Batman and Robin return from their adventures in the original title to take on major baddies with a little help from their friends. The story takes place in Gotham City, where the Joker and Lex Luthor decide the best way to rig a presidential election in Luthor’s favor is to drug everyone with Joker gas.
The campaign takes players through several different set pieces, but also allows for free roaming throughout Gotham City in between the missions. Everything is built with LEGOs, which means nearly everything is breakable into blocks and bits, the currency of the LEGO world.
Break more things, get more bits, and get more unlockable vehicles, heroes and villians.
The story is fun and brings in Superman as a playable character. The Man of Steel is really powerful and can fly, which makes some of the puzzles a little easier than they should be. Obviously, there is kryptonite in the game and he gets weakened – so much that he’s almost a hindrance at times.
Batman and Robin can use special suits to grant them unique powers during the missions. Batman can be stealthy, powerful or electrified depending on his suit, while Robin gets aerobatic, cold powers or a hazmat suit with vacuuming powers.
Each scene has special items to be collected – gold bricks, saving a citizen in peril, minikit parts to build and unlock new vehicles. You aren’t going to get everything on the first playthrough though. The set pieces are designed for players to come back with new characters and find places previously unavailable to them.
The dialog, which LEGO says is a first in the video game franchises, is great, even if it is slightly exaggerated in its tone. Batman is extra broody; Robin is extra peppy; Superman is extra nice. In previous games, LEGO characters grunted or emoted instead of speaking words.
Some of the voices may be recognizable to those who have watched the cartoon. Clancy Brown provides the voice of Lex Luthor in the game, just as he’s done for the “Justice League,” “The Batman,” and “Superman” cartoons. Tara Strong, Claudia Black, Nolan North, and many other strong voices offer depth and meaning to the dialog.
The speech is only during the cut scenes and not during the action. That’s fine, because I have a feeling we’d be hearing a lot of the same battle cries during a fight, which would get old in a hurry.
Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred, also makes an appearance as the hint icon, helping players figure out new powers or tipping them off on what to do next. He’s pretty persistence so do what he says or he’ll repeat himself often.
Toward the end of the campaign, members of the Justice League join Batman and Superman (and Robin) to put an end to the reign of terror in Gotham City. Wonder Woman, Flash (my favorite), Green Lantern and Cyborg all become playable characters, each with their own special powers.
At one point in the game, six different characters were on the screen. While players can switch to any character they see during gameplay, it got a bit crowded when a puzzle required as specific ability. For example, if I needed super strength to pull open a robot’s chest, I had to track down Cyborg or Wonder Woman and stand next to them to switch. Not a deal breaker, but a little delay in the action.
But what to do once the campaign is finished? Sure, you could go back through and collect all the items you missed along the way, or you could venture outside into the open spaces of Gotham City to see what you can find there.
There are locations in the open world marked by spotlights that direct players to special items, like connections to the Batcomputer or unlockable heroes and villains. Those heroes and villains can be bought using bits and used in the game. There are 50 DC Comics characters and 10 other characters available to be found and used.
Those special gold bricks, minikits and citizens in peril are available out here as well. If you are a completionist game who has to get 100% for the game, you’ll spend a lot of time running around Gotham City looking for items.
The one major criticism I have is how characters move in the open world. Players can use vehicles if they want, but if they choose to walk or fly, the LEGO character will automatically speed up and make it difficult to control. I understand why developers sought the need to make characters run (there is a lot of ground to cover), but I wish they would have made a button to run instead of making it automatic. Collecting bits in the open world requires a bit of touch, which is lost when the character breaks out into a full sprint.
Drop-in/drop-out co-op play makes it easy to share the fun with a friend. Just make sure they don’t turn on you and start using their powers on you (it was a mistake, of course!).
Overall, the vocal quips and additional characters is enough to make “LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” worth playing. The cuteness of the LEGO characters combined with the “seriousness” of the Joker and Lex Luthor is quite the contrast.
Open world exploring offers players the chance to fully utilize all the characters in the game. Superman is a bit overpowered during freeplay (can’t be hurt, just flies everywhere) since there isn’t kryptonite just laying around, but it doesn’t affect the game unless you want it to.
And of course, as with pretty much every super hero movie, there is a special teaser reveal at the end of the campaign mode. Bring on the next LEGO superhero game!
“LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” is available now in North America, Europe and Australia. It is available for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita and PC. The game is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years of age and older due to cartoon violence. This review was done with a provided copy for the Xbox 360.
Nintendo is putting a new shine on some titles for the Wii, 3DS and DS systems this fall.
A special edition “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” bundle will also contain a gold Wii Remote Plus controller available at launch on November 20. The game will also contain a special music CD featuring orchestral music that will be performed at The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert in October.
Nintendo also announced two titles, one for each of their handheld controllers.
“Tetris: Axis” will be available for the 3DS on October 2 and include more than 20 different modes. The game will also allow up to eight people compete in wireless multiplayer competition.
For the DS system, the good Professor is back. “Professor Layton and the Last Specter” kicks off a brand new, puzzle solving trilogy set three years before the events in “Professor Layton and the Curious Village.”
Wait. A new trilogy set before a trilogy that’s already out? This sounds vaguely familiar.
Fans in North America will also get a bonus to “The Last Specter.” A role-playing game entitles “Professor Layton’s London Life” will contain more than 100 hours of additional content and be available at launch on October 17.
For the retro geek in your life, “Atari Greatest Hits, Volume 1” will invoke memories of early geekdom at the arcade.
The game for the Nintendo DS accurately recreates 50 of the iconic Atari arcade and Atari 2600 games. It also contains a trivia test, images of original arcade cabinets, game manuals and even advertisements.
The arcade games, like Centepede, Lunar Lander, Asteroids and Pong, were the early trendsetters in the gaming world. Geeks will be thrilled to turn back the clock and relive those patterns they memorized so many years ago.
Is your gamer geek more into first-person shooters? Then the “Halo: Reach” Legendary Edition is the perfect gift to not only provide them with the finale to one of the most popular franchises but also enough extras to make their eyes light up like a plasma rifle.
The package contains the “Halo: Reach” game, the last in the long running series, but actually a prequel to the entire storyline. There is also a Noble Team statue made by McFarlane Toys which has been individually molded, hand painted and numbers.
An embroidered Spartan II patch, an artifact bag containing notes and documentation on how the SPARTAN program began and customized packaging await your Halo geek. There are also in-game bonuses as well – an Elite armor set for multiplayer modes and an exclusive Spartan armor effect.
This will make the perfect gift and a lasting memory for a game your geek has probably spent (and still spends) many hours playing on the Xbox 360. With the end of the series, these items become just a little more special.
Maybe your geek is a thinker, someone who likes to figure out how to take diverse elements and make them work together.
“Sid Meier’s Civilization V” is just the right thing to have your geek huddled over his or her computer trying to play just one more turn. “Civ V” is a strategy based game where players try to build up an empire from starting with just one city.
The game has been updated with new combat techniques, amazing graphics and an artificial intelligence that actually “learns” as you play. It will be a challenge to those geeks who dream of taking over the world without actually leaving the comfort of their home.
If you really want to go all out, the Special Edition contains metal figurines, a CD soundtrack, behind-the-scenes DVD and hardcover art book. Just be prepared to find your geek a-glow from the computer monitor at 2 a.m.
Maybe you have a young geek on your gift list and want to get them something a little less electronic. Why not get them introduce them to Dungeons & Dragons with the new D&D Red Box?
The Red Box is a starter kit that introduces players to the 4th edition of rules for Dungeons & Dragons. The kit comes complete with a solo game to help players understand how the game works, what some of the new rules are and dipping a toe into the waters of role-playing games.
Don’t buy this for someone who has been playing D&D for years. They probably already have it if they want it or they are not interested in learning the new rules.
Do get this for youngsters who are interested in role playing games but don’t know how to get started or for a person who always wanted to try D&D but was overwhelmed by all the books in the old rules system.
With this gift, you will be thanked for opening a door into the world of imagination.
Sound like your day? Millions of people in 60 countries around the globe are doing the same thing in the world’s most popular life simulator franchise, “The Sims,” and have been for the past 10 years.
“The Sims” franchise is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with a new release, “The Sims 3,” for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and Nintendo DS. While it is the first title for the PS3 and Xbox 360, PC players have been living, dying, growing and sharing in the Sims world through 39 different games and expansion packs.
The series, which allows players to live out virtual lives in whatever fashion they choose, has sold more than 125 million copies and has been translated into 22 different languages since its launch in February, 2000. The game was fairly simple and two dimensional in the beginning but hooked into the imagination of players everywhere and was the best selling PC game from 2000 to 2003.
Rod Humble, general manager of Electronic Arts Play Label, joined the franchise in 2004 shortly before “The Sims 2” was ready to hit the shelves. He said an updated graphic engine to render the Sims world in 3-D was a big hit, but they added more to do within the world.
“Sims could age. We added wants and fears, which we didn’t have in One,” Humble said. “People came for the better looking game and stayed for the far deeper gameplay.”
Humble said it was a pretty dramatic shift for the franchise at that time as well. Not only was the game better looking, the audience changed from being predominately North American players to having European players outnumbering the Americans.
“It was a massive explosion in Europe,” he explained. “A lot of it was driven by Eastern Europe where PCs were starting to come on board.”
It was also a time when the franchise team began to notice that The Sims was having a cultural impact as well.
“The original art style of ‘The Sims’ was an idealized American suburbia,” Humble said. “In Europe, (the game) is perceived as a cooler, inspirational brand because the setting is North America. If you live in Europe, the United States is quite a glamorous lifestyle.”
“The Sims” team adapted to the cultural impact and localizes content to go with the culture where the game is being sold. Everything gets translated, Humble said, and the game is “very much owned by each country.”
“We are the number one game in Thailand, because we localize in Thai.”
“The Sims” also began appearing in pop culture as well, being referenced in movies, television shows and music. TV skits about the Sims have appeared on the “Drew Carey Show,” “30 Rock,” and “One Tree Hill” to name a few.
The Black Eyed Peas, Nelly Furtado, Katy Perry, LeAnn Rimes and Depeche Mode have all recorded their hits in Simlish, the emotion-filled language spoken by The Sims.
John Buchanan, vice president of marketing for “The Sims” franchise, said the musicians were fans of the game and wanted to do more.
“What if we could get these fans, these fans who are musicians, these fans who are actors, to participate in the franchise? One way they were able to do that is sing their songs in Simlish,” Buchanan said. “This was a way for us to really tap into the pop culture phenomenon that ‘The Sims’ had become.”
There was one instance of Sims pop culture that Humble pointed out where he was “blown away.”
“A modern artist who did a series of real life events and he did it in the style of the Sims,” he said. “It was incredibly powerful because it was a real work of art, but he used the Sims art style.”
Jon Haddock, an Arizona artist and illustrator, created 20 images that captured real life cultural events as they would have appeared in “The Sims” game. His artwork included such scenes as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ted Kaczynski’s cabin and the man standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
“I looked at these works of art and I was like, wow,” Humble said. “There is a cultural relevance there that is really interesting.”
As “The Sims” franchise continued to grow, so did its audience. A robust fan base has been feeding ideas and suggestions back to the developers as their needs and wants from the game have changed over the years.
“Our biggest demographic used to be teen girls,” Humble said. “With ‘The Sims 3,’ we’ve seen that broaden a bit. It has aged upward, and clearly, it is a game that people are playing as they grow older.”
Buchanan said he has been impressed by the excitement, passion and dedication of the fans in the two years he has spent with the franchise.
“We have over 1.6 million Facebook fans and 55,000 Twitter followers,” he said. “We get seven million unique visits per month to our website. More than 170 million pieces of content has been created and uploaded by our fans to be shared with players around the world.”
The fans “truly want a high quality experience,” he continued. “They want features that enable them to tell the story that they want to tell. This is an open ended, life simulation game where the world and the stories you want to tell are in your own hands, your own imagination, and your own creativity.”
In 2009, the franchise continued to evolve and “The Sims 3” launched, which allowed players to explore a world that was open and “real.”
Humble said they expanded the simulation from individual households to entire towns and communities. So a player could watch his neighbor move in, go through their lives, and move away and that neighbor would not entirely disappear from the game as in previous incarnations.
“We’re extending the simulations from being hamsters in a cage where we’re just simulating each individual person to extending that network across the entire town,” Humble said. “I wanted this idea that you could bump into anybody in the ‘Sims 3’ world, and, not to be stalkerish, you could follow them home. You could see their life.”
Humble said the move to the consoles finally happened after the developers felt the PS3 and the Xbox 360 had the power to run the full simulations. He said high definition displays also allowed them to show the game information in ways they wanted to.
“’The Sims’ happens to be the most complex role playing game out there in terms of systems and how hard it is to use,” he said. “High def consoles can now pull that off. They’ve got the horsepower to do it.”
The brand new world will contain additions systems, including karma powers and a challenge system to unlock new content. It will have more to do in the world than the PC version.
Players who have characters on the PC platform will have to start from scratch. Characters from the traditional PC game cannot be transferred to the new console versions.
Humble said he is interested to see how the game develops on the console because he expects it to be played in the living rooms instead of in the study.
“We’ve noticed that people play the Sims differently if they don’t think someone is looking over their shoulder,” he pointed out. “My hunch is there will be a lot more house building and creativity and funny moments because you’ll want to show those off. And probably less deviant moments where you are having private fun because you don’t want to show that off in the living room.”
Despite the 10 years of success and growth, both Humble and Buchanan said the franchise team has held steady to producing a quality product, listening to their ever growing fan base and continuing to push the envelope on simulating real life experiences in the virtual world.
“It is a very odd game that, to this day, I don’t think anybody would green light because it is a game you can’t win, doesn’t have any levels, there is no reward/risk for what you are doing and it is a game about your everyday life,” Humble said.
“It is amazing that what really is a creativity tool that enables you to play stories sort of masquerading as a game has succeeded so much.”
If you answered, “zombie pregnant car,” you are ready to play the new puzzle game, “Super Scribblenauts (5th Cell/Warner Bros. Interactive).”
The new video game exclusively for the Nintendo DS ramps up the vocabulary, the pictures and the puzzles from their 2009 hit, “Scribblenauts,” while attempting to address some of the drawbacks from the first.
You control Maxwell, a young lad whose mission in life is to collect stars… I mean, starites. Each level presents Maxwell with a puzzle to get the starites and it is up to the player to come up with the object needed to retrieve the glittery prize.
For example, Maxwell is shown with a starite up in a tree. Players then try to figure out how they want him to get it down (i.e. – a ladder to climb the tree or throw a rock to knock it out).
More creative solutions are rewarded with Ollars, which can be used to purchase hints for the more difficult puzzles.
Creative director Jeremiah Slazcka said the design team came up with nearly 35,000 words to be used in many ways during the game.
“We have about 25,000 regular words and about 10,000 adjectives, which are new to the game,” Slazcka said. “We also have eight guys doing the art for all the combinations of those words.”
The adjectives add a twist to the game, particularly when players need to solve some of the more challenging puzzles. Players can change the color, size, behavior and many other aspects of the object they are trying to create.
Players can also string together adjectives to create something new, like a shy green polar bear, when the need arises.
In the first incarnation of the puzzle game, there was a mix of puzzle levels and battle levels, where players would create something to fight against an opponent. Slazcka said the new game focuses mostly on the puzzle levels because that’s what people really wanted.
“The puzzles were really difficult for us to do, but people seemed to like them better,” he said. “We focused on how to solve the puzzles logically instead of using brute force.”
There are 120 new levels to be played, but there are chances to replay each level to come up with more creative solutions. The “fill in the blank” puzzles challenges players to examine multiple items and come up with an object that resembles the shown items.
These levels can be played over and over again to offer more solutions that haven’t been used yet.
If you stumble across a puzzle that you just can’t figure out, multi-tiered hints are available to help guide you to a solution. The more explicit the hint, the more Ollars it costs.
In the original, Maxwell was controlled by using the touch screen on the Nintendo DS. It did cause some problems where Maxwell would scamper around, knocking items over unintentionally and ruining a puzzle solution. In “Super Scribblenauts,” Maxwell can now be controlled with the directional pad (D-pad) to allow greater precision of movement.
The development team also added a level editor, so players can create their own levels and puzzles with unique solutions. Slackza said created levels can be shared with friends.
The game requires a healthy imagination, a good vocabulary and probably a dictionary. If you are creative and like to think out of the box, “Super Scribblenauts” is your kind of game.
It is fun, easy to play and has some very amusing moments if you play the right object at the right time.
Besides, hitching a ride on a giant, friendly yeti doesn’t happen every day.
“Super Scribblenauts” is rated E 10+ (everyone 10 and older) and is out now for the Nintendo DS handheld consoles.
The third story in the Professor Layton series, “The Unwound Future” is set in steampunk London as the good Professor and his apprentice, Luke, are sent a letter allegedly from 10 years in the future. It seems the future London is in trouble and needs the puzzle-solving Professor to set things right again.
The puzzles are the basis of the gameplay with some interactions with non-player characters along the way. The mysteries are revealed as puzzles are solved, and with more than 165 puzzles in the game, this adventure will last quite some time.
There are logic puzzles to test how well you can pay attention to detail and can deduce a correct answer. Some puzzles are mathematical in nature, but no advanced calculus necessary.
There are riddles to be solved and sorting puzzles to figure out. Some answers require winding through mazes to a certain goal. And each puzzle is worth picarats, which not only measures how difficult a puzzle will be, but collect enough and a special screen will appear.
Don’t worry if you get stuck. Hint coins are scattered throughout the game. Collect them and you can buy 3 subtle hints and one “Superhint” for each puzzle as you need them.
Finding the coins is its own mini-game since it requires tapping around on the DS screen at different scenes to uncover the helpful trinkets. There are a set number in the game, so only use when necessary.
Nintendo also plans to release weekly downloadable puzzles for the game. The puzzles won’t be part of the storyline, per se, but rather add-on that will relate to the story. The lack of a DLC puzzle won’t stop a player from finishing the game.
There are also other mini-games that will occur after finishing certain puzzles. There are sticker books to fill out, roadways to drive on with a toy car, and a friendly parrot that will carry packages for people, who then will be happy to help you.
Moving around the city is easy enough with bus and underground train to get you to faraway places. A map in the top DS screen gives you an overview of the London area while the bottom screen displays a more detailed view of the specific area the player is working in.
The art work is splendid and not overly confusing for the small Nintendo DS screen. Hand-drawn animations give the movement a fluid and life-like appearance and the voice acting is stellar with just enough of an English accent to make you feel you are in the presence of London gentleman.
Sound effects during the game are okay, but not spectacular. The background music doesn’t distract from the gameplay but some tunes are more appropriate for a Paris café than a London alleyway.
The characters’ back stories and personalities are filled out nicely and will actually have you empathizing with them during different events. Bouncing back and forth from the present to the future can be rather disconcerting!
Overall, the story is deep and wide-ranging. The graphics and animation are smooth and well done. But the puzzles, where the game lives, are challenging, confounding, and fun for all ages and IQs.
“Professor Layton and the Unwound Future” comes out Monday, September 12 as an exclusive title for the Nintendo DS family of consoles. It is rated E 10+ (everyone 10 years of age and older) for some mild violence.