There's rarely a half-year goes by without a new Lego game from TT Games. Thankfully the quality continues to shine through. Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, is the next game in a seemingly neverending line of titles.
It should come as no surprise that the successful formula stays more or less untouched here. We're tasked with conquering a world built by bricks as Batman and Robin, but there's a major twist this time around. We're not going to spend the majority of our time in Gotham. Instead we're heading into space.
Batman and Robin get Justice League to help them, hence the inclusion of Superman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Flash and company as playable characters. Once again we take on The Joker, who's just as keen to trick us in space as in Gotham City. The new location allows for some nice, new gameplay elements. The most important of them is that Batman and some of the other characters have proper flight skills. Batman sports a suit with an integrated jetpack, that must be recharged after use. All suits can now be accessed quickly and easily with aid of a selection wheel, making for a better flow in the action.
The jetpack suit opens up the typical level structure, where you'd normally just stroll around on foot. Of course, there are still many areas that can only be opened by certain characters with their special abilities. So we need to unravel ways we get them there, because not all characters can fly or jump high and far enough. But they might be able to build unique machines from an trashed pile of lego bricks. Such as the case is in the Batcave below Wayne Manor where we need to assemble the rocket to fly off into space.
There the next big surprise awaits us: the Batwing Spaceship. Batman owns a jet that reminds us a bit of an X-Wing. Robin naturally takes the role as wingman in his own mini-spaceship (as if he didn't feel inferior enough already). In the subsequent mission, they're tasked with liberating a space station that The Joker has hijacked. The iconic villain sits inside, manning a retro computer, playing a game that produces strange experiences outside the space station - such as huge rattling fake teeth that chase Batman and Robin and must be quickly shot down. The studio's humorous take on serious subject matter is now legendary, and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy it in dialogue and cutscenes. Kids love it, but even adults will find it difficult not to smile frequently.
This "simple space shooter" as Assistant Game Director Stephen Sharples puts it, is a shameless but well crafted clone of Resogun, though when asked about this, the developer quickly deflects that line of questioning. That said, the inspiration is easy to spot as there are smart bombs that clear the screen and you fly around a rotating space station and combat waves of enemies. In the end there is a Boss Fight against Jack in a Missile. Who but the Joker would come up something as silly as that? The game will feature several vehicle levels of this nature, but TT Games didn't want to share any further details on them.
After besting Jack in a Missile, Cyborg and Flash will help the two Gotham heroes board the space station. We tinker and puzzle around the outer shell of the station, while Cyborg turns himself into a giant robot or a washing machine (there's that humour again). There are completely separate suits for all characters. And of course Cyborg is also capable of flying, just like Batman.
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham provides us with some charming over-the-top insanity that is aimed primarily at kids and their sense of humour. The gameplay and the puzzles are simple as usual, the changes made have been handled with care and all of them seem meaningful. Another nice addition are the new VR worlds that provide us with platforming mazes. These remind us, surely not by coincidence, of the VR missions from Metal Gear Solid and supply us with some proper Batman training.
The latest work from TT Games is not a complete reinvention of the formula, in spite of some changes. And why should they? It's what has made the franchise successful. The real key is that sense of an easy to play and learn experience, that still provides you with a game world in which you can still spend a lot of time. This is even more true when playing co-operatively with a friend. The game looks as delightful as Lego Marvel Super Heroes or Lego The Hobbit on new-gen hardware. And really, no matter how many Lego titles we've played in recent - who would want to pass up on an opportunity to go to outer space with Batman and the Justice League?