‘Lego Batman 2’ a great family game

Reviewer’s Rating: ★★★

It doesn’t take the deductive skills of the world’s greatest detective to figure out that Legos and superheroes are an irresistible combination to any red-blooded kid. With simple gameplay, a silly story, and play-as-long-as-you-like optional multiplayer, “Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” is the perfect game for the geek who wants a video game they can play with their kids. Surprisingly enough, it’s also a pretty good game in its own right.

After being passed over for the man of the year award in favor of Bruce Wayne, evil billionaire industrialist (and presidential candidate) Lex Luthor teams up with the Joker for a crime wave so big that Superman, and eventually the whole Justice League, must be called upon to stop it. The story is adorably silly, but features enough subtle comic book references to keep older gamers chuckling as well, such as when Superman refers to Lex Luthor as a “diseased maniac,” a la the classic Christopher Reeve films. Much is made of the friendly rivalry between the eternally-glum Batman and the goody goody Superman, and the sheer number of characters who make appearances in the story will delight even the most jaded comic book nerd, so long as they can stomach seeing everything from the Batcave to the Batmobile made out of Legos.

Gamers familiar with other Lego games such as “Lego Pirates of the Caribbean” or the first “Lego Batman” will find that the core gameplay hasn’t changed much. Your blocky heroes will jump, punch, and build structures out of Lego blocks scattered around the game’s levels. The combat is still as simplistic as ever, but the sheer number of unlockable playable characters (over fifty) means that you’ll be having too much fun messing around with the Flash’s super-speed or Wonder Woman’s tiara to care. Developer Traveler’s Tales is thankfully aware that this is still, in fact, a Batman game, and ensure that he has enough gadgets as to not be outdone by his super-powered buddies. For example, Robin has a magnetic suit for walking on walls, and Batman’s sensor suit allows him to turn invisible and sneak past security cameras. Swapping between characters and suits to solve puzzles makes up the bulk of the game, and it manages to stay fun throughout.

There’s no real penalty for dying, so the challenge comes not from beating the game, but in collecting mountains of hidden goodies and characters. The biggest change since the first “Lego Batman” is that Gotham City can now be explored at will, like in the recent “Batman: Arkham City.” The newly open world is a lot of fun to explore, but it also means you’ll spend a lot of time wandering around and looking for your next objective.

Multiplayer cooperative play is the way to go, but be aware that only offline play is allowed. This makes it rough on only children whose parents won’t join them in the fight against crime, since the computer A.I. is all but useless. After Robin stands around and watches you get beaten up by thugs while you try to build something out of Legos for the twentieth time, you’ll get more tired of him than the Joker’s one-liners.

“Lego Batman 2” is a surprisingly pretty game. The gargoyles and spooky art deco style of Gotham city look great in Lego brick form, and the colorful visuals provide a fun take on one of comicdom’s grimmest mythologies. Little flourishes take the presentation to new heights, such as the fact that the John Williams theme from the “Superman” films plays whenever you take to the skies as the Man of Steel. The voice acting is solid as well, benefitting from the return of Clancy Brown, who voiced Lex Luthor in the cartoons for over a decade.

“Lego Batman 2” could have been yet another quick cash grab at the expense of parents everywhere, but fun puzzles, a huge amount of playable characters to unlock, and a sense of humor set it above the rest. It may not be as psychologically and atmospherically complex as the Batman games for the older kids, but it’s a fun game that lets superhero fans of all ages play together.