Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
I had hoped the “open world” setup and “DC Heroes” monicker would mean there was more happening here beyond Batman smashing bricks, but it is Batman 2 and it is a Lego video game, so Batman smashing bricks is what you get.
Even if I cared deeply about Batman and the rest of the Justice Friends I wouldn’t be able to get around the fact that it’s pretty much like all the other Lego games: navigate simple puzzles in order to get from point a to point b using a mixture of special abilities (in this case provided by special Bat Suits) and breaking Lego objects to build other Lego objects. As always you need to find special bits (which look like the canisters from the Lego Star Wars games), gather a certain number of studs and finish the level to collect the gold bricks for building mini-kits – if you’ve ever played one of these there’s no surprises in store.
There are other DC Heroes in the game, but they end up functioning like special Bat Suits for replaying Batman-themed levels to access more unlockable content (see gold bricks above), rather than having their own stories.
Voice work is good and makes the cut scenes more interesting, but it still feels too much like all the rest of the franchise and I feel like I saw everything this series had to offer after I played Lego Star Wars a decade ago.
Lego City: Undercover
Now that I’ve slated Batman 2 here’s a Lego game that I enjoyed for once, though that’s probably because it marks such a departure from the rest of the series. This is a Wii U exclusive and other than New Super Mario Bros. U, Lego City was arguably the star launch title for Nintendo’s newest home console.
It’s a single-player affair taking place in a massive open-world environment comprising a mix of city and outlying forest and farmland. One of the more impressive aspects is the lack of loading times whilst running around in this over world, though I suspect that’s one of the reasons this game is plagued with such extreme loading times every time you enter and exit a story level that I’m painfully reminded of the original Playstation and playing games using double-speed CD-ROMs. I’m not kidding either: it takes 20 seconds just to get to the title screen and then nearly TWO MINUTES to load the city properly and start playing. Great for eating lunch and playing, but poor if you have a low attention span.
Lego City is largely your typical Lego game when it comes to playing the story levels: point a to point b, collect studs to get a gold brick, collect shield bits to get another gold brick, etc. The things that set it apart are an interesting storyline rather than a “cute” miming of scenes from a feature film and tooling around town in vehicles commandeered for “official police business.”
Rather than using two characters and combining their special abilities to get past obstacles like every other Lego game ever made, this is a single player affair with one character, Chase McCane, swapping mini-fig wardrobes with different abilities to get past obstacles. This strikes me as a missed opportunity because there are other characters in the game so rather than focusing on the one guy and swapping bodies, a “rashomon” story with different chapters played as different characters would have been more interesting.
Outwith story levels you can freely explore and find Super Bricks to make Super Builds, which are big Lego things that either just look cool (like a fountain), open access to new areas (like a bridge) or allow you to summon vehicles. Smashing Lego objects gets you more bricks to use on these, so playing dodgems with traffic is always advised to keep the flow of bricks steady. Driving is loads of fun as the cars offer a variety of speed and handling, but taking to the air in a helicopter is the best way to appreciate what the developers have done in building this virtual playground.
The humour is juvenile (though thankfully not puerile), but definitely raises a smile and the occasional laugh. It’s a great one for the kids as it’s not too difficult (expect to be drafted for the odd vehicle mission and the mas mental finale) and it’s got a fun, family-friendly feel. Once you’ve finished with the story you’ll have a ton of exploring to do as there’s 65 super builds to make, vehicle speed trials, plants to water and loads of other little side missions to complete. When I finished the story I was told the game was only %33 complete, so don’t think it’s all over just because you get to the credits!
The Wonderful 101
This marks my second retail “dud” alongside Lego Batman 2. I wasn’t impressed with the trailer, which featured a collection of little “wonderful ones” being used in concert to defeat enemies – kind of like Little King’s Story, but without the “sim” aspect that added depth to that seminal Wii game. But Nintendo cleverly discounted it if you downloaded Pikmin 3 at launch, so how could I resist?
It looks great, but it lacks a hook (neither gameplay nor story are that gripping) and the controls and interfaces are a bit sloppy, which only serves to remind you that Nintendo are acting as publisher and another company developed the game.
You notionally control one of up to 100 heroes fighting giant monsters to defend their city (and the world), using the others in the group to either build structures to navigate a level (think bridge, ladder, hang glider) or make a powerful weapon. This involves “drawing” a shape, which you’d think would mean using the Gamepad touchscreen and it generally does except during horrible “QuickTime events” where using the right stick appears to be the only way to register your shape properly. I don’t know why any games still have these annoying “cinematic” sequences, but I can’t believe this got through QA without being fixed. I also found in-game menus clumsy to navigate through and special items more difficult to use during play than they should have been.
The storyline is goofy and over-the-top, but a lot of the humour felt a bit flat. The variety of Wonderful Ones was quite amusing until you realise there’s only a handful of playable ones; only one of which is female – and an annoying stereotype at that. Scratch below the shiny surface and it’s a beat-em-up with an ironic tone along the lines of Viewtiful Joe or No More Heroes – only not as clever.
Spin the Bottle: Bumpie’s Party
After playing formulaic games and franchise entries it’s nice to see a small developer come along with something new and fun for a change. Spin the Bottle is a party game and one that could really only be done on the Wii U. As of this writing it’s one of only a couple of games that doesn’t use your TV screen, but the gameplay all revolves around the venerable Wii Remote.
As you might expect from the title this is a multiplayer game in which a virtual spinner is spun and players are given a task to complete to score points. First you have to choose a character/colour from amongst an array of bizarre-looking creatures and make your mark so everyone knows who is who. Each player then takes turns spinning a spinner to choose a partner before a mini-game is chosen at random and then the fun really begins!
Mini-games use one or more Wii Remotes in rather inventive ways that frankly I’m surprised we haven’t seen before. Some are silly like both players holding a single remote together and “waltzing around the room,” with the degree of movement apparently determining the degree of success. In “Find the Monkey” other players hide Remotes around the room (hence the suggestion to activate as many remotes as possible) and the two active players try to find them within the time limit by trying to follow occasional sounds from the speakers. The use of the Remote speakers is where I think the game’s cleverness really shows and the selection of mini-games puts players in a variety of situations that’s sure to appeal to younger players as well as adults who’ve not forgotten how to be silly.
It’s quite a nice party game and is great in a rotation with Game & Wario, which also has a great design and wacky sense of humour. Do give it a go!