While the LEGO games have gone from strength to strength, and have long been a favourite of the team at Everybody Plays, we were a bit surprised when we learnt what the best selling LEGO game of all time was. Surely it must be LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, capitalising on the success of the Avengers? No? How about LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean? LEGO Star Wars, with its TV tie-in, or LEGO Harry Potter, which must surely have gone down a treat with the legions of 'Arry and 'Agrid fans. Nope. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the best selling LEGO game of all time is LEGO Batman, which probably explains why it's now on its third instalment. And why they've tried to milk it for all its worth.
If you've ever played a LEGO game before, you'll know what you're in for here - hours upon hours of two player drop-in, drop-out split-screen co-op fun that'll have you beating up baddies, hunting down collectibles, playing around with cheat enabling red bricks, and working together to solve puzzles. Oh, and saving the galaxy along the way.
The plot here revolves around the gigantic cranial capacity of one of the DC Universe's perennial villains, Braniac, who floats into the scene on a giant spaceship shaped like - what else - a head with a giant brain. Something of an OCD collector, Braniac has been on a cruise across the galaxy collecting planets, shrinking them like a shrunken head, before storing them inside his spaceship in a little jar, Futurama style. Only problem is, there's one world left he hasn't got his hands on yet - Earth. And that's where the adventure begins.
Rather than being split into a hero and villain story, LEGO Batman 3's plot actually lets you play as both factions of characters. As neither are all that willing to be turned into miniaturised versions of themselves, the two unlikely allies come together to fight back against Braniac and his goons, meaning over the course of a level, you'll team up with Batman as the Joker, or help out Robin as Killer Croc. It's a case of odd bedfellows indeed - but it certainly helps keep the story feeling fresh, and lends to plenty of awkward moments in the cutscenes.
There are fifteen levels on offer here, which are spread over a huge range of planets and locations from the DC Universe, from the lantern homeworlds, through to Earth itself. In fact, one of the more interesting levels takes place across miniaturised versions of London, Paris and Pisa. Feeling more like one of the awesome bonus stages you usually unlock for 100%ing the rest of the game, and looking like you're playing through the game's very own version of Legoland's Miniland, it's a really nice break from the norm.
Another new feature are the space combat sections, which, thankfully, are quite a bit better than the ones featured in LEGO Star Wars 3.
Owing a lot to PS4 shooter Resogun, these mini-stages mix 2D and 3D by only letting you move up/down/back and forth, but wrapping the stage around a cylinder. Luckily, it's easier to pick and play than it is to explain, with plenty of blasting to be done from your vehicle of choice.
In terms of gameplay, the levels themselves are the usual winning mix of bad guy bashing, collectible finding and puzzle solving, with the whole game playable in co-op to boot. While the game's default "dynamic" split-screen (where the line rotates to show you where your friend is) can quickly get incredibly annoying, and actually stops you doing what you need to do in certain sections (it can sometimes be tricky to aim your batarang if the screen's split in a weird way), it's a god send that you can turn on a standard, vertical split screen option should you so require.
With over 150 characters available in LEGO Batman, from Alfred the faithful butler, through to Krypto the Superdog, there's a huge selection of weird and wonderful (and often obscure) characters, along with the ones everyone's heard of, like Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman and Superman. As in the previous LEGO games, every character has their own set of special moves, whether it's laser eyes that can melt through gold, or the ability to fly - and certain characters also have a range of suits they can switch into at any time in a level. From Batman's power suit, which lets him fire explosives (which can destroy shiny metal objects), to Cyborg's stealth suit (a washing machine that shoots lasers, yet that enemies remain blissfully unaware of), you'll have to make regular use of many of the suits - and your characters' abilities - to solve the puzzles in each level. You might have to switch to a magnet suit to pull a blue piece of LEGO around, use a computer terminal as tech suit Robin, or use Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth to grab an object.
However, this is where the problems come in. While the game itself doesn't really require an incredible knowledge of DC to play - if you know who Batman is, you're pretty much good to go - it's not always obvious who has what powers, or even where you have to use them. Seeing as everyone now has several powers - or sometimes several suits worth of powers - it can be a bit tricky remembering what everyone does, especially as the game doesn't often explicitly say "X and can do Y". While previous LEGO games have got round this by having a handy little icon pop up next to things you could interact with, telling you who to switch to, LEGO Batman 3 is nowhere near as obvious. The once prevalent character switching icons now rarely pop up, and the things you can interact with aren't as obvious, either. With all the elements combined, it makes for a sometimes confusing game that sometimes leaves you stuck exploring an area as every character, in every suit combination, until you find the one that works. In one of the earlier levels, we wandered round a level as every combination of characters we could think of, pulling every switch, blowing up every item, and trying everything we could think of. Turns out we had to play as Killer Croc, and jump into the water - and Croc, being a big fig, could sink to the bottom, and smash a switch. There was nothing to say what we had to do - and we only stumbled across it by accident in the end. While having instructions popping up telling you what to do every few seconds isn't great, nor is having no instructions at all - especially when you've spent several minutes exploring an area. It's a shame, because the LEGO games usually get this so right.
But the glitches, and slightly higher learning curve don't bother us as much as the commercial side of things. Now, you can't explore the game's level hubs without an ongoing lecture from Conan O'Brien, a man who's found his way into the game because, well, he knows about Batman. Or something.
But what's worst is that LEGO Batman 3 is only the latest game to succumb to the whole season pass thing. Now, while you still have a LEGO game to play through, you don't have the whole LEGO game. Post release, Warner will be releasing six new downloadable level packs, each containing a cool sounding level, a vehicle, and achievements, with an extra 40 characters in total coming across the whole bundle. And it can be yours, for just £12.79. Never mind the fact that half the levels came out on launch day, which increases the likelihood they were held back. Forget about how the game now starts with a weird, superimposed menu asking you whether you want to launch the main game, or if you'd rather play through the downloads you haven't actually bought, a hasty bodge job showing it was probably a last second idea intended to squeeze a few extra quid out of you. What sucks the most is that one of our favourite series has decided that having £40 from us every few months isn't enough - now, it wants an extra £12.75 from every game going forward (because this won't be the only LEGO season pass) if you want the full LEGO experience. It's not like this is an expansion pack, released a year or so later a doubling the amount of stuff you get. It's bits and pieces that could have been in the game, but instead have been left out so they could charge extra for it. LEGO Batman 3 isn't the first, it isn't the last, and it's far from the worst - but it was one of the games we were hoping would be free from the season pass curse - or would at least do it properly. Perhaps we should have a rant about this in a proper feature soon, and get it all off our chest.
Either way, the season pass faffery and annoying Conan put a downer on what is otherwise a pretty solid LEGO game. While it isn't the most polished LEGO game we've ever played, and does, unfortunately, continue the slightly buggy trajectory started by LEGO Marvel, it is still immense fun nonetheless. With over 200 gold bricks to collect, loads of collectibles to be found, levels you need to play through at least twice to see everything, and plenty of crazy characters to experiment with, this is a lot of fun. It just could have been a lot better with a little bit more polish. Maybe the guys working on the season pass stuff could have been put to better use?