Building the ultimate superhero team.
The mere mention of Legos fills me with childlike glee, and my appreciation for Batman in recent years makes a game like LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham a perfect match... at least in theory. There's an undeniable charm to the third entry in the series, and the bounty of character and suits in the game remains impressive throughout the entire experience. But a schizophrenic narrative that often loses its focus and a largely rote formula carried over from past entries hinder an otherwise enjoyable game.
The Beyond Gotham subtitle stands out as more than just a name. It directly addresses Lego Batman 3's identity as a tale of superheroes more so than a tale of Batman. Obviously the Caped Crusader is the star of the game, but the opening moments of the story hint at something more. The basic framework involves a plot by Lex Luthor, The Joker, and other villains to take over the world, only to be superseded by Braniac and his desire to shrink Earth and add it to his collection of worlds. Thus, Batman works together with the Justice League, the Lantern Corps, and the aforementioned villains to prevent the successful execution of Braniac's plan.
Audiences love it when superheroes work together. Just look at the success of the recent Avengers films. But in the case of LEGO Batman 3, it creates a tenuous connection with the titular protagonist because players control a whole slew of different characters. It also results in a narrative that jumps all over the place and fails to establish consistency over the course of its 10+-hour campaign. There are definitely memorable moments in which two cool superheroes work together, but for the most part the narrative feels like a blur. It's a shame, because the snappy writing provides quite a bit of charm and humor to the experience.
The variety of characters in LEGO Batman 3 aids in its structure. Players gain access to the characters over the course of the campaign and thus utilize all kinds of different abilities with each new swap. In addition, the game features suits for some of the characters that can be changed on the fly with the press of a button or the use of a handy radial wheel. To complete a lot of the game's puzzles, players will have to swap between characters and suits to find the proper solution. It's a clever mechanic that helps prevent tedium and also creates a true sense of cooperation when a friend joins the game in local multiplayer.
It's also a mechanic familiar to fans of the series, as LEGO Batman 2 also featured a variety of characters and abilities. In fact, all of LEGO Batman 3 leans heavily on a familiar formula—constantly smash objects to collect Lego pieces, swap between characters, find secrets in the environment, and so on and so forth. Obviously the game sticks to the “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” methodology, which may please some fans. But it also allows troublesome design flaws to remain.
The partner AI stands out as one of those design flaws. The game is a fun co-operative experience, but that fun diminishes when you play alone and see how useless the computer-controlled partner can be in key situations. Even more taxing is a lack of environmental cues, which adds confusion on a moment-to-moment basis. I have no problem when a game asks a player to figure something out on their own, but the levels in LEGO Batman 3 aren't visually distinct enough to make it obvious where a player needs to find a particular object or puzzle.
On top of that, the game is very finicky when it comes to button prompts. There were a few times in which I had the right idea in mind, but second-guessed myself because I wasn't standing in exactly the right spot. I would return to the solution minutes later and go crazy because I wasted time. The mechanical inconsistencies don't break the experience, but they do add a layer of unwanted frustration.
Despite LEGO Batman 3's issues, it's hard not to like the game. The Lego art style still proves charming years later and the 150+ character roster makes it a game with plenty to see and do. Beyond Gotham is a direct sequel, though, and a lot of these same things could be said of LEGO Batman 2. Audiences already invested in the series or Lego video games in general will likely enjoy their time with Beyond Gotham, but nothing in the game elevates it beyond that status.