(Warner Bros. Interactive) For Microsoft Windows, PlayStations 2 and 3, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360. One to two players. Rated E for players 10 and older for cartoon violence. Retail price $49.99. ***
This summer's box-office champ, The Dark Knight, was unleashed with all the merchandising force befitting its mega-blockbuster status. But amid all the Batman action figures and lunchboxes there was one notable omission - a video game.
We're still waiting, but for now, Lego Batman: The Videogame will have to suffice. And while Lego Batman isn't quite what Dark Knight purists are probably looking for, it's a lighthearted romp and clever reworking of the sprawling Batman universe.
Like the locations in Star Wars and Indiana Jones before it, Batman's Gotham City has been converted into a more kid-friendly world of Lego blocks. With a number of gadgets and special suits, a cutesy Batman, Robin and even Batgirl must bust their way through blocky goons and simple logic puzzles. Gamers can also play as major Batman rogues like the Joker and Two-Face, as well as some lesser-known villains such as Clayface and Man-Bat.
But unlike the Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, which were often very literal retellings of the movies, Lego Batman is more open-ended and draws from a number of sources. The look and sound of this Gotham City is clearly inspired by Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). The highly regarded early-'90s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series seems to guide the look of most of the characters.
Not having to stick to a preset plot hinders Lego Batman a little, making it not quite as enjoyable as the other Lego games. The slapstick humor that made for effective parody for Star Wars and Indy gets repetitive here. Also, some of the upgrades to the Lego engine like the special suits (including a glider outfit and scuba gear) can inadvertently make for clunky game play. Finally, Batman's naturally dark palette mutes the normally vibrant graphics.
But there are plenty of nice touches. The vehicle-themed levels are fast and full of firepower. Most of the characters have novel powers or traits (Catwoman's whip and the Riddler's mind control device are some of the standouts). And the multitude of extras and secrets extend the game play well beyond your first swing through Gotham.