Just three months after “The Dark Knight” took Batman to disturbing depths, Warner Bros.’ videogame division is returning him to the classic “Bam! Oof!” days. “Lego Batman” is a cheesy, lighthearted and consistently fun merging of the Caped Crusader’s comicbook world with the Lego videogame formula, which is expanded but not fundamentally changed here. The format may be getting a bit tired, but Batman is the best fit for it yet given his huge array of villains, vehicles and gadgets. “Lego Batman” should prove a big hit through the holidays and also help boost the property with the under-12 crowd.
British vidgame maker Traveller’s Tales’ acquisition of the Lego videogame rights in 2004 has proven one of the most prescient industry deals of the decade, as it led to two hugely successful “Lego Star Wars” games and this summer’s “Lego Indiana Jones.” Last year, Warner Bros. bought the developer for a reported $200 million-plus, in part to help make kid friendly videogame versions of the studio’s properties. “Lego Batman,” their first collaboration, essentially puts the iconic DC superhero into the same game Traveller’s Tales has made three times before: a world where everything and everyone is made out of Lego blocks in which the player, working alone or with a friend, is tasked with collecting items and solving puzzles.
Making a game like this work depends on a wealth of characters and settings that can amuse and entertain with their Lego brick interpretations. With more than a dozen colorful villains like the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Mr. Freeze, as well as allies Robin, Alfred and Batgirl to go along with a Batmobile, Batplane, and Batcycle, the source material feels endless. This decidedly non-gritty interpretation of Gotham City is more compatible than “Indiana Jones” and even “Star Wars” with a simple plot for tykes, though the original script lacks the charm of seeing classic movie scenes re-interpreted in Lego form.
Those familiar with previous Lego games may get annoyed with carbon copy gameplay and puzzle types. What it lacks in innovation, however, “Lego Batman” makes up for with significantly more content. Batman and Robin have a wealth of new combat moves, most notably the ability to throw Batarangs, as well as much improved vehicle levels. But the major addition is a villain mode in which players can control all of Batman’s nemeses as they plot the exact same crimes that are foiled in the hero mode. It’s not exactly “Rashomon,” but it does add a fun new perspective to the storytelling. More importantly, it gives players 15 new characters to control, each with unique abilities.
Though the target audience is families, adult Batman aficionados will appreciate the detail that draws on almost 70 years of comics. With its focus on far-out gadgets like magnetized boots and a sonic gun, “Lego Batman” is actually most reminiscent of the Caped Crusader’s sci-fi-inspired ’50s days. Danny Elfman’s score, originally written for the Tim Burton films, is used repetitively, eventually transforming it from moody to almost comical.