GDC '08: Lego Batman First Look

The Lego series takes on the Dynamic Duo in our look at this action-packed kids' game.

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SAN FRANCISCO--The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder will once again be stalking the Gotham skyline, only this time they've got blocky feet and an obsessive desire to build things out of colorful blocks. Yes, the Lego game series, first begun with the Lego: Star Wars series, is now taking on Batman and his rogues' gallery of villains in the upcoming Lego Batman from developer TT Games. We got a chance to check out this highly anticipated game for the first time during a tour of a few levels of the game hosted by a TT Games producer.

Excellent game design decision #209,331: Robin won't be wearing those ridiculous scaled swim trunks in this game.
Excellent game design decision #209,331: Robin won't be wearing those ridiculous scaled swim trunks in this game.

Like the Lego Star Wars games, Lego Batman features cooperative play for two players (both online and off), but the level structure of this game is a bit different than in previous Lego games. Each level first begins with the hero's perspective, letting you play as Batman and Robin as you take on bad guys and track down one of the Dynamic Duo's well-known enemies, such as Catwoman, The Joker, and the just-announced Harley Quinn, among many others. After you beat a level as the heroes, however, you'll unlock the corresponding "villain" level, which will be a new take on the mission told from the villian's point of view.

The first level we saw featured Batman and Robin chasing down Catwoman, who had just stolen a huge pink diamond ring from a building and then scampered across rooftops. Once Batman and Robin gave chase, they were immediately set upon by a multitude of bad guys. It didn't take long for the pair to clean house, and it served as a good opportunity to talk about the slightly revamped combat system in the game. Unlike in Lego Star Wars, neither Batman nor Robin have light sabers at their disposal, so the development team has had to strive to make sure that combat is effective, even with the reduced reach of the heroes.

One new feature that helps is the batarang, which both Batman and Robin can throw. First you aim a bat-signal-shaped icon at the object you wish to hit, and then you press a button. The batarang can be used in combat and to help the heroes reach objects that they might not be able to reach otherwise, which makes it a handy tool for solving puzzles.

A Batman game without plenty of high-tech gizmos at your disposal wouldn't be much of a Batman game, so it's nice to see, then, that Lego Batman is dealing out the gadgets liberally throughout the game. For example, in certain areas of a level, you'll be able to change suits from your regular Batman or Robin getup to a specialized costume that will grant the wearer special powers. We saw several examples during the demo, including a magnetic-shoed suit for Robin that allowed him to climb up the sheer face of a building, or indeed upside down in certain spots; a glide suit that let Batman glide across rooftops to access areas he couldn't reach on a regular jump; a demolition suit for Batman that let him set mines and detonate them remotely; and a tech suit that let Robin take control of remote-controlled airplanes, cars, and robots (made out of Legos, naturally).

Proving that the Lego series still has its sense of humor well intact in Lego Batman, the chase for Catwoman ended with the sultry feline thief planting an extended kiss on Batman (much to the chagrin of Robin), before tossing the pink diamond over the roof of the building (only to be picked up by an umbrella-gliding Penguin). From there we were taken to a different level, focusing on two of Batman's most notorious foes.

Harley Quinn and the Joker are just two of the many villains making trouble in Lego Batman.
Harley Quinn and the Joker are just two of the many villains making trouble in Lego Batman.

We're speaking, of course, of The Joker and his sidekick, Harley Quinn. In this level, the pair was navigating through an amusement park--which acted as a colorful visual counterpoint to the grim and gritty streets of Gotham during the Batman level we saw. Like Batman and Robin, The Joker and Quinn have their own special abilities; we especially enjoyed The Joker's hand buzzer, which can be used to electrocute opponents or charge up unpowered objects. While watching the two villains navigate the level, we got a nice taste of the amount of animation work the team at TT Games has put into these characters. From The Joker's strut to Harley Quinn's lithe and agile jumping, it's amazing to see how dexterous these blocky little characters can be.

Quinn and The Joker cooperated to solve several puzzles, including setting off a roller coaster to break through a cave wall blocked by boulders, before ending with a confrontation with the end boss--Commissioner Jim Gordon and a bevy of Gotham's finest--that ended with Gordon getting locked in a cage and awaiting rescue from you know who. Commissioner Gordon as a boss battle? Yeah, count us in.

The folks at TT Games must be having a ball twisting up expectations for the Batman formula with this game, and it shows. With a lighthearted tone and plenty of iconic characters in the mix (in addition to the above villains, we also briefly saw Killer Croc and the Scarecrow in action), this looks to be another fun-filled adventure for the Caped Crusader. The game is due for release this fall on practically every major platform. We'll have more on the game in the coming months.

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