As Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes enters its third act, plastic-block versions of Batman and Superman walk into Lex Luthor’s corporate headquarters and demand to see the man himself. The hassled secretary demands to know who’s asking to see the boss. The heroes are bemused. Superman says, “I’m Superman. He’s Batman.” The secretary asks if those are last names. “No, they’re just single names. Like ‘Madonna,’” Batman says. Then the secretary turns into an evil silver robot and tries to kill them.
That interaction tells you what you need to know about the game. The goofy dialogue and absurd action is Lego Batman 2’s stock in trade, with the heroes thrust into all kind of improbable situations in the big cities of DC’s comic book universe. But like Madonna, the game never settles on a single identity. As a result you get an experience that’s often as fun and off-the-wall as a lively pop act, but sometimes as bafflingly serious in tone as Madonna’s fake British accent.
A bout of vanity kicks off all the supervillain trouble. Secretly evil presidential candidate Lex Luthor and secretly heroic playboy Bruce Wayne are both up for Gotham City’s Man Of The Year Award. Wayne wins, but in the middle of the ceremony, Joker and a horde of criminals crash the event. While Batman and Robin put the kibosh on the mayhem, the seeds of a Luthor-Joker alliance are planted, as Luthor seethes over losing the award. Superman eventually teams up with Batman and Robin to deal with this formidably evil double threat. (The other DC heroes sit out the majority of the story.)
Every time Joker and Lex enact a new stage of their evil plot—piloting a giant evil robot shaped like Joker into downtown Gotham to spread some brainwashing gas, for instance—another level begins. You can either control both Batman and Robin by yourself or play alongside a friend.
This being a Lego game, most of your enemies and surroundings are made out of the Danish blocks, and it’s your job to punch the ever-loving hell out of them. Smashing up the environment reveals valuable studs, and there are other surprises. Inside the wreckage of a chemical tank, you might find Robin’s Magnet Suit, which lets him walk up walls à la the old Adam West series. The game abounds with gadgets and special abilities like this, and much of the fun is figuring out which tools to use and when. The levels are too long, though, and as they drag on, puzzles that seemed clever at first become a chore.
Lego Batman 2 also places more dramatic weight on these puzzles than it should, given their inherent silliness; exploding blocks do not create much tension. Adding to this dissonance is the fact that not everything is made out of Legos. Some parts of the world are rendered in the grim, exaggerated gothic tones characteristic of the Tim Burton Batman movies.
And in a first for the Lego video games, all of the characters talk, a departure from the series’ tradition of grunting pantomimes. The flippant dialogue can be hilarious, like a scene in which a sulky Batman complains that he doesn’t need Superman’s help escaping the rooftop of a burning building. But all the while, the booming orchestral scores from the Batman and Superman films blast away, lending an out-of-place gravity to these scenarios. Instead of a nudge and a wink, you get elbowed in the ribs and told to stand up straight.
You have to play through hours of this story before you get to the other game hidden inside Lego Batman 2. Once you have Superman at your disposal, you can more easily explore the broader Gotham City. There is less to do here than in your average Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox game—you’re mostly just picking up more bricks—but this mode is where most of the game’s playable supervillains live. Flying to the top of a skyscraper and fighting the Riddler without the burden of cutscenes and puzzles is a good time. (You’ll have to spend a fortune in those little collectible studs, though, to play as the Riddler himself.) There is fun to be had in Lego Batman 2. It’s a shame you have to dig so deep to find it.