The caped crusader and his Crayola-colored sidekick are just about ready to clean the streets of Gotham City. We had a chance to take a look at a few levels at the E3 Media & Business Summit earlier this year, but we received an updated preview build of those levels so we could check them out in greater detail. Things seem to be running a little more smoothly this time around, but there are still some glitches and bugs that we hope have been already ironed out. However, Gotham City, even in its dinginess, looks fantastic, and being able to play the huge list of characters in Free Play mode is a treat.
We played through the Story mode where Batman and Robin are after Catwoman, who has stolen a very large pink diamond. This was the only time we got to play as the good guys because the other two levels involved teaming up Mr. Freeze with the Riddler and the Joker with Harley in the Carnival level. Once we were able to get through these three levels, Free Play was unlocked for us so we could go through them again, but this time, with any character we wanted. Using the LB or RB buttons, we were able to rotate through quite a list, and we imagine the list can only get bigger because there were some previously announced villains we didn't get a chance to see in action.
Free Play offers you a chance to go through these levels again, changing characters on the fly, which will allow you to explore the area further because some locations are only accessible with a certain character. Most of us would want to play as either the heroes or the villains for their special powers, but if you want to change it up, goons, Joker henchmen, police officers, security guards, and SWAT members are also available. Most of the goons just have basic attacks, but because each character moves a little differently, it makes playing through Free Play a lot of fun. Even something as basic as pulling a lever will differ; for example, we noticed that the Joker uses his buttocks to push the lever down. Robin and Harley can make nimbler movements, such as doing back flips, but if you try to double-jump with the Joker, he'll land flat on his back.
One of the first unlockable characters included Bat Girl, who plays very much like Batman--with batarang and everything. She's also able to don the various batsuits. Catwoman and Poison Ivy are fun to play as well. Catwoman has her whip, which pulls victims toward her, and Poison Ivy likes to draw her prey close to her then give them a deadly smooch on the lips. We've seen the Joker many times before, but his hand buzzer is quite handy for not only shocking his victims, but also for using it to power generators for the puzzle-solving elements. Other characters worth mentioning include Nightwing, who can also wear the magnetic and technical suit. He also wields his dual nightsticks with ease and finesse.
We've had a chance to play these three levels many times. When you're playing through Story mode, you're limited to the characters that have been assigned and what they can do. You'll notice that some portions of the level can only be accessed by characters with specific abilities, so if you feel the need to explore everything, it's worth going back and taking another look. The puzzle aspect seems easier than Lego Indiana Jones; however, the AI is about as sharp as a spoon sometimes when you realize you're too far ahead to switch characters and have to backtrack to get them. This is when playing co-op is much more fun because you can at least blame the intelligence on your friend rather than wrestle with the computer. Most of the time, your computer-controlled sidekick will keep up, but there were a few instances when we had to go back for them. There were also some instances when the depth perception felt a bit off, causing our caped crusader to glide off the side of a building. It seems that because this was still an unfinished build, there were a few issues that needed fixing. Otherwise, the game is a blast to play and the environment so detailed that you can hardly believe you're playing a LEGO game.
Lego Batman is shaping up to be a fun new addition to Traveller's Tales LEGO series. It arrives September 23 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and the PlayStation Portable.