Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is, on the surface, not much different than the games preceding it. You smash, collect and build, just as before, but the operative word this time is character.
Not characters, mind you. While there are more than 150 characters, triple the count of Lego Batman 2, it’s charm and personality that gained the focus. Lego games are always funny, but this one is more daring in how it portrays its cast. The caricature treatment is still here, but it’s almost self aware and played to a delightful blend of camp, drama and tongue-in-cheek parody.
The new characters have plenty of purpose. Lego Batman 2 took a long time to establish the full Justice League, and it meant that most characters felt disposable. Superman could do almost anything, after all. In this game, new abilities borrowed from previous games and the ability to change suits on the fly give this title more variety. Robin’s tech suit can hack panels, Batman’s space suit can destroy gold objects, Cyborg’s stealth suit can evade sensors—the new ways to interact are often fun and occasionally hilarious, and the new space fighter levels, reminiscent of Resogun, are a wonderful change of pace that fits the series.
With all of the game’s additions, a few things were lost with the broadened scope. All of the new characters mean that the plot is less focused. Lego Batman 2 wasn’t on the level of Christopher Nolan’s films, but it did have a sense of urgency and togetherness that this one lacks. The open world is also gone, and is replaced by connected hubs similar to Lego Star Wars 3. Hunting for the gold bricks and characters loses a sense of pace when so many load screens separate you from the next secret, and there are more here than ever before. Finding every hidden brick, character token, minkit and Adam West in Peril is an intimidating task. The restricting hub worlds make it less enticing.
Despite all of its problems, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is a lot of fun and a celebration of Batman’s pop culture status. References abound, giving nods to Batman 66, the Animated Series, the new Nolan trilogy, and even the Schumacher films. DC writers and Warner Bros. characters join in, as does late night comedian Conan O’Brien. It’s an ambitious game that does all it can to service Batman and the Justice League as a whole, and succeeds more often than not. Even if you haven’t followed Batman’s nearly 80-year history, there is a lot here to do and plenty of smiles to be had. How many other games let you team up Lex Luthor and Condiment King?