Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is as much a game about Batman as it is not. In fact, it's about as close as developer Traveller's Tales has come to producing a full-on Lego Justice League video game. In Beyond Gotham, Batman and Robin team up with the Justice League and the Lantern Corps to prevent Brainiac from using the power of the seven Lanterns to shrink Earth and add it to his growing collection of tiny space objects.
But the story has trouble deciding where to aim its spotlight. There are many scenes in which the caped crusader is his natural self as the man with the plan, and yet it's undeniably strange to occasionally watch him play the role of a grumpy, cynical supporting character--especially in his own game, which also celebrates his illustrious past. The confused package is further weighed down by some technical and mechanical issues, but remains standing thanks to the Lego series' endearing foundation of infectious charm and good-natured humor.
Gameplay in Lego Batman 3 doesn't stray far from the classic Lego design. Puzzles, which mostly involve opening doors or creating some other method of progress, are solved by breaking apart Lego objects and using the scattered pieces to create something new. The bilateral system of destruction and creation is just as enjoyable as ever, and collecting those precious studs is just as satisfying. As an old Lego fan, watching those plastic bricks fly through the air, skimming by just close enough for you to make out the LEGO name stamped on the tiny pieces, caused my heart to flutter with nostalgic delight. A wide variety of suits play a large part in exploration and puzzle solving, which includes wading through toxic sludge to knock down a ladder, or using an electricity suit to power doors.
Not all is perfect in this brick-laden superhero adventure. While most puzzles rarely put up much of a fight, there are several that offer no clear direction on how to proceed. It's not a question of insight; no, rather you are left cycling through characters and suits until you find the right peg for the predetermined hole, which quickly gets frustrating. It also doesn't help that your computer-controlled partners are comically dumb. When your allies aren't completely ignoring enemies, or just meekly punching away without causing much damage, you will often find them stuck on platforms or in a cluster of rocks. Another source of annoyance comes from iffy button prompts, which require you to be in an exact position to activate; otherwise you are forced to circle back and try again. Invisible walls surrounding levels drain the joy that comes with flying characters, even as the game encourages you to explore, with hidden secrets often found just out of sight.
Without question, Lego Batman 3 is a big party, and nearly everyone got an invite. Many of the Justice League big shots, such as the Martian Manhunter and the Flash, are here in full form. But I was also pleased to see the game give a fair shake to characters such as Plastic Man and the Atom, who both play an equal role in discovering hidden content. The game more than doubles the character count of its predecessor, bringing in about 150 playable characters to unlock. This includes various Batman iterations throughout his past, such as his hulking form modeled on his look in The Dark Knight Returns, and also the gray and blue leotard of his 1966 television debut. Excellent vocal work, provided by such seasoned veterans as Troy Baker (Batman) and Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), breathes life into every character, fleshing out their distinctive personalities.
Crashing this party is a peculiar selection of celebrity guests, one of whom you'll find swiftly overstays his welcome. This is none other than Conan O'Brien, who acts as a dedicated tour guide in the Batcave and Watchtower, both of which exist as enormous hubs where you can select missions or look at collected trophies. You'll find him throughout the hubs explaining the function of particular rooms. The problem, though, is that O'Brien repeats his spiel every time you enter one of these areas. After listening to him explain for the umpteenth time what a map room is, I was ready to pull my hair out. Superhero fan and occasional Batman comic writer Kevin Smith also makes an appearance, but has thankfully fewer lines than O’Brien. Adam West's inclusion makes the most sense out of the bunch, and you will find him in just about every level playing the role of a TV personality in distress. Though his audio level is through the roof and his pleas for help easily drown out everything else.
Lego Batman 3 is a massive game featuring tons of extra content, but not all of it is worth exploring. The lengthy campaign comes in at around 12 hours, but your time may differ depending on how many side quests you choose to pursue. The game is brimming with secrets and hidden collectibles, so much so that it can be overwhelming. Even after putting in around 20 hours completing the story and hunting down gold bricks and completing some extra missions, I’d still barely scratched the surface. In addition, you also have miniature versions of the home worlds of Lantern Corps members. While it is initially rather neat to fly around the small planets, they don't offer much beyond even more items to collect and dull races to complete. All in all, they’re not much more than boring distractions.
Not unlike Batman's frequent adversary Two-Face, Lego Batman 3 has two conflicting sides at odds with each other. On one side, you have an entertaining superhero game in which Batman struggles to play the leading role. But on the other side, you have a respectful and satisfying look into Batman's storied history. Here, there are numerous nods and homages to famous works such as the Tim Burton films, Batman: The Animated Series, and of course books like The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: In Darkest Knight, among many others. The resulting game is somewhat perplexing, often verging on baffling. To be fair, this is not nearly enough to greatly harm what is overall a genuinely fun game, but it does mean that it lacks some sense of direction and balance.
Still, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is an engaging and often hilarious joyride. The game includes many standout moments, such as the Resogun-inspired shooter sections, as well as levels where you stomp through shrunken versions of famous cities. Many of the headlining characters are superb, with the Flash coming in as an easy favorite. His constant hijinks during cutscenes left me laughing out loud every time. Just as great is the portrayal of Cyborg, who left a broad smile on my face every time he unleashed his trademark "BOOYAH!" In short, the game is a delightful, family-friendly hop around the galaxy starring some your favorite superheroes. A wealth of hidden secrets in every level keeps the game high on replayability, while the deluge of extra content promises many hours of adventuring.