthor and The Joker plotted together to take over Gotham City. And with Lego Batman 3, it’s no different. As the collective Lanterns are randomly summoned to a seemingly random spot in space, Batman is hypnotized by a passing UFO, only to find Brainiac at the helm, who plots to take Earth for his collection. While the story seems interesting at first, there are a few gripes I have that I’ll get into later.

    One of Lego Batman 2’s biggest flaws was the characters were unbalanced. In fact, most of the game and collectables could be completed with Superman alone once he was unlocked and in LB3, this was thankfully rebalanced out. Batman and Cyborg both get new suits that can allow them to fly and shoot lasers and new obstacles were added in (such as tech suits or Robin doors) to diversify some of the puzzles so they couldn’t all be completed as Superman. They even seemed to split up powers more evenly so Batman, even with his new powers, can’t solve every puzzle himself. This helps make you want to diversify your lineup and try out a bunch of new characters instead of sticking with one for the entire game.

    Another welcome feature to the game is the ability to swap suits at will. In Lego Batman 2, the only way to switch suits was to hop into suit changers located in specific places, which I felt ruined a bit of the magic of exploring after you’ve completed the game (and made a few of the collectables a pain to grab). In LB3, you’re able to swap between suits at any time, even within story mode, which is a welcome change, especially during the free play runs when you’re trying to get all of the minikits and collectables. And suits are no longer confined to just Batman and Robin. Many of the major characters have their own suits to unlock or swap to, such as Cyborg, Joker and Lex Luthor. This further helps diversify characters and make you want to branch out of your comfort zone a bit.

    The character selection in LB3 is also quite diverse with many favorites but even more less popular, obscure heroes. You have series staples such as Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Arrow and the like as well as lesser known ones such as Batmite, Booster Gold, Plasticman, Cyborg Superman and even Bat-Cow. What’s great is this introduced me to a lot of DC stories that I never knew about and popularized some lesser known heroes who had faded into obscurity. They even got the rights to Kevin Smith and the Green Loontern (from the old Duck Dodgers TV show) who will show up in quests of their own. If you’re looking for a great mix of famous and not-so-famous superheroes, this game will not disappoint.

    One of the biggest changes this time around is the introduction of story DLC (which had previously been confined to a few new characters or extras), which is available Day 1 with three more coming later. These DLC packs, which offer isolated storylines independent of the overall one, offer cool new scenarios to try out and a couple of which have been requested since LB1. They are Superman’s origin story on Krypton, a recreation of the chase scene in Dark Knight, a 75th Anniversary level, a level based on the Bizzaro world, a level focused on the Suicide Squad (renamed "The Squad" to stay family friendly) and a level based on the show "Arrow". While three of these are out at the time of this writing, the additional three will not be out till later this year and are included with the game’s Season Pass. While this seems like a cool addition, there are some things worth pointing out which I’ll get to in a minute.

    On a side note, Red Bricks, which had previously been a hub collectable since Lego Star Wars 3, have now been moved back to being hidden within story levels. Not only that, but for the first time I can recall, the Invincibility brick has been removed. While this isn’t a deal breaker, it may be off putting to a few players.

    On another minor note, there are tons of little throwbacks hidden within the game. Wonder Woman and Superman both play their respective themes while flying around, characters hum the Batman theme when you idle over their portrait (with a humorous "Na na na na…meee!" if you leave it on Batman) and tons of throwbacks to the 60s Batman series (such as a red brick that makes "POW!" and "SMACK!" appear when you attack). It’s little touches, but they’re still fun to witness.

    One of the biggest problems I had with Lego Batman 3 was the hub worlds. Lego Batman 2 had a huge, sprawling city filled to the brim with collectables, missions and places to explore. Even the previous game, Lego Hobbit, had a giant world with numerous towns to search for and chart. In Lego Batman 3, they changed it so there are several tiny hub worlds to explore, each with a handful of quests and collectables. While the Batcave and the Hall of Justice were pretty diverse to explore, the Lantern Worlds were small, confusing (due to their spherical layout and lack of a map) and extremely samey, aside from different colored fog to signify which Lantern world it was and a few scenery objects such as crystals or lava to try and diversify it. This caused them to blend in and was especially a pain when you were trying to track down a person or object, as the spherical layout mixed with the samey scenery caused me to get lost, even though the worlds were somewhat small. One of my favorite things about the recent Lego games was exploring the hub world for collectables and it was tough to do so this time around and it felt like they crippled a lot of that this time around.

    Another problem I had with the game were the quests, which felt like they merely copy and pasted them. Each hub world starts out with the same quest: follow Green Loontern around the world and beat up some baddies. This wouldn’t be so stale if it wasn’t the same quest six different times in samey locations. Another quest that’s repeated is to find a random object, but the game doesn’t give you any inkling of where to find it which leads to lots of wandering around. For example, one quest has you explore a jungle world for a tree containing a banana. After searching the world for nearly an hour and passing the same scenery for the hundredth time, I finally found one specific tree that yielded a banana. This wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the fact that this quest was repeated on every world AND in every single free play level (you have to complete a fetch quest to unlock a character token in EVERY free play level) with the object being just as hard to find. I understand that it’s no fun if the object is lying next to the person but if you have to search dozens of buildings that look the exact same to find one of dozens of samey Lego objects of which only one contains your fetch quest item, it becomes a frustrating chore.

    The story was also a point of contingency for me, as I felt it was disjointed and not nearly as well planned out as the previous Lego Batman. The first few levels seem to dance around the fact that Brainiac is the villain and after level 8, the game almost seems to forget that Brainiac exists, with the story focusing on the specific Lantern worlds. While the game was not aimed at an audience wanting deep, thought provoking storylines, I couldn’t help but feel as though the story jumped around way too much to keep track of it and in the end I hadn’t accomplished much aside from trying to keep up with a messy storyline.

    The DLC is a hot issue and one that I felt was hugely disappointing. While the stories seemed quite awesome (especially Dark Knight, whose inclusion I had waited years for), they ended up being short and almost as disjointed as the storyline. Take Dark Knight for example. Rather than explain what was going on or use movie audio like Lego Hobbit/LotR, we have Alfred narrating a confusing synopsis where we are abruptly given control of the Joker. Once we blow up the entourage of trucks, we’re thrown into the city where we have to unbury the Joker and the level ends, taking about 10 minutes. The 75th anniversary level is even worse, as you play as the Joker as he blows up Batman’s artifacts and remakes them into Joker items. While the Superman DLC was pretty cool and the characters were interesting, I couldn’t help but feel ripped off as the levels were short and extremely disappointing, especially since they were offered Day 1 and likely could have been bonus levels or simple character packs.

    One thing I thought was awesome was the focus on the 60’s Batman series but I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t get Burt Ward to reprise his role as Batman or why they would focus on it when their target audience doesn’t even remember Batman Beyond, let alone the classic TV series. It seems odd that a kids game would focus so heavily on a show that aired 50 years prior, even if they were trying to promote DVD sales and that their point would kind of miss the mark as even their parents are likely not old enough to know the show.

    For achievement hunters out there, you’ll find no real surprises with this list and many of them are rehashes of previous Lego lists. You have staples like beating each story level, getting "True Hero" and the like as well as fun ones like "Pair up Krypto and Ace" or "Find the celebrity Party". But for the first time ever, both players can obtain the entire achievement list as one shot achievements such as "Find all the collectables" have been replaced to allow both players to achieve them. Even the "100%" achievement is changed to "Find the 100% fountain" so that both players can walk up to it and obtain it. That’s pretty cool if you co-op these games like I do, as both me and my fiancee can get all the achievements instead of arguing over who will be the host and get the majority (or play through it twice to get the remaining achievements). However, be aware that there are DLC achievements for this game so if you want the full list, you’re gonna have to purchase the Season Pass.

    All in all, Lego Batman 3 is a fun game but with repetitive quests, small samey hub worlds and a lackluster story, it’s definitely a step backwards. Does that make it a bad game? No. But it’s certainly not one of my favorites and for the first time in a while, it felt like a chore to 100% rather than one I wanted to keep playing until I finished, especially the frustration of flying around the map looking for fetch quest items for hours. Unfortunately, the fact that TT Games put out Day 1 lackluster DLC doesn’t help either, especially if you’re looking to 100% the achievement list as they tack on additional achievements. Lego Batman 3 is worth a rent, but with so many Lego games available even on the Xbox One, it’s hard to recommend this one over the others. Give it a try but I’d recommend Lego Marvel/Hobbit instead as they’re bigger, have better stories and are less monotonous.

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