If you've played one of the previous two LEGO Batman games, or really any of developer Traveller's Tales LEGO games, there's a certain degree of knowing what you're getting into with LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. Though it certainly has a new coat of paint on it, so to speak, many of the mechanics and gameplay objectives are the same as they've always been.

The developers make up for that by giving players more of everything: playable characters, levels, collectibles, power-ups, costumes side quests, Easter eggs and locations. Mix that more-is-more mentality with an enduring charm and sense of humor, and you've got a pretty compelling package, albeit one that tends to bring out some of my worst tendencies as a player.

Namely: There's so much stuff to collect. So, so much. And I'm one of those players who feels an undeniable compulsion to grab everything and edge toward that 100 percent completion mark. It's a detriment to fun, because on the first play-through, there's a ton of stuff you simply cannot get. The characters you're forced to use on the various levels don't have the tools you need to get to all the collectible stuff, leading to a lot of wasted time trying to do something only to realize, "Oh, I can't do that yet."

The far, far better thing for me to do would have been simply to play through the story mode without any worries about picking up the extra stuff. The items you need to finish are laid out in front of you very clearly (this game is as kid-friendly as previous entries); there are a handful of cool new features (namely three or four very fun space shooter levels); and the story itself is highly entertaining.

The humor is as sharp as ever -- a sequence where the heroes and villains trade costumes to fool the Red Lanterns and Larfleeze of the Orange Lanterns, and are simultaneously under the mood-altering effects of the lantern rings, is particularly inspired -- and the game does a great job of getting progressively more massive in a way that doesn't feel overwhelming. Things progress from a fight with Killer Croc in the sewers to massive battles in the deep reaches of space, and it makes sense, at least in a DC Comics kind of way.

Folks may argue that Batman has been relegated to a secondary character in a game with his name on it, and they may have a little bit of a point there. There are a handful of levels where he doesn't appear at all in story mode (you can use any characters you'd like in free play mode), and in a few cutscenes he's little more than a grumpy guy in the background. The lead villain is a Superman villain (Brainiac), and the various lanterns take a lot of the spotlight near the end of the game. That said, Batman and Robin get a pretty clear arc from beginning to end, and you could say that there's even some character development for LEGO Batman. That's not too bad.

The big attractions in this one -- certainly the aspects WB Games has been promoting to the hilt -- are the huge cast of playable characters (150 total) and guest star appearances. The giant cast has only a marginal impact on the game's story mode. Only about 15 or so are actually playable in the story itself. All the rest is just window dressing, though I do have to admit that there's a thrill that comes with unlocking Kid Flash, for example, whether I'm ever going to use him or not.

As for the guest stars, a few (Kevin Smith, namely) have roles that amount to little more than cameos. Conan O'Brien shows up as the player's guide through the game's three base areas -- the Batcave, the Watchtower and the Hall of Justice -- and he gets a good bit of funny stuff to say. Get ready to hear him describe the level selection machine over and over and over again, though.




The guest star who really shines here is Adam West. The "citizen in peril" side quests from previous games have been replaced by "Adam West in peril" missions, and West milks his distress for all it's worth. (The developers also clearly had a lot of fun thinking of perilous situations in which to put the 86-year-old actor.) Perhaps my favorite part of the entire game came after the story missions. I don't want to spoil it entirely, but there's a bonus level that involves the 1966 Batman TV series, and it's pure, unfettered fun. West clearly enjoyed revisiting the character.

As for the other voice acting, it's top notch. Scenes where Batman and Robin try to do impressions of The Joker and Lex Luthor are laugh-out-loud funny. This version of Superman is quite possibly my favorite video game Superman. And the villains are all nicely done, cartoonish versions of themselves.

I do have to note that the presentation isn't 100% perfect. The score relies heavily on classic themes from previous Batman movies and Batman: The Animated Series, and while I love those themes, they repeat an awful lot. And I encountered one big technical glitch: Cyborg, the only character who could do what I needed to advance me to the next part of a level, got stuck inside a wall and couldn't get out, no matter what I tried. I just had to give up and restart.

But the LEGO Batman and other LEGO games aren't about being perfect. They're about being fun, and giving players an increasingly massive toybox in which they can play with little brick versions of their favorite characters. From that perspective, LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham is a rousing success.

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