Previewing "LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes"

Travellers Tales has had a pretty good run of LEGO-licensed video games over the years, converting "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and "Indiana Jones" into popular action franchises that all ages can enjoy. The company really hit pay dirt in 2008, however, when it released "LEGO Batman." Not only did the game successfully convert the popular DC Comics hero and his cavalcade of villains to LEGO video game form, it actually gave you both sides of the coin, letting you play either as Batman and Robin or their villainous rogues gallery.

Not content to stop there, Travellers Tales will be going even further with the game's sequel, "LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes." First revealed late last year, the game once again returns players to Batman and Robin's Gotham City, this time introducing other characters from the DC Universe to the mix. Superman is a notable addition, a character that's been in dire need of a decent video game appearance for quite a few years. Over the course of the block-riffic game's storyline, the Man of Steel works with the Dark Knight in an attempt to stop the Joker and Lex Luthor, whose latest dastardly plan is forcing Gotham City to fall into chaos.

Warner Bros. Games recently invited CBR to get a look at the game in action, with Travellers Tales' Jonathan Smith on hand, walking us through the game's various additions. And even though "LEGO Batman 2" is still a work in progress, what we saw was definitely impressive.

The demo begins as the Joker and his henchmen stomp their way through a Man of the Year ceremony recognizing billionaire Bruce Wayne thanks to his generous contributions to Gotham City. Harley Quinn is on hand, doing back flips like crazy on stage while Batman and Robin do some damage to the mime-themed thugs in the audience.

As with previous LEGO efforts, you can destroy items in the environment to your advantage. Punching tables, chairs, fire hydrants and other props causes them to explode, revealing either collectible coins (which can later be used to purchase in-game characters or goods) or LEGO blocks. In typical fJEGO ashion, your character uses these blocks to build an object that can help them through the stage, such as a platform or a crank.

The opening demo stage also shows that Travellers Tales is sticking to the same humorous combat that worked in the original "LEGO Batman." The violence is never over the top, even when Batman literally knocks the head off of one of Joker's thugs, leaving him wandering around aimlessly until he finally collapses.

After fighting in the main hall, a trap door opens, leading to another area where a pair of mini-boss fights await with both the Riddler and Two-Face. Both battles require unique tactics when it comes to taking the bad guys down, figuring out the pattern and then hitting them at just the right time to take a chunk off their health bar.

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This stage also introduced the new level structure Travellers Tales is bringing to "LEGO Batman 2." No longer are stages simply small, interconnected rooms; this time, gamers will experience large, exploration-worthy areas where you can use your grappling hook to reach new heights or seek out secret collectibles. The developer has been perfecting this method of design over its past few games, starting with "LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars" and continuing with last year's "LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean" and "LEGO Harry Potter 5-7."

With "LEGO Batman 2, and the introduction of Superman, the worlds are even larger. Players can fly through an enormous Gotham City, seeking out gold bricks (the game's main collectible) and reaching areas that would otherwise be inaccessible to "grounded" characters. It's here that "LEGO Batman 2" reveals its true depth, as you fly around familiar terrain. During our the fly-through, we spotted the likes of the Acme chemical plant, where the Joker was first disfigured, along with Wayne Tower, which looms over the city. Huge, odd-looking statues stand around the city, while skyscrapers loom in the distance. It's a remarkable upgrade, something you don't normally find in a LEGO game.

But exploration is just one part of the sequel's appeal. Once again, the game will introduce alternative play tactics that are necessary to master in order to get through certain sections. For instance, Batman and Robin both have access to special suits, which will aid them as needed. In one stage, one of Joker's thugs prevents the Dynamic Duo from getting through with a motion sensor-activated gate. In response, Batman dons a suit that renders him invisible, allowing him to sneak past the sensor and deactivate the wall for his partner. Likewise, Robin's hazard suit proves useful when it comes to traveling through infected goop that would otherwise spell an end for your heroes.

Superman has his own special abilities, as he should. Flying through the air, the Man of Steel can fry objects from a distance using his heat vision, which is great for possible pursuits against aerial enemies. He can also use this attack on the ground, along with his super strength and freeze breath when combat situations get a little too heated -- pun intended. However, Superman isn't able to do everything by himself. On occasion, he'll have to call on a fellow superhero when it comes to solving a puzzle, such as requiring Robin to reach an object surrounded by radioactive goo.

Like its predecessor, "LEGO Batman 2" will once again allow for cooperative play, with up to two people taking part in a session at a time, either teaming up to take on criminals or, like last time, be the criminals, as they could easily wreak havoc between Joker and his newfound compatriot, Lex Luthor. What's dynamic about the sequel is that space isn't a limitation anymore. If you want to wander off and do your own thing, you can always keep track of your partner through split-screen play. So one player could easily fly around as Superman, while the other stays on the ground and does some exploring with Batman. It's an interesting tactic that is sure to keep fans happy.

In addition to the expanded visuals, easily the most complex we've seen in a LEGO game to date, Travellers Tales is also making a change in the audio department. Along with an orchestrated score obviously inspired by Danny Elfman's original Batman theme, "LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes" will utilize full character voice acting. In the past, LEGO games have typically relied on simple grunts and chuckles to define character. However, for the sequel, Smith explained, Travellers felt that expansion was needed. Unfortunately, he stopped just short of talking about who is involved in the voice cast, but an announcement should be made shortly. Which leaves us wondering, how weird would it be for Mark Hamill to voice a LEGO Joker? (We only ask because Clancy Brown, who voices Lex Luthor in the animated "Superman" series, is clearly heard in the trailer, but the Joker's voice source is somewhat less discernible.)

The last question surrounding "LEGO Batman 2" is, obviously, which characters are playable in the game? So far, Batman, Robin and Superman are confirmed, and with Joker, Lex Luthor, Two-Face, Riddler and Harley Quinn in the game, they're likely to be playable in a villain mode as well. In the trailer, Bane and Catwoman make appearances -- which is little surprise, considering they're the main villains in the upcoming "The Dark Knight Rises" film. More character roles should be revealed over the next few months, including members of the Justice League, such as Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. We'll know for sure soon enough.

For now, though, "LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" is showing a great deal of promise as well as progress beyond it's precurser. The new city hub looks outstanding, almost as intricately detailed as the Gotham found in "Batman: Arkham City." The new play mechanics involving Superman sound promising, especially combined with Batman and Robin's classic style of play, and the improved multiplayer is sure to be a big hit with players who have grown tired of being limited by their partner's capabilities. At a time when Marvel's Avengers are certain to dominate the summer gaming scene, it appears the "DC Super Heroes" are set to leave their mark as well.

"LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes" will release this summer for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PC and PlayStation Vita.

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Tags: superman, joker, batman, robin, lego, lego batman, lex luthor, warner bros interactive, lego batman 2

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